Let's talk about the Smart Keyboard.
When we last left off I was pretty undecided about Apple's smaller portable keyboard. I hadn't spent more than a few days typing on it, and was still very much used to my previous workflow of a TwelveSouth Compass stand + Magic Keyboard.
Since that New York trip where I bought the thing I've had plenty of time to work out how I feel about this smaller, inherently more compromised typing setup. And to my surprise, I like it.
It complicates things for me, but in a good way.
In on-the-go use it's become clear to me that it's better than my old setup. Instead of pulling out my iPad, a stand, and a wireless keyboard - all three of which individually required some sort of additional setup - I just pull out my iPad and in the act of unfolding the cover, the entire setup is there and ready to go.
It's also lighter, doesn't require worrying about backup batteries, and doesn't take up anywhere near as much space in my bag. It's just more hassle-free in general, and so I choose to bring it along with me wherever I go these days.
I also think it looks pretty incredible. San Francisco has quickly become one of my favorite typefaces in nearly all applications - so I love looking down at it on my keys. Add to that the interesting ways the fabric keys look from different angles and in different lights, and how damned futuristic it looks perched in front of an iPad - and you've got a visual winner.
However, using it at all hinges upon actually being able to type on the thing. When I first got this small Smart Keyboard I was concerned that it would be cramped and impractical to use as a full-time option like every other 9.7" sized keyboard-case I'd seen in years past. I'm relieved to say that Apple managed to pull the typing experience off pretty well.
While the whole thing is smaller than the other Apple keyboards one might be used to, the main QWERTY typing keys all have acceptable size and spacing to one another - which I consider quite the feat of design. The other function keys around the edges haven't fared quite as well, and do get pretty squished when it comes to the poor Tab and Backslash keys, but with enough use even these become easy to adapt to & use.
There's a nice tactile click action to each of the keys, which is only added to by the Smart Keyboard's fabric construction. The fabric not only makes the cover more durable & spill-proof, but adds a springiness to each keypress that I love - as well as being a unique material in a tech-world filled with aluminum, glass, and plastic.
The keys travel about as much as the ones on the new Magic Keyboard do - which puts it square in the middle between the shallowest keys on the new MacBook and the cavernous caps of Apple's soon-legacy MacBook Air & Pro models.
The new philosophy on keyboards that Apple adopted sometime last year has been seriously divisive in the community, but I for one love the direction they're taking their designs. There's more travel on older models surely, but after using the Magic Keyboard or the Smart Keyboard those older keys feel mushy, wobbly, and nowhere near as tactile as these brand new ones do. I've come to appreciate that, and I don't see myself - or Apple - going back to a deeper, more unstable design.
In short, I love typing on the Smart Keyboard. Maybe it's because I've been typing on the smaller-still, zero travel iPad screen for over a year now, but the travel, feel, and layout of the keys feels just about perfect for a mobile keyboard in my hands.
Lastly, it feels important to note iOS's growing keyboard shortcut support. This isn't exclusive to the Smart Keyboard, but its a boon of using one over the software keyboard alone. Being able to switch between apps, search Spotlight, browse Tweetbot, or compose email in Spark without having to lift my hands off the keys as often makes my workflow a little smoother - and it's an area I'm glad is only getting better.
All this praise having been said, I'm still not completely satisfied with the Smart Keyboard as a whole though.
Probably the thing I miss most from my old setup is typing with my iPad in portrait orientation. It just feels right to me, and I'd hand over a lot of extra cash if this cover could somehow fold to orient my iPad into the upright position. Not far behind that is the curious lack of function keys on the 9.7" and 12.9" Smart Keyboards. I understand they're strapped for space, but having to swipe up to Control Center or reach up for the iPad's volume buttons seems really backwards when I have 64 individual keys beneath my palms.
I've learned to live with the omission of those two features, but the one thing I haven't learned to live with is simply the dimensions of the Smart Keyboard. For all the times I pull out my iPad to write, there's about twice as many times that I pull it out to read, browse the web, or do some quick work that doesn't require the keyboard. In these cases, the Smart Keyboard is just too big to cut it.
Not only does it add too much weight & thickness to the iPad when you're holding or walking around with it, but it doesn't allow you to prop the iPad up at the shallower angle which works especially well for quick work when seated at a table or desk. These are both irreparable flaws for me, and so I've resorted to carrying around a separate Smart Cover which fills in the gaps for all the times where I'm not pulling my iPad out with the intention of getting some serious writing done.
Switching between the two is far and away the most obnoxious part of my iPad Pro setup. Having to juggle pulling off one cover and snapping the other into place is a wearing - but necessary - dance, and making sure the spare cover is inserted into my bag without folding so that I can fit the iPad in with it when I'm ready to move on is an experience all it's own.
I'm perhaps overblowing the significance of this, but it being the only real issue with the setup sure makes it stand out. Even so, I've weighed the option of reverting to my old setup and found the Smart Keyboard + Smart Cover option to still be a little simpler, lighter, and hassle free. The Smart Keyboard stays.
My TwelveSouth Compass stand & Magic Keyboard now live on my desk at home. They're a little treat and extra-optimization for when I sit down to get some serious work done at home - and I'm glad they're there. They work great in that role, and the nerd in me loves that I now have another whole setup to customize and tweak down the road when I can justify it.
I'm going to end this piece with the disclaimer that I'm a super-picky, super-edge-case sort of a person. Most people wouldn't be this picky about which way their iPad is oriented while working, and an iPad Pro + Smart Keyboard would be more than thin and light enough for them - probably far thinner and lighter than the machine they're coming from.
For those sorts of people, I'm sure they'd be extremely happy with the Smart Keyboard. It's a feat of engineering, it's one of the most portable keyboards you can find for an iPad, it looks & feels great, and allowing for a little adjustment-period it's great to type on as well.
For me it's proven to be the most viable typing solution for my iPad the majority of the time, and so I've come to really enjoy it and have decided to keep using it.
I don't know what more to say about the Smart Keyboard than that it'll be by far the best option for by far the most people out there. And to me, that's the best praise it could earn.