Having been seduced by the shiny new iPad Pro TOBY WOOLLASTON goes the whole lockdown hog and buys Apple’s so-called Magic Keyboard.
A few weeks back I wrote on my shiny new iPad Pro about… uh, my shiny new iPad Pro. In a nutshell, it’s a wonderful tablet, but you can read about that for yourself. What I was really waiting for was the iPad’s missing half – the Magic Keyboard. Was this combo going to be the MacBook Pro replacement that I was hoping for? Was Apple’s promo blurb, “Your next computer is not a computer”, going to prove accurate?
Apple’s touted May release unexpectedly became an April release. A few clicks later and a whopping NZ$549 taken from my bank account and this “essential item” was winging its way here from Apple’s Sydney warehouse. It all happened so quickly. And so it bloody well should at that price.
Unboxing the Magic Keyboard is a typical Apple experience with everything tightly packaged within a minimal but sturdy box. Popping the lid sends your heart aflutter, giving you the Indiana Jones glow of awe as you remove the new gadget from its resting place for the first time.
But with the Magic Keyboard in hand, awe won’t be the first thing you’ll notice. Rather what you’ll notice is the elephant in the room, and I mean that almost literally. Yes, this thing weighs a ton! At 600 grams it weighs more than the iPad itself and when paired together it’s about the same weight as my old 12-inch MacBook.
Let me get a few more knee-jerk negatives off my chest for this Apple Magic Keyboard review. It comes in an inoffensive, but equally boring, muted dark grey/black. To be frank, some colour options would have been nice. The outer material appears to be synthetic and attracts more grease than Rydell High. But perhaps the biggest negative will no doubt appear in a few months, when sliding, swivelling and scraping this hefty case on surfaces will result in wearing out its undercarriage. I hope I’m proven wrong.
Solid Yet Slim
I’m hoping that with heft comes quality, and opening the case reveals a solid, yet somehow impossibly slim construction with hinges that give the kind of tightness and friction that fill you with confidence. The extra weight also adds to its stability. Using it on the lap while sitting on the couch or with feet up in bed poses little problem. If anything, the grippy exterior and its smaller footprint made it a better experience than my old MacBook.
The iPad slots effortlessly into place thanks to magnets that guide it into the perfect sitting position, marrying the case to the three-pin connector on the rear of the iPad, thereby powering the keyboard. You can also charge the iPad itself by plugging your charge-cable into the case’s USB-C slot (unfortunately only used for charging) located on the hinge, thus freeing up the iPad’s own USB-C port for other peripherals. This small addition is a welcome one and eliminates the drink-spilling, charge-cable hanging eyesore that previously sprouted from halfway up the iPad.
In some respects Apple has narrowed its scope, focussing on the iPad-attached-to-keyboard experience and dispensing with the fold-back option that its sloppier predecessor (the Smart Keyboard) offered. So, if you want to use the iPad in portrait mode then you will have to remove it from the case, which is, thankfully, a very easy thing to do.
I appreciate how this might be annoying for those who are constantly switching between modes, but it is perfect for someone like myself who does a lot of keyboard work during the day, with a session of bedtime tablet browsing at night.
Which brings me gleefully to the Magic Keyboard’s best feature: the keyboard itself. Yes, as the name suggests, this keyboard had me drinking deeply from its magical cauldron of alphabet soup. Hoooo boy… it’s a dream to type on and there are a few mentionable reasons for this.
Let me begin by noting that a transition between keyboards requires a period of adjustment. Subtle changes in size and layout often bring about reprogramming of the hand’s muscle memory. So, it was a wonderful surprise to find the Magic Keyboard required very little adjustment and in fact, gave me the most pleasurable typing experience I think I’ve ever had. Anecdotally, it feels like the slightly smaller layout makes for a more accurate and quicker typing experience. I suppose this makes sense if you consider your fingers are travelling a shorter distance.
What also aids this experience is the keyboard’s extremely low profile. Typing so close to the table means my fingers don’t have to crane up onto a raised keyboard. The result is a far more relaxed experience, and at the risk of sounding like Donald “I’m not a doctor” Trump, it’s gotta be better for you. But hey, I’m not a doctor.
A few years ago I wrote an entire thesis using the iPad’s built-in screen keyboard. My friends likened it to writing on a plank of wood. I agree it wasn’t ideal, but what I did appreciate was the immediacy of each keypress. The Magic Keyboard gets as close to this immediacy as I’ve felt on a mechanical keyboard. With its small 1mm key travel and a more reliable scissor-switch setup, Apple appears to have reached typing nirvana. I know that’s a bold claim, and I recognise that typing is a very personal experience and that some will have a different preference.
If I have to bemoan something, it would be the lack of function keys. The top shelf of my old MacBook was very useful to quickly adjust volume, screen brightness, etc. Unfortunately, no dice with the Magic Keyboard, which requires you to either use the physical buttons (in the instance of volume) or mouse/touch your way to other screen controls/settings to make the required change. Shame, but to be fair I can’t figure out where you’d put another row of keys. There simply isn’t the real estate, especially when you are also accommodating the trackpad.
Ah, the trackpad. Without it, I would not have purchased the Magic Keyboard in the first place. It is the tonic that elevates the iPad into MacBook territory. Having previously used the iPad Pro with a separate mouse/keyboard combo, I found it quicker to touch the screen for certain tasks -something that becomes quite tiresome when your iPad is set further away on a stand. But the trackpad removes this inconvenience by extending the iPad’s functionality beyond what a mouse can do. The same intuitive trackpad gestures found on MacOS are now included in iPadOS. Three-fingered swipes have you switching between apps with ease and two-fingered scrolling brings you a genuine desktop experience.
Apple Magic Keyboard Review: Summary
It’s a perfect marriage; MacBook’s intuitive gesture-laden trackpad with iPad’s efficient no fuss OS. Add to this the low profile keyboard with highly responsive backlit keys that are a delight to tap on, all packaged into a sweet looking portable folio. For now, following my Apple Magic Keyboard review, this seems as close to computing heaven as I’ll get.