iPad Pro Tablet With Smart Keyboard Works Well as Laptop Replacement

REVIEW: The iPad Pro with its detachable keyboard is trying mightily to break your laptop habit. But the Apple Pencil seems less effective as a mobile work accessory.

iPad Pro Keyboard 2

When I got the iPad Pro I was delighted with the bigger screen, the higher resolution, and the ability of the tablet to display two full-sized images side by side.

Unfortunately, at that point I was unable to get my hands on the iPad Smart Keyboard or the Apple Pencil. But because the larger screen of the iPad Pro makes the on-screen keyboard easier to use, this wasn't as big a disadvantage as it might seem.

Eventually the folks at Apple media relations offered to help, and arranged a loan of the currently impossible-to-buy input devices, so I was able to use the iPad as Apple intended, as a laptop replacement. Let me say right up front that I did not expect to be impressed with these items because in my view, flatter-than-a-pancake keyboards are rarely usable. But in this case I was wrong.

The Smart Keyboard is in fact more usable than I expected it to be. The Pencil also worked well as the folks at Apple demonstrated in the iPad announcement earlier this year. But I have some questions as to the Pencil's usefulness for some applications.

The Smart Keyboard has two aspects that I find particularly attractive. First it's a miracle of engineering consisting of three layers, one of which is a conductive layer that passes power to the keyboard and data back to the iPad. Over that is a fabric cover that is a one-piece answer to keyboard design. That fabric cover is water resistant and stain resistant, and it manages to provide exceptional tactile feedback for typing.

The Smart Keyboard has a microfiber backing that covers the screen when the keyboard is being used as a cover. The microfiber also helps keep the screen clean. The whole thing is 3.2 millimeters thick and when it's being used as a cover it's only slightly thicker than the Smart Cover. The keyboard attaches magnetically to three small contacts on the long edge of the iPad Pro. Those contacts provide the power and data connection to the keyboard.

I used the iPad Pro and the Smart Keyboard combination for the sort of tasks you'd normally perform on your laptop. That means I answered email, wrote a couple of articles and did some other random tasks that required typing, such as adding valuable thoughts to Facebook. I expected there to be a significant learning curve after having done all of my writing either on a full sized keyboard at my desk, or using the well-designed keyboard on my Lenovo ThinkPad T-430.

As it turns out, there wasn't much of a learning curve at all, beyond some variances in the placement of keys such as the Control key, and the addition of a Command key. In one area, the matte finish of the keyboard adds better usability than what's on the ThinkPad.

When you touch type on the Apple Smart Keyboard, your fingers are less likely to slip off the key face than they are on keyboards with slick finishes.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...