Magic Keyboard for iPad

Last night I received the Magic Keyboard for iPad, which I am using with a 2018, 12.9″ iPad Pro. This iPad is the first one that I have truly used as my primary computer. Over the past year and a half, I have love having an iPad as my primary device, but my hope for this case was that it would provide a better typing expereince on the frequent occassions when I want to use the iPad as a laptop. I’m now at the end of my first day with the Magic Keyboard, and I wanted to share some thoughts. This is not a review of all the features; just my thought on the first twenty-four hours.

Adjusting my expectations

My very first impression was marked by a little disappointment. I expected more key travel. I know that this keyboard is a return to the scissor switches, but my primary experience of using a keyboard with scissor switches has been with the 2015 MacBook Air (my work issued device) and a 2014 MacBook Pro. I’ve already adjusted, but my very first thought was, “I thought there would be more travel than this.”

Second, multiple times during the first hour I found myself trying to push the screen back farther to increase the viewing angle. When I set the device in my lap, I was a little disappointed. Typing on my lap with the Magic Keyboard is certainly better that the experience of using a Smart Keyboard Folio, but I would like to be able to scoot the keyboard closer to me and have the screen pointing more directly at my face.

Third, the extra space below the keys, the blank spaces to the right and left of the trackpad, caused my hands to rest neither on nor off the device. Unlike a laptop, there isn’t enough of this blank space for my hands to fully rest on the case, but there is too much of it for my hands to rest completely off it. Just a little odd.

Finally, for the first hour when I would reach down to use the trackpad my finger would miss and land between the spacebar and the top of the trackpad. The trackpad is small, but I’m already adjusting. You keep hearing me say “for the first hour” because it really didn’t take long to adjust my expectations.

What makes it a keeper

The click of the trackpad was the first thing I loved. It physically moves, unlike the Magic Trackpad 2. Both the feel and the sound is pleasant. Speaking of pleasant sounds, the sound of the keys is satisfying as well.

This case is perfect for using my iPad as a laptop after the kids are asleep. During the day, I use a Keychron K2 mechanical keyboard with my iPad sitting in the Viozon stand. I enjoy the blue switches in my K2, but I quickly discovered that early in the morning and late at night my family can’t stand them. Beau would wake up and rage with questions as to why I like that keyboard. Last night, however, he fell asleep beside me as I typed on the Magic Keyboard. The keys are not silent, but provide just enough of a soft thud to let you know you successfully pressed a key. The delete key has a slightly different, higher pitched thud, and I like the symphany.

I frequently use my iPad for a while in bed after I put my son to sleep. During these times, I have sometimes wished I could prop my legs up, put the iPad down on my legs in a keyboard case, and type easily. I tried this last night, and it was comfortable enough that I typed for twenty or thirty minutes with no physical strain. I think there were five factors that made this work: (1) the rigidity of the bottom portion of the case, the keyboard portion, (2) the strength of the magnets that cause the iPad to “float,” (3) the backlit keys, (4) the strength of the primary hinge, and (5) the extra space, mentioned above, just below the keys and surrounding the trackpad. The extra space means that the bottom row of keys isn’t so low that my fingers can hardly reach them.

I didn’t expect to really care about the backlit keys, but they are nice. If I were sitting at my desk, muscle memory would be sufficient to help me find the keys, but muscle memory isn’t nearly as helpful if my hands are in even a slightly less than ideal position — for example, if I’m lying in bed.

Just before crashing last night, I found another new use case. Sometimes I want to watch a show while lying in bed, and I don’t want to hold the iPad. The viewing angles of the Smart Keyboard Folio didn’t allow the iPad to sit up straight enough. I wanted to be able to lay the keyoard on my stomach or lower chest and see the screen. This was actually comfortable with the Magic Keyboard. I have the primary hinge of the Magic Keyboard locked in place and the secondary hinge unengaged. The angle is just under 90 degrees.

One last note here: I have no idea why anyone would say that the device is too heavy or the hinge is too tight. The hinge is solid, just like it should be — not too tight, not too loose. I have no problem with the weight of the device either. I wanted the Magic Keyboard to improve the use of my iPad as laptop, and if it comes close to the weight of the Macbook when using it this way, that’s OK by me. As many have said, giving the iPad the ability to become like a laptop when you want it to is kind of the point.

Working with the iPad today

During the workday, the iPad has sat to the left of my crazy little at-home work station. Most of the time when I’m teaching the iPad serves as a white board or a projection device. Today, however, it mostly sat to the side and simply served as a slides projector. When we read together in English, I very easily took the ipad off the Magic keyboard, kicked my feet up, and either held it or laid it in my lap. The keyboard didn’t budge. When we finished reading, I set the device back in place with one hand. It’s like the magnets reached out and took the device right out of my hand.

When teaching in a physical classroom, I usually hold the iPad while walking around, projecting GoodNotes, and annotating the screen. I imagine when we can return to that context next year, the Magic Keyboard will sit on my desk ready to use during prep time, before school, and after school, and the Smart Keyboard folio will lie on the top of the bookcase I use as a standing desk, serving as a soft place for the iPad to land when I need to set it down.

One thing I want to try in the coming days is setting the iPad, while in the Magic Keyboard, on a laptop stand and use it in that position with my Keychron and Magic Trackpad 2. Myke Hurley mentioned this setup on the latest Connected. This setup would allow me to use the iPad at my desk in an optimally ergonomic way, and when I’m ready to work somewhere else, I can just pick it up, already in the Magic Keyboard case, and go.

Conclusion

I love the iPad’s modularity. I use my iPad as a whiteboard, a notebook, a reading device, a video game console, a TV, a lexicon, as monitor, a desktop, and … the list goes on and on. The Magic Keyboard significantly improves the frequent occassions when I want to use my iPad as a laptop. The keyboard is delightful, the trackpad is an ergonomic grace, the sounds of both are pleasant, and the backlit keys make late night work much easier. The hinge, magnets, and the weight of the device make if feel solid, and I have no worries that the iPad will come loose or fall. The only thing I would really like to see improve is the viewing angle. It’s fine as it is, but it’s not ideal. Getting to a full laptop viewing angle is my hope for the second iteration.