The Battle of the Smart Keyboards

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Along with the new iPad Pro, two new accompanying first party accessories came along;  Pencil and Smart Keyboard Cover. Both highly anticipated and sought after, they sold out quickly after launch and both were fetching high prices on the Internet from third party sellers. If you are in the market for a precise input device (or stylus) for iPad Pro, Apple Pencil is an almost no-brainier. It is built especially for iPad Pro and takes advantage of technologies in the screen that no other third party accessory can, significantly reducing latency and allowing for tilt and pressure sensitivity usually only found on graphics tablets. On the other hand, the Smart Keyboard has competition that Apple has readily asked for. With the inclusion of the Smart Connector on the bottom of iPad Pro, Apple has opened up this technology to any third party manufacturer (that they have worked with of course). Therefore there comes a dilemma. Of the two readily available keyboards on the market, which one is better? The Logitech Create or the Smart Keyboard Cover?

First and foremost, let’s start with the typing experience. Here, the Logitech has the more traditional keyboard with chiclet style keys and a scissor mechanism which allows for ample travel on a small keyboard (about the same as the MacBook Air or Pro). On the other side, the Apple Smart Keyboard Cover incorporates technology first pioneered in the 12″ MacBook. A dome switch hidden under the custom-woven fabric. This fabric provides the spring-like tension for each key, removing the need for any traditional mechanism. This allows the keyboard to be dramatically thinner however means that there is significantly less travel making for an experience that is useable but many may find less traditional, requiring more of a ‘hit’ than a ‘press’ on each key. I honestly don’t mind either and have become accustomed to both however feel that coming from a MacBook Pro, the Create was easier to get used to as the keys are almost the same size as that on a MacBook Pro/Air and have almost the same travel, meaning it is more pickup and go. The Smart Keyboard gets some getting used to but after about 5 minutes I was typing at relatively the same pace as that on my MacBook Pro which is relatively fast. Touch typing also was quick to adapt to. One thing that UK or international users may want to note is that the Smart Keyboard is only available in an International/US Keyboard layout so has different sized return keys and a few keys are moved around. There is also no ‘£’ sign on printed on the keyboard however this can be accessed by doing ‘option shift 3’. I found this no different as I have used an International MacBook Pro for a while and have gotten used to it.

Design wise, the two are almost opposite ends of the spectrum. While one has been created for real portability and lightness, the other has been made for a great typing experience with all the knobs and buttons that you may need. The Smart Keyboard is really portable. If you are familiar of the weight of a Smart Cover, the Smart Keyboard feels less than what two Smart Covers weigh. It is also about the thickness of two Smart Covers when closed, making for a cover that feels almost like it hasn’t got a keyboard on it. I really liked this. It was really easy to flip out and after the first few times, I became used to flipping it open and doing the few folds it took to get it into the typing position. A few more folds and it was in a more upright position to view a movie and another fold and it was ready to go. The really nice thing also was that the connector to the keyboard was always in place, not requiring constant attaching and detaching. Don’t worry however, when the keyboard is not in its position, it does not register inputs so don’t worry about accidentally invoking something when you are watching a movie. There is only one colour of the keyboard available at the moment which matches the Space Grey model quite well and I’m sure Apple will bring out more colours in the future. Readers may want to note that the Smart Keyboard, like the Smart Cover, provides no protection for the back of the device and will likely not provide a lot of help in a drop. The back of iPad is a large aluminum surface that looks like it will be easily scratched and with the Smart Keyboard in place, I was constantly in fear of this occurring  (as I have experienced with my iPad mini before). I therefore was more conscious about where I was putting the device and did not slide the iPad around on surfaces. You can pick up a back case for iPad which I plan to do if I keep this case as it just seems really sketchy (as I am quite picky about the condition of my devices).

The Logitech Create on the other hand is all about that typing experience. It has great key travel but a really bulky design, making the iPad about 3x as thick as it was without the case and adding the weight of almost an iPad Air on top of that, if not another iPad Pro. It was a bulky case and the use of the lock and volume up and down buttons was a chore. Luckily, unlike the Apple Smart Keyboard, this one came with a row of function keys. Volume, brightness, home button, lock button and media controls adorn the top row allowing quick access to these various preferences. I really liked this feature. Along with this, the keyboard is backlit allowing it to be used easily in the dark without hunting for keys. This is a really nice feature however I don’t usually look at the keyboard to type so this isn’t a massive deal for me, however given the choice, I’d always prefer a backlit as it just looks more aesthetically pleasing. This backlights however isn’t like that on a MacBook. It only comes on for spurts of ~3s at a time. I’m guessing this has to do with battery life but it annoyed me when I was using it. Instead of staying on for the duration of the screen-on time, it would keep turning off. For some reason this annoyed me and made me want to keep pressing keys to wake it again. I wish somehow they could have made it so that it stayed on for longer. It also meant that if it was dark and you wanted to find a key you had to press any to find the key, sometimes undo the thing you just did or sometimes not as it didn’t register an input and then get on with what you wanted to do. At least on the Smart Keyboard, it instantly registered. I found the Create also had a certain ‘wake up time’ as waking the screen using the keyboard required a few taps of the space bar whereas the Apple Keyboard was straight on. The protection provided by the Create is pretty awesome however. All over protection is great and the nice woven fabric would probably take a beating before showing any really obvious marks. I know that Smart Covers can scratch and dent easily so I wouldn’t put it pas the Apple Smart Keyboard which I have already managed to scuff in the two weeks that I have had it (on the keyboard too, tsk tsk). One thing that remains to be seen as an issue is that every time you want to use the Create, you have to dock the iPad on its Smart Connector. While this may sound fine, I actually saw some wear to the connectors on iPad Pro. Nothing major, I mean it didn’t make the keyboard intermittent or anything, it just looked a lot more worn than I thought it would look. This wear issue also came when the iPad was to be used in the case with the back of the iPad on the keyboard itself in ‘easel’ mode. I saw no actual damage to the back of iPad but you could hear the noise of metal scraping against metal every time it was in this position that first I decided not to use this at all and eventually covered the bottom in some tape so that it could be here without risk of scratching the iPad. On the Create, if the iPad is knocked and forced over the keyboard, there is major risk of the bottom scratching against the sides which may not matter to some but made me feel very cautious about using it.

On both keyboards, the screen also only has one typing angle. While that position is fine for me, taller or shorter people may have to adjust their seating position, moving the iPad closer or father away to combat this issue or even having to prop the iPad up with books or other things lying around the office. Also, if this matters to you, the Create is a lot louder when typing.

These are two great keyboards but which will I choose? I think they both have great typing experiences and some may prefer the Create but I feel the Smart Keyboard is the winner for me. The main reason why I like it is its thinness and lightness which really mean that it is a lot more portable and more like a cover than a whole case. The Create’s weight and thickness made me consider replacing it fully with a MacBook Pro and that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted and needed it to be light enough to slip into a bag or carried around and not something that made my arms ache. iPad Pro is already so heavy. Why make it so much heavier?

I feel that you can’t really go wrong with either keyboard here so don’t worry if you can’t get both and try them out, you’re gonna love either one. Do let me know in the comments which one you got and why.

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2 thoughts on “The Battle of the Smart Keyboards

  1. Pingback: Where does the iPad Pro go? | Jing-Yi's Blog

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