I hated the iPad Pro Smart Folio Keyboard, but now I love it

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Smart Keyboard Folio
As a keyboard, the Smart Keyboard Folio makes a great stand.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

I picked up the Smart Folio Keyboard for my iPad Pro a few weeks back, because I was traveling and needed to do some work on the go. I’ve avoided the expensive accessory in the past, because a regular Bluetooth keyboard is so much better — on paper anyway. Even the most basic Bluetooth keyboard offers far more essential features than Apple’s own keyboard case. But after trying the Apple keyboard, I like it a lot. The keys themselves are still awful, but the convenience factor is off the charts.

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Smart Keyboard vs. regular Bluetooth keyboard

A regular Bluetooth keyboard:

  • Lets you put the iPad up on a high stand, for better ergonomics.
  • Typically offers a row of function/media keys for adjusting screen brightness, audio volume, etc.
  • Has an Escape key, for … well, for all kinds of things.
  • Packs proper keys instead of the stiff, fabric-covered keys of the Smart Keyboard.

On the other hand, the iPad Pro Smart Folio Keyboard:

  • Never requires charging.
  • Is waterproof.
  • Is extremely light and thin, and doubles as a good case and stand.
  • Has a pointless key to change input language (⌃-Space does the same thing).
  • Disconnects when you take the iPad out, so you don’t have to disable Bluetooth when you take your iPad to the toilet and want to type something.

So what happened?

Despite its obvious setbacks, the Smart Keyboard is pretty addictive. The best part is that it’s a great stand. The magnetic connection that holds the lower edge of the iPad in place is rock solid. And the front cover, which becomes the base and the keyboard when opened up, is very stiff. The hinge is more pliant, so the iPad wobbles a little, but it’s a sturdy wobble — if that makes any sense.

The keys themselves on Apple's Smart Folio Keyboard are pretty bad.
The keys themselves are pretty bad.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

And this is enough to completely change how you use the iPad. You can use it on your lap, and you can leave the keyboard attached much of the time, which means that quick notes can be taken quicker, and keyboard shortcuts can be used. And with a keyboard attached, you’ll find yourself using all kinds of Mac tricks without even thinking about it — scrolling web pages with the space bar, for example.

And at the same time, it’s easy to yank the iPad free of the case/stand, to use it in portrait orientation or whatever you do with your iPad.

The bad …

It’s not all good. The lack of a media-key row remains very annoying. And the typing experience is also poor. The keys feel both loose and stiff. Loose, because the keycaps twist, and stiff, because the fabric that comprises the keyboard also stops the keys from moving freely. I feel like I have to tap harder than usual, and even then I’m never sure if the key has clicked or not. I’ve asked around, and it seems that this doesn’t get any better as the keys wear in.

This precludes me from using the Smart Keyboard as my full-time keyboard. In fact, if I was traveling for more than a few days, I’d still take a Bluetooth keyboard and a stand for the iPad. But for quickly popping out of the house, or for using around the house, it’s perfect. My favorite use-case is with GarageBand for iPad. GarageBand has amazing support for keyboard shortcuts in iOS, and using it with the Smart Keyboard Folio is ideal. On my desk, hooked up to the iConnectivityAudio4+, it’s the perfect way to quickly put a song together.

Is the Smart Keyboard Folio worth the $199/219 euros it costs for the big 13-inch version? Yes and no. The price is painful, especially as it’s not even very good for typing. But it sure is a handy all-in-one accessory, and I’m happy to have it.

Buy from: Amazon