The 9.7″ iPad Pro is an amazing portable business device — at least when it’s paired up with a great keyboard. iPads (and tablets in general) are such a great way to consume content, but where they have traditionally fallen behind laptops is in the productivity department. That’s because creating content on the iPad — even the iPad Pro — can still be just a bit frustrating for many users.
Arguments rage between iOS devotees and those who can’t peel themselves away from the MacBooks or other laptops. But many of the issues business users have with the iPad Pro can be addressed with a proper keyboard (many, not all). Some of my biggest complaints against the official Apple iPad keyboard (the Smart Keyboard) include no backlighting on the keyboard for typing in dark spaces, a cramped typing space on the 9.7″ model, a lack of shortcut keys and no adjustable viewing angle (and especially that last one). Plus, the Smart Keyboard frequently falls off if I pick up the iPad (or the keyboard) the wrong way.
And so this article is turning into a bit of a “3 Best Alternatives to Apple’s Smart Keyboard” list. And like many of my lists this one has been born out of my own desire to find the best replacement keyboard. Because while the Smart Keyboard is usable, I’m just not thrilled with it. I want a better iPad Pro keyboard experience because the truth is I’m really starting to love getting some serious work done on this device.
For me, the iPad Pro 9.7″ is ideal for firing off emails, writing articles and video scripts, sketching, taking notes (both handwritten using the Apple Pencil and typed), some spreadsheet work and maybe someday soon video editing (I want to edit video on my iPad Pro so badly, but iMovie just isn’t powerful enough and an iPad version of Final Cut Pro is still nowhere to be found).
The creative/creation focused apps I am using most on my iPad Pro at the moment are: WordPress, iA Writer, Twitter, various email apps (I’m always testing new ones), Trello, Apple’s Notes app (I’ve completely migrated from Evernote at this point), Safari, Paper by FiftyThree and OmniFocus. I use several other apps as well, but they are more focused on consuming, rather than creating, content.
Before we get into my top 3 iPad Pro 9.7″ keyboard cases, let me say that, unfortunately, the perfect case just doesn’t exist at the moment (in my opinion). There are some great cases, but they all have some glaring flaws or omissions. In my mind, the perfect iPad Pro case would use the Smart Connector (I love not having to pair the Smart Keyboard via Bluetooth), would have a place to hold the Apple Pencil, would have a backlit keyboard and, very importantly, multiple (adjustable) viewing angles rather than just one. Oh, and obviously it would need to be comfortable to type on (meaning keys that aren’t too cramped and keys with the right amount of travel). At the moment, such a case does not exist.
That said, let’s dive in. These are the best keyboard cases for professionals that actually want to get real work done on their 9.7″ iPad Pros in late 2016 and early 2017 (and possibly even into 2018 as I don’t see Apple changing the iPad Pro design up too drastically between now and then).
The Logitech CREATE keyboard case has been around for about a year for the larger iPad, but it’s just been released for the smaller (and more manageable) 9.7″ model. And that’s a very good thing.
The one thing I really love about this case (and which really helps to set it apart from other business-friendly keyboard cases) is that is has a clever Apple Pencil holder. Since Apple went out of it’s way to not include an easy way to bring an Apple Pencil along with you, this feature is a very welcome addition. Much better than throwing your Apple Pencil in a pocket or leaving it swimming around inside a bag or back pack somewhere. So if you’re a creative person (like a designer or someone who does a lot of sketching or likes to write by hand), this could be a lifesaver.
Unfortunately, this keyboard case only has one viewing angle for your screen. That’s it’s one major flaw in my opinion. But maybe that doesn’t matter to you. If you never plan on typing on your lap, for instance, it may not matter at all.
It does, however, have a backlit keyboard, which is awesome, and it also uses Apple’s Smart Connector which is incredibly handy. Truly, any iPad keyboard case that doesn’t have the Smart Connector is at a serious disadvantage — once someone has used a case that makes use of it, it’s very hard to switch to something else.
Something nice about this keyboard that is hard to find on other products (including Apple’s, bafflingly) are several dedicated shortcut keys (that more closely mimic a MacBook keyboard experience).
Finally, I like the looks of this case a lot. It comes in two colors (black and blue) and even costs significantly less than Apple’s Smart Keyboard. Plus, I’m a real Logitech fan: they really make some fun, well-built products infused with some real personality. For all these reasons, that’s why this keyboard lands at #1 on my list.
ClamCase+ by Incipio
The ClamCase+ for the iPad Pro 9.7″ is one sleek-looking accessory. When you place your iPad inside, it definitely looks something like a MacBook (and that’s not a bad thing).
The two things I dislike about the ClamCase+ are that it doesn’t connect via the Smart Connector (you’ll need to pair via Bluetooth and charge the keyboard separately via a USB cable) and there’s no built-in Apple Pencil holder.
But what I really love about this case, aside from the great design, of course, is that it has a “smart hinge” which will let you adjust the viewing angle.
But there are plenty of additional features to like here. For instance, battery life and conservation (for both your iPad and the ClamCase+ itself) were considered. For starters, Incipio claims you’ll get weeks of usage from one charge! The auto-sleep and wake feature is also great in that regard and the power button is easy to get at to turn the keyboard on or off quite easily.
I also appreciate the fact that this keyboard has backlighting.
It’s also nice to have some LED indicator lights which will let you know at a glance how much battery life remains and whether the keyboard is paired.
ZAGG Slim Book
The ZAGG Slim Book also creates a laptop-like illusion and is, in some ways, visually similar to the ClamCase+. But where it really distinguishes itself from the pack is with multiple usage modes.
There’s a keyboard mode (obviously), a case mode, a video mode and a book mode. In keyboard mode, you’ll be able to type and set the viewing angle of your choice (a major bonus). In case mode, you can detach the keyboard from the rest of the case completely to shed some bulk in certain situations. In video mode, you can flip the keyboard portion of the case around and use it as an adjustable stand (which is great for watching videos and super-useful for using Facetime, Google Hangouts or Skype). Finally, book mode just lets you flip the keyboard all the way around to read the screen like a book (without detaching the keyboard portion completely).
Additionally, this case features a backlit keyboard, some nice shortcut keys for enhanced productivity and battery life that can last up to two years (and that number apparently is derived without using the backlight — or by using it less often).
Recommendations and Conclusion
- For a multi-functional keyboard case, go with the ZAGG: it’s the least limiting case of the bunch.
- For the most laptop-like experience you can get, go with the ClamCase+: in both looks and feel, it’s the closest to using a MacBook as you can get with an iPad.
- If using the Smart Connector or being able to carry your Apple Pencil along with you easily are important, you’ll definitely want to go with the Logitech CREATE.
I’ve seen a lot of iPad Pro 9.7″ keyboard case lists and roundups and I am almost offended by them. Either someone went through and listed every possible case on the market or the author didn’t have a focus. I’m glad I made this article and I hope you find it helpful.