[Off-Topic] Apple Magic Keyboard Review

The Apple Magic Keyboard isn’t a fountain pen (obviously), but it is a writing implement. So, not entirely off-topic. But the reality is, I got one recently, and I want to write about it. I’ve been an iPad user since the very first one, and an iPad Pro user since its initial release in 2015. I currently have the 2018 12.9″ iPad Pro (3rd Gen). I’ve used an external Bluetooth keyboard for as long as I can remember, certainly since 2015. It was only after the 2018 iPad Pro that a significant part of my writing was done on my iPad rather than my computer.

While the current situation (COVID-19 lockdowns, if you’re reading this in the distant future) has knocked my workflow for a loop, I tended to have three distinct keyboard scenarios with my iPad. The keyboard I currently use is a Keychron K2 mechanical keyboard with Gateron brown switches and double-shot PBT keycaps. It can connect with both my iPad and my laptop. It does have the ability for a third device, but I only have two paired with it. Switching between devices is easy.

While I did have a Smart Keyboard Cover with my first iPad Pro (that may not have been the exact name at that time), I never liked using it. Besides, that one was buggy, requiring two warranty replacements after complete failure. The third one had the intermittent Smart Connector problem, and I gave up on it rather than replace it. Even without all of the issues, I didn’t use it all that much. I just didn’t like the typing angle or the feel of the keyboard.

I do have a Brydge keyboard for my iPad Pro. The one without the trackpad. I liked the feel of it, although it had many of the issues I’ll mention below. Plus, it was hard to remove from the clips that held the iPad. The little rubber protectors became a pain to line up so the iPad would fit in the clips. Because I switch between keyboard use and tablet use several times a day, this became unworkable.

All this made me hesitant with the Magic Keyboard, but it did raise the iPad a little and promised easier removal.

Another item that might be important: I don’t use a case or cover of any sort on my iPad, which is my preference.

Work Office Setup

While I’m not using the office very much these days, when I was, I’d have my 16″ Macbook Pro sitting on a Nulaxy Laptop Stand. I use a Logitech MX Ergo Trackball that also connects to both the laptop and iPad. The iPad is on a simple Amazon Basics stand off to the side. I may use the keyboard and mouse to locate a reference doc, but it is rarely used. I’m more likely to pick the iPad up and use it as a tablet, with the pencil to read and markup documents.

The Apple Magic Keyboard doesn’t work at all in this scenario. It’s much easier to toggle the switch on the keyboard in front of me rather than contort my body to use the Apple keyboard. Plus, it doesn’t fit in where I like my iPad, so it’s not suitable as a stand either. I could re-arrange my desk, but to what benefit?

While removing the iPad is not difficult, it does require two hands, despite what the ads show. Yes, the base is heavy and stable, but using one hand to hold it down is needed. There may be some exact angle and force that works with one hand, but I never found it.

So, the bottom line is that the Apple Magic Keyboard is unsuitable for how my work office is set up. I can’t see me changing my workflow to accommodate it.

Home Office Setup

This setup is pretty much the same as before the lockdown. The big difference is that I’m using the iPad for typing at my desk much more than I expected. I like physical queues to help set my work mode. I considered this desk mostly analog, optimized for pens and paper. At most, the iPad would be there for reference, minimal typing. My laptop would never touch this desk.

That has changed, as I spend most of my day at the desk. I still minimize laptop use at the desk but use the iPad much more than I expected. I’m typing this post using the setup in this picture.

Photo of my home office iPad setup

I have ordered a stand to raise the laptop higher. My neck does complain a bit after an extended typing session with the current setup. Those Apple Watch stand reminders are essential since I do have to get up and stretch before those neck muscles tighten up.

As shown in the picture, I like the iPad placed away from the keyboard, and the keyboard near me. I do move the keyboard distance (closer/further) during or between typing sessions to move my muscles around. I’m still trying to figure out the best setup ergonomically. I did try the Apple Magic Keyboard and quickly determined that the typing/viewing angle that is required wasn’t suitable for me long term.

I recently found my Apple Magic Trackpad, and it became part of my home office iPad setup. Before this, the Logitech trackball would travel, now I’ll just leave it in the office.

Coffee Shops

Obviously, I haven’t been able to take the iPad to a coffee shop, but I can make some informed assumptions based on my history. This mode is where I would benefit most from the Apple Magic Keyboard. Currently, or most recently, when I could, I would often work at a coffee shop or the library for an hour or two, just to change things up. Typically I would take my laptop, since it was easier than packing the iPad, external keyboard, and a stand.

With the Apple Magic Keyboard, it’s a safe bet that I would take the iPad rather than the laptop. Since the form factor is similar and I never type long enough for it to be a problem for me.

The Apple Magic Keyboard Itself

I sent the keyboard back because it didn’t fit in with my workflow. I wasn’t surprised, since having a keyboard attached to the iPad never really worked for me. If the Apple stores had been open, I would have gone in to see it in real life. Although honestly, I may have bought one anyway to get a hands-on look. Some other impressions of the keyboard, in no particular order:

  • The keyboard is heavy, but that didn’t bother me. It uses the weight to provide stability.
  • While the keyboard does seem solidly built, I do have concerns about long term durability. The material on the top of the keyboard feels a bit like plastic, while other surfaces are like felt and will collect dirt. I also would be concerned about the ability of the magnets to keep their strength and for the hinge to remain tight. They may be durable, only time will tell.
  • I didn’t mind the size of the trackpad, although its operation annoyed me a bit. It’s a mechanical trackpad. While it’s subjective, the sound annoyed me and sounded cheap, like plastic blocks snapping into place. While the trackpad is small, I find it very usable. I intensely disliked the click, but otherwise, the trackpad worked fine.
  • Despite being heavy, I didn’t find the keyboard lapable. To be fair, I don’t like using any computer on my lap. I can use my Macbook Pro that way, but I don’t like it. The iPad with the Apple Magic Keyboard wouldn’t balance on my lap and was unusable.
  • The typing experience was enjoyable. While not as good as my mechanical keyboard, it certainly better than any iPad keyboard I’ve tried.
  • When Apple changes the iPad design, this keyboard will become obsolete. The main concern would be the location of the smart connector. There may be a way to change the design, which Apple likes to do, while still fitting on the Magic Keyboard. But, no guarantees.

Wrapping Up

I returned the Apple Magic Keyboard to Apple. It didn’t fit in with my workflow. While it was nice, the best iPad attached keyboard I’ve used, I couldn’t justify the $350 price. Especially considering that I already had a working setup that I liked. My current setup is not as portable as I’d like, but I won’t be doing a lot of traveling in the near future.

Now that I’ve had my hands on the Magic Keyboard, I’ll be able to decide if it’s suitable should my situation change. I could then get another one, although that’s not likely to happen. It’s more likely a Gen 2 version, or some accessories will make the keyboard a better fit for me. In a weird twist, the more I use the iPad for productivity, the less suitable the Apple Magic Keyboard becomes.

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