The iPad Pro is supposed to be a device that let’s people get some serious work done. There are people who love the iPad Pro as a laptop alternative and people who don’t. Until recently, I wanted to love the iPad Pro as a work machine but felt like it was lacking something. For me, that something was a keyboard other than Apple’s Smart Keyboard.
My work mostly involves writing and video editing on top of the constant flow of email almost all professionals navigate on a daily basis. And when I bought the iPad Pro I meant to use it in place of the MacBook I sold off. The heavy lifting (video editing) would happen on my 27″ 5K iMac and the lighter stuff (writing) would be done on the iPad. Except that’s not what happened. For the better part of a year the 9.7″ iPad Pro sat around being underutilized.
Without a doubt Apple’s Smart Keyboard has some cool features. It’s light and has an interesting style. The fabric keyboard prevents crumbs from getting trapped underneath keys. And I LOVE the smart connector: it’s super-convenient not having to pair the keyboard via Bluetooth or needing to remember to charge yet another accessory.
But the Smart Keyboard has some unfortunate productivity killers — at least for me and how I actually want to use the iPad Pro. There’s only one viewing angle which basically limits where I can use the iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard to a desk or table. It’s missing important shortcut keys that could go a long way toward helping me get work done faster and with more efficiency (considering there’s no mouse). And finally there isn’t any backlighting on the keyboard which means typing in dark situations is less than optimal.
And then there’s the typing experience itself. I definitely don’t hate the way keys press and feel on the Smart Keyboard, but I don’t love it either. It’s just alright — I could take it or leave it (and right now I’m leaning slightly more toward leave it).
For these reasons I began experimenting with other keyboard cases looking for the best Smart Keyboard alternatives. Unfortunately I found out that a perfect iPad Pro keyboard just doesn’t exist. Every keyboard I tested had at least one glaring flaw. Still, there are some interesting options to consider. And in this article I’ve narrowed it down to what I think are the top two 9.7″ iPad Pro for professionals.
Option 1: ZAGG Slim Book
Let’s look at the ZAGG Slim Book first since this is the case that really made the iPad Pro come alive for me. There’s a lot to like about this iPad Pro keyboard case, though it has some flaws.
For me, the top feature is simple: it’s possible to adjust the viewing angle! This is big for me because it allows me to type in my lap (something that comes in handy when I’m at the airport, for instance, or when I want to type up an article in bed). This one feature makes the iPad Pro SO much more versatile. And people who wish the iPad was more like a laptop will love this keyboard case. In fact, when you open it up, the keyboard even looks very similar to a MacBook (and that’s not a bad thing).
Next, there are plenty of useful shortcut keys that do a lot to enhance my mobile workflow. I particularly appreciate the dedicated home, lock, Siri and search buttons.
This keyboard has another feature the Smart Keyboard lacks: a backlit keyboard. And it’s pretty spectacular. There are three brightness levels and there are also several different colors you can rotate through (and in this one regard this keyboard feels kind of a like a gaming keyboard).
Something else that’s nice is that you can easily separate the keyboard portion of the case from the rest of the case. Detaching is smooth and so is putting the case back together.
Although there’s no Smart Connector on the Slim Book, battery life is pretty great. The company claims you can go 2 years between charges with normal use. I’m not sure about that since I’ve not had it nearly that long, but every time I’ve checked the battery status it says full.
But there are some downsides.
Notably, the ZAGG Slim Book is fairly heavy. People who like to travel as light as possible won’t be happy about that.
And, as you’ve probably guessed since I already mentioned that there was no Smart Connector, you’ll have to pair via Bluetooth and will need to be conscious of the keyboard’s battery (however resilient it may be).
The typing experience on the Slim Book is workable. In fact, I might (still can’t decide) like it better than the Smart Keyboard’s typing experience. Somehow the key presses aren’t super-satisfying to me (though my wife said, “What’s the difference?!”). Still, for a keyboard product the typing experience should be excellent.
The hard plastic shell on the outside of this case is unfortunate for a couple of reasons. First, it looks and feels really cheap (even though this is quite an expensive accessory). Second, it’s not going to provide a great deal of drop protection.
Lastly, there is a bit of annoying creaking when you adjust the viewing angle of the case. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it’s just… annoying.
Option 2: Logitech Create
The Logitech Create is another interesting option that just recently became available for the smaller 9.7″ iPad Pro even though people with the larger iPad Pro have been able to buy it for about a year.
Without a doubt this keyboard has the best iPad typing experience I’ve ever come across. I love the key travel and key size and it makes me never want to use another iPad keyboard — ever. The key presses are about as satisfying as they come.
In contrast to the ZAGG Slim Book, this keyboard case is super-light.
Plus, it uses the Smart Connector so there’s no pairing or charging.
Like the ZAGG, there’s a backlit keyboard, but unlike the ZAGG you won’t get multiple colors to choose from. Fortunately, you don’t need several colors, though, and you’ll be able to choose between three brightness levels.
But there’s a real standout feature on the Create: a built-in Apple Pencil holder which helps to ensure you won’t lose that expensive stylus. This is a very nice tough, Logitech.
Like on the Slim Book I greatly appreciate the shortcut keys on the Create. While the most useful shortcuts are here, there’s no Siri button (which is less of an issue now that you can use Hey Siri in the latest iOS update). But there are two buttons for adjusting the iPad’s screen brightness which are actually pretty handy because I don’t always like the default contrast adjustments.
I like the material that Logitech chose to use for the outside of the case. it’s a woven fabric paired with some hard plastic edging that seems like it would offer decent drop protection. Plus, it feels good, doesn’t seem cheap and is pretty unique.
The power and volume buttons are also easy to access and press.
Honestly, there’s really only one downside to this keyboard case in my opinion, but it’s a big one: there’s no adjustable screen angle. Just like Apple’s Smart Keyboard you’re going to be stuck with just one default viewing angle.
So close to amazing.
Recommendations and Conclusion
At the end of the day choosing the right keyboard case is going to come down to personal preference and needs. For me, I’ve been using the Create more than anything else just because I can’t get enough of that typing experience. Plus, I like having the Apple Pencil handy at all times. But at the same time, I greatly miss not having the adjustable screen angle offered by the ZAGG Slim Book.
My recommendations are as follows. If you’re looking for a more laptop-like iPad Pro experience, then by all means go with something like the ZAGG Slim Book. For you, the pros will almost certainly outweigh the cons.
On the other hand if you’re a more creative person or a person who demands the absolute best (most comfortable) typing experience while on the go, the Create is pretty unbeatable.