Editor’s note. We regularly update this buying guide to reflect the latest accessories on the market and to remove products that are no longer available. We’ve noted recent additions and removals in each section.
For serious typing sessions – or if you just can’t get the hang of the iPad’s onscreen keyboard – an external keyboard offers the tactile advantages of real keys without sacrificing the iPad’s portability and touchscreen features.
The iPad supports almost any Bluetooth keyboard, but there are many, many keyboards on the market that are specifically made for use with the iPad. These tend to be designed for portability, and they usually include special iOS-function keys for adjusting volume and screen brightness, controlling media playback, opening iOS’s Spotlight-search screen, going to the home screen, and more. Some even offer dedicated cut, copy and paste buttons. Most iPad keyboards are integrated into some sort of protective case, although some are stand-alone models. Regardless of the design, most include rechargeable batteries that last for weeks or months on a charge.
How do you choose the right one? I’ve tested scores of keyboards, for all iPad models. The result of all that testing is this buying guide, which includes both general shopping advice and specific recommendations. Read on to find the perfect keyboard for you.
Things to consider when shopping
Before I get into the different types of iPad keyboards, and recommended models, here are a few things to think about when shopping.
Always on or removable? If you frequently need a physical keyboard when using your iPad, you’ll appreciate the convenience of a keyboard built into a case, as the keyboard will always be with you. If, however, you use an external keyboard infrequently – or you just like to use the iPad unencumbered for non-typing tasks – you may find a form-fitting, folio-style keyboard case to be a hassle, as it can be difficult to remove. Keyboard shells, described below, are a nice compromise, and stand-alone keyboards offer the most flexibility.
Portability versus usability. With the exception of stand-alone models, iPad keyboards involve usability trade-offs. The thinner the keyboard, the worse the feel of the keys; the smaller the keyboard, the more crowded the keys will be, or the more you’ll find keys that are the wrong size or in the wrong locations. (Stand-alone keyboards generally offer standard key feel and size, a standard key layout, and a typing experience closer to that of a desktop keyboard.) You’ll need to decide which trade-offs you’re willing to make in the name of portability – especially if you’re a touch typist – and check for these trade-offs when shopping. A literal hands-on test is immensely valuable if you can get one; otherwise, be sure the store or website you’re buying from offers a good return policy.
On that note, while there are plenty of iPad keyboards that offer interesting features, an attractive design or a small footprint, when making specific recommendations, I place a heavy emphasis on the typing experience. If a keyboard doesn’t dramatically improve typing compared to the iPad’s on-screen keyboard, I don’t recommend it. Similarly, my recommendations are somewhat biased toward touch-typists, so a keyboard that’s especially cramped or that organises keys in a non-standard layout has to be otherwise very impressive to get my recommendation. (There’s likely a good amount of overlap between touch-typists and people who want a physical keyboard, so I’m fairly confident that this is the right approach.)
Which iPad do you have? A little over a year ago, it was easy to figure out which keyboard case would fit your iPad. If you had an original iPad, you needed an older accessory designed specifically for that model; otherwise, you needed a newer keyboard case that fit the second-, third- or fourth-generation iPad. (The iPad 2, 3 and 4, as I’ll call them here, vary slightly in thickness, but if a keyboard case fits one of these models, it usually fits the others, as well.)
These days, it’s a bit more complicated. Few keyboard cases are still available for the original iPad, but there are now models for the iPad 2/3/4, models for the iPad Air, and models for the iPad mini. If you’re shopping for a keyboard case – rather than a stand-alone keyboard that works with any iPad – be sure to get the right one for your iPad. To help you out, I’ve noted in my recommendations which keyboard cases fit which full-size iPads. If you’re looking for a keyboard for the iPad mini, I’ve included a separate section for the mini at the end of this guide.
With that out of the way, here’s a look at the main types of iPad keyboards available, along with my recommendations for a few of the best in each category.
Easily the most common type, these keyboards are integrated into a full-body, folio-style iPad case that protects your iPad all over. The all-in-one design of folio keyboards is convenient, and most make it easy to type on your lap – no desk or table required. These models, along with keyboard shells (below), also tend to include the thinnest keyboards.
However, folio keyboards have a few drawbacks that can affect usability and comfort. For starters, the actual keyboards tend to be cramped and have small, poor-quality keys, sometimes using odd layouts. Many also limit the iPad to a single propped-up angle and landscape orientation – even though portrait orientation is often better when you’re typing traditional documents.
It’s often a hassle to remove the iPad from the case, which means you end up carrying the keyboard even when you don’t need it – yet it can also be inconvenient to use your iPad as a tablet while it’s in the case. (On some, you flip the keyboard behind the iPad, making for a bulky package.) My recommended models do have smaller-than-standard keyboards, but they otherwise make solid attempts to avoid these flaws. They also all support the iPad’s magnetic sleep/wake feature.
Recommendations. Zagg’s US$130 ZaggKeys ProFolio+ (iPad 2, 3, 4) is pricey and supports only a single (rather steep) iPad angle. But like the Folio for iPad Air, above, its keys are backlit and easy to type on. The ProFolio+ case offers excellent all-over protection thanks to a sturdy back cover. It’s easy to remove your iPad from the case and it’s among the thinnest folio-style keyboards for older iPads. (The US$100 ZaggKeys ProFolio loses the backlit keys, but is otherwise identical. Each model is available in five colours.)
In terms of traditional ‘looks like a leather folio’ keyboard cases, the best ones I’ve seen are Logitech’s US$100 Ultrathin Keyboard Folio for iPad Air and US$100 Keyboard Folio for iPad (iPad 2, 3, 4). The keyboards of the two models are essentially identical: the keys have great tactile response, they’re larger than those on most folio keyboards, and they’re spaced normally. Logitech accomplishes this feat by making a few symbol keys on the right—
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'—half-width, and by converting the Tab and Caps Lock keys into fn-key-activated overlays of the Q and A keys, respectively.
If you use either Tab or Caps Lock frequently, this arrangement may not be for you, but I suspect that most people will be willing to give up one-touch access to these functions in favour of a full-size-keyboard feel. You get the usual array of iOS special-function keys, accessible as fn-key overlays of the top row of numbers and symbols, as well as text-selection keys as overlays of the arrow keys. I have just two minor complaints about the keyboard: the keys are slightly convex, instead of concave, and the aforementioned Tab/Caps Lock trick shifts the entire keyboard slightly to the left, so your hands aren’t centred on the iPad’s screen. But you get used to both oddities fairly quickly.
The main differences between the Ultrathin Keyboard Folio and the Keyboard Folio for iPad, besides which iPad models each fits, have to do with the folio itself. Both look nice and include a special fold in the cover that lets you slide your iPad on top of the keyboard for use as a standard tablet. However, the original Keyboard Folio uses a thick internal frame, has a nylon covering and is roughly one-inch thick, while the Ultrathin Keyboard Folio is considerably thinner (both because the iPad Air is thinner than older models and because the case itself uses a thinner design), has a thinner frame, and is covered in your choice of a similar nylon or a rubbery ‘PU leather’.
Honourable mentions. Many other models in this category are simply bulky leather or faux-leather folios with a disappointing keyboard tacked onto the inside of the case. However, a couple of models get my limited recommendation.
Belkin’s US$129 Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case for iPad Air (iPad Air) and US$100 Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case for iPad (iPad 2, 3, 4) are worth a look, especially for non-touch-typists. (The models differ slightly, but they’re basically minor variations on the same product.) First, the bad things: the keyboard is more cramped than those of the recommended models above; Belkin has overlaid the special-function keys with the number keys in the top row (you access the former using the Fn key); and a few keys are in non-standard locations that will drive touch-typists crazy.
But the keyboard itself is otherwise pretty good; the case offers three different screen angles and a thin, rigid shell that provides good protection; and you can flip the keyboard behind the iPad for traditional tablet use – the keyboard automatically turns off when your iPad isn’t propped up. Best of all, the iPad Air version is just over 0.5in thick when closed, and the keyboard and iPad Air together weigh 0.9kg.
Kensington has released a whole line of keyboard folios for the iPad Air, and they’re worth mentioning here because of the keyboard they share. Though the keys are a bit small, and they don’t feel quite as nice as those on the recommended models above (for example, I found that I had to press keys a bit more firmly than on those keyboards), the key layout is standard and the keyboard is easy to touch-type on. Along with the usual variety of iOS-specific keys, arranged in a separate row above the number row, Kensington’s new keyboard design includes an iOS-7-compatible Spotlight-search key and a key for quickly accessing iOS 7′s multitasking screen. You also get a couple keys for quickly selecting text. My only major complaint about this keyboard is that there’s a raised frame at the front, just below the Spacebar and modifier keys, that’s slightly taller than the keys. At times, I ‘pressed’ this piece when I meant to press a modifier key.
Of the new Kensington offerings, my favourite is the US$130 KeyFolio Exact Thin Folio with Keyboard for iPad Air. (The US$150 KeyFolio Exact Plus Thin Folio with Keyboard for iPad Air is the same product but with a backlit keyboard.) The overall package is thin, though it’s quite deep, front edge to back: 8.2in when closed, and 9.5in when open with your iPad propped up. In return for this added depth, you get multiple screen angles and a built-in stylus holder, and you can remove the keyboard itself from the folio for a more ergonomic typing arrangement. It’s not the most attractive keyboard folio – for example, there are some flaps of extra material that will surely show wear and tear over time – but it’s versatile.
Latest update. Added ZaggKeys Folio with Backlit Keyboard for iPad Air. Added Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case for iPad Air. Added Kensington KeyFolio Exact Thin Folio with Keyboard for iPad Air. Updated prices. Removed Zagg ZaggFolio for iPad 2 and Logitech Solar Keyboad Folio, which have been discontinued.
Clamshell (laptop-case) keyboards
These models essentially turn your iPad into a laptop. The iPad acts as the laptop screen, while the keyboard and its surrounding enclosure, attached by some sort of hinge, play the role of the laptop base, complete with large palmrests. The downsides to most clamshell keyboard cases are that they tend to add a good amount of weight and bulk to your iPad; they usually make it difficult to use your iPad as a tablet when you’re not typing; and they use smaller-than-normal keys in a cramped layout. But the quality of the keys is often a step up from that of the average folio-case keyboard, the laptop-style design works well for typing on your lap and most offer a good range of screen angles. Like folio-style models, most clamshells hold the iPad in landscape orientation, though you may find ones that let you prop the tablet up in portrait orientation.
Recommendations. ClamCase is the best-known vendor of clamshell keyboard cases, and for good reason: The US$169 ClamCase Pro (iPad 2, 3, 4) is a great combination of clever design, solid iPad protection and a very good (if slightly cramped) keyboard. Though on the heavy side – 1.4kg including your iPad – this well-built clamshell encloses your iPad in an attractive, aluminum-and-plastic case that looks and functions almost exactly like a laptop. So much so that, while testing it, I often tried to use a palmrest trackpad that doesn’t exist. Flip the keyboard/base around toward the back, and the solid hinge makes a great stand for watching video or rotate the base and fold it flat against the back of the iPad to turn the entire package into a thick tablet.(Just be sure to turn off the keyboard to avoid accidental typing.)
The keyboard itself is one of the best I’ve seen in a keyboard case. It’s a bit cramped, and the modifier keys are on the small side, but all the keys are in the correct place, it’s got a nice array of special-function keys, and there’s little here that will frustrate a touch-typist. The ClamCase Pro offers one of the best on-your-lap typing experiences of the iPad keyboard cases I’ve tested. (The company has announced, but not yet shipped, models for the iPad Air and the iPad mini.)
ClamCase’s US$149 standard ClamCase – available in black, white or black-and-white, with specific versions for each iPad generation – is bulkier, uses an all-plastic case, and has keys that aren’t as good, but it’s still a decent option if you insist on a clamshell model.
Despite its name, Zagg’s US$100 ZaggKeys Folio with Backlit Keyboard (iPad Air) feels like a clamshell case. It uses a rigid iPad shell connected to the keyboard base by a stiff hinge. But unlike most clamshell cases, the Folio does your iPad Air justice by keeping things thin. The closed Folio is just 0.7in thick, and the whole package – iPad Air and Folio – weighs just 1.04kg. The Folio’s keyboard, like that on the ProFolio+, above, is easy to type on and offers backlit keys. The Folio’s hinge makes it easy to use the Folio on your lap; however, the hinge’s design makes it a challenge to access iOS 7’s Control Center feature, since the bottom edge of the iPad’s screen is so close to the hinge. The shell covering your iPad has nifty channels that redirect your iPad’s audio toward you; and both the top and bottom of the case offer a nice, grippy texture. Like the ClamCase Pro, this one offers a very good on-your-lap experience.
If you want less bulk, Zagg’s US$100 ZaggKeys Cover for iPad Air is essentially an iPad Air version of the company’s older ZaggKeys Cover for iPad mini. Like the Brydge, below, the Cover for iPad Air forgoes a protective iPad cover in order to give you an extremely thin clamshell-keyboard design. Instead of such a cover, the back edge of the keyboard/base hosts a wide, sturdy hinge with a slot for the edge of your iPad Air. Slip your iPad into that slot – it takes a bit of force to insert or remove – and your bare iPad serves as the ‘laptop’ screen and top case, folding flat against the base to cover the screen for transit.
The Cover’s keyboard is excellent – it’s the standard model used on all recent Zagg keyboard cases – and conveniently backlit. The Cover adds only 0.25in and under 0.45kg of weight to your iPad, and the hinge is sturdy and adjustable, making this a great lap-typing option. My biggest beef is that the hinge, like the one on Zagg’s ZaggKeys Folio, makes it extremely difficult to access iOS 7′s Control Center feature.
Honourable mentions. Brydge’s Brydge+ (US$200 for aluminum, US$100 for black polycarbonate composite; iPad 2, 3, 4), like the ZaggKeys Cover, above, uses your iPad as the top of the clamshell. Instead of a single, wide hinge, the Brydge+’s keyboard/base hosts two narrow, but still sturdy, hinges. You slip your iPad into these silicone-lined hinges, and they grab the tablet firmly enough that the keyboard won’t detach without some firm tugging. The Brydge+ also includes a pair of tinny-but-decent Bluetooth speakers to give you louder audio. (The company offers a US$170 model that omits the Bluetooth speakers.)
The Brydge+ is a well-made and impressively designed accessory – especially the aluminum version – but there’s a caveat for touch-typists. The keyboard has good keys, but in addition to being slightly cramped, it wedges the up-arrow key between the right-hand slash (/) and Shift keys. In my testing, I regularly pressed the up-arrow key, thus moving the cursor to the previous line, when I meant to press Shift. I could never get past this odd layout.
New Trent’s US$40 Airbender Keyboard Case (iPad 2, 3, 4) has a keyboard that’s a tad more cramped than those of the Brydge+ and ClamCase models. Its keys feel just OK, and it commits the same key-layout sin with the up-arrow key as the Brydge+. But the Airbender offers some unique and welcome features. After lifting the ‘screen’, you can rotate the iPad into portrait orientation – in fact, it’s the preferred orientation, as the hinge/stand isn’t very sturdy in landscape orientation.
In addition, the hinge/stand can detach from the keyboard, letting you create a more ergonomic typing station by placing your iPad and the keyboard at different levels. And if you want to use the iPad on its own, a quick-release latch on the stand lets you detach the iPad, still clad in the Airbender’s thin, protective top case. If the keys themselves were better, this might be the keyboard case I’d use all the time. (New Trent has just released the US$65 Airbender Air and the US$70 Airbender 2.0, both compatible with the iPad Air. I’ll be testing these models when I receive them, and I’ll update this article with my impressions.)
Latest update. Added ZaggKeys Cover for iPad Air. Updated prices. Added info about New Trent’s new models for the iPad Air.
These models are the thinnest and lightest of the keyboard cases. They integrate a thin keyboard into a rigid shell that protects the front (screen) of the iPad in transit. When you’re ready to type, you pop the iPad out of, or pull it away from, the shell, stick it in a prop-up slot above the keyboard and start typing. Most keyboard shells offer only a single angle for your iPad, though they often let you use your iPad in your choice of portrait or landscape orientation.
As with clamshell-case models, the keyboards here tend to be a bit cramped, and the keys are usually smaller than normal; the models I’ve recommended are nevertheless quite usable, and they have good keys. Keyboard shells can be used on your lap if you’re careful, but they’re usually less stable on your lap than folios and clamshells, especially if your iPad is positioned in portrait orientation.
Recommendations. Logitech’s US$100 Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad (iPad 2, 3, 4) and Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad Air (iPad Air) are personal favourites thanks to a clever design, thin profile, light weight, very good (if slightly cramped) keys and standard key layout. Instead of gripping the edges of your iPad, each Ultrathin Keyboard Cover uses a Smart Cover-like hinge that attaches magnetically to the edge of the tablet; the keyboard then flips closed (again, sticking magnetically) to protect your iPad’s screen. When you’re ready to type, you just flip the keyboard away from the screen, give it a gentle tug to detach the hinge and then stick your iPad in the slot above the keys. Combine the Ultrathin with a Smart Cover-compatible back shell, and your iPad is completely protected in transit.
The original and iPad Air versions of the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover are very similar, though the one for the iPad Air is, of course, smaller. The new model also includes a few tweaks to its keys. It removes the right-hand Command and Option keys in favour of a language key, it gains Previous and Next media-playback keys, it adds special-function keys for Siri and iOS 7′s multitasking screen and it loses the Spotlight-search key. A few keys are also narrower than on the original version, and instead of fingerprint-magnet glossy black, the area above the keyboard has a nicer matte finish.
Zagg’s US$130 ZaggKeys Pro Plus and US$100 ZaggKeys Pro (iPad 2, 3, 4) each uses the same solid keyboard as the company’s ProFolio+, above, but in a keyboard-shell body that clings magnetically to the front of your iPad during transit. As with the Logitech Ultrathin, you just detach the ZaggKeys Pro from your iPad, prop your iPad in the slot above the keys, and type away. The Pro Plus includes backlit keys; the Pro does not.
Honourable mentions. Belkin’s US$80 FastFit Keyboard Cover (iPad 2, 3, 4) is similiar in design to Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, but without the magnetic hinge. Instead, it’s got a magnetic lip along the back edge that holds the iPad in place during travel. It bests the Ultrathin by offering two grooves for your iPad, so you get a choice of two screen angles. However, the FastFit’s keys are a bit smaller; the square shape of those keys feels a little off; and the FastFit makes the same touch-typist-thwarting mistake with the up-arrow key as the Brydge+, above.
Latest update. Added Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad Air.
Instead of a physical keyboard, several companies offer overlays that lie on your iPad’s screen – generally secured using magnets or some kind of sticky silicone – and add a tactile feel to the iPad’s software keyboard. For example, Touchfire’s US$40 Touchfire Keyboard for iPad (iPad 1, 2, 3, 4) is a clear, silicone overlay that adds little nibs to each virtual key’s ‘top’, as well as slighty raised ridges around each key. The Touchfire does make typing a bit more tactile for touch-typists, but the overall experience isn’t otherwise much different than typing on the bare screen. And I found that, because of the tactile feel, I frequently rested my fingers on the Touchfire’s key areas, which resulted in accidental key taps.
The US$35 TacType (formerly called the iKeyboard; iPad 2, 3, 4) instead uses a rigid-plastic frame with clear, bubble-like key overlays. This approach prevents accidental keypresses, and I liked typing with it better than with the Touchfire, but I found the bubbles to be too difficult to press compared to good physical keys.
Keyboard overlays can be convenient – they take up quite a bit less space than a full keyboard, and they don’t require batteries or charging – but I personally don’t find them to be enough of an improvement over the iPad’s on-screen keyboard to make them worth the cost. And, of course, you must move them out of the way whenever you want to use the iPad’s screen normally.
Stand-alone keyboards: Bluetooth
A stand-alone keyboard must be carried separately from your iPad, and it often requires that you have a separate iPad stand (or at least a case with a built-in stand). But stand-alone keyboards offer a number of advantages over other types of iPad keyboards. Stand-alone keyboards usually offer full-size, high-quality keys arranged in a standard layout. Combined with a good stand, you get much better ergonomics than with a keyboard case, because you can separate the iPad and the keyboard. When you don’t need the keyboard, you can leave it behind to travel light; and you don’t need to buy a new one when you upgrade your iPad in the future. A stand-alone keyboard also lets you use your favourite case, and it works with any iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. (Most can even be used with a Mac or Windows PC.) For all these reasons, this is my favourite type of iPad keyboard unless you spend more time with a keyboard than without – and even then, I’d at least consider a separate keyboard.
The good news is that there are plenty of very good stand-alone iPad keyboards out there, and all of them work with any iPad model.
Recommendations. Although not specifically designed for the iPad, Apple’s US$69 Wireless Keyboard is a great fit for the company’s tablet. The keyboard is compact, light and sturdy, yet it offers a full-size keyboard with the same great keys as those found on Apple’s laptops. And many of its Mac-focused special-function keys perform similar duties when used with the iPad (namely, screen brightness, media control and volume level; the Eject key also toggles iOS’s on-screen keyboard). You may prefer some of the other options here thanks to additional special-function keys and lighter weight, but Apple’s Wireless Keyboard remains one of the better options – especially if you’ve already got one for your Mac that you can borrow when travelling with your iPad.
Logitech’s US$100 Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard K811 is slightly wider than Apple’s keyboard, but it’s the same depth and a little thinner. Despite its thin profile, the Easy-Switch uses fantastic, concave-top keys in a fully standard layout, along with a full complement of iOS special-function keys. Even better, all of the keys are backlit for easier dim-light typing. And the Easy-Switch can pair with up to three devices – for example, an iPad, an iPhone and a Mac, or even an Apple TV – simultaneously, letting you instantly switch to whichever computing device happens to be sitting in front of you. This is currently one of my favourite keyboards for iPads and Macs. (The company also makes the Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard K810, a version for Windows, Android and iOS.)
If Apple were to make its Wireless Keyboard a bit thinner at the back, add a full complement of iOS special-function keys and toss in a splash of colour, you’d get InNuevo’s US$50 InNuevo Keyboard. Though it sports a silver-plastic bottom and a top casing in your choice of black, green, blue, red or white, the InNuevo Keyboard nevertheless resembles Apple’s offering thanks to full-size white keys that look and feel much like the ones on the Wireless. But at just under 311g and only 0.5in thick along the back edge, the InNuevo is more travel friendly, and it gives you all the iOS keys Apple’s keyboard is missing, including a Spotlight-search key that works in iOS 7. The InNuevo Keyboard also fits snuggly into InNuevo’s Dockr 2, mentioned in the stands section, below.
Honourable mentions. Amazon’s US$26 AmazonBasics Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad and Genius’s LuxePad 9000 Ultra-thin Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad (US$60 MSRP; roughly US$35 at street prices) are variations on the same keyboard – the Amazon model is black and about 0.5in shorter from front edge to back, while the Genius version is white and slightly deeper. Neither is as solid as the best models here, but each weighs under 255g, and apart from a difficult-to-use pod of arrow keys, each is a solid keyboard at a great price.
Logitech’s US$80 Wireless Solar Keyboard K760 is similar to the Easy-Switch K811, above, in that it offers a very good iOS-focused keyboard that pairs with up to three devices. But it lacks the Easy-Switch’s key backlighting, and while its solar-powered battery-charging system is convenient, the added space required by the solar cells makes the K760 considerably larger than the Easy-Switch. Still, it’s a great stand-alone keyboard if you’ll generally keep it with your computer, but want to be able to use it with your iPad in a pinch.
Logitech’s third entry in this category – an impressive feat – is the US$70 Tablet Keyboard for iPad. This model sports very good keys, feels rock-solid, and comes with a hardshell keyboard case that flips open to double as a sturdy iPad stand. However, the Tablet Keyboard is relatively heavy – with the case it weighs nearly 624g and it omits dedicated iOS special-function keys in favour of fn-key-modified numeral keys.
Targus’ US$64 Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard for iPad features large, easy-to-press keys and even an fn-key-activated embedded numeric keypad (like the one on many older Apple PowerBooks). While this model isn’t as solid-feeling as many of the other models recommended here, it’s light (just 269g) and it fits full-size keys in a compact package.
Take the ZaggFolio, mentioned above, and strip it down to just the keyboard, and you get the US$80 ZaggKeys Flex Portable Keyboard and Stand. With a footprint of just 9.5in x 4.7in, and only a 0.33in thick, the Flex is the smallest stand-alone keyboard I’ve tested that doesn’t induce typing frustration. It also comes with a rigid travel case that folds out to double as an iPad stand (though a gap in the back of the stand means it can’t prop up a portrait-orientation iPad mini). And at just over 311g with the case/stand, and under 198g without, the Flex won’t add much to your load. One complaint: the dedicated ‘Siri’ key in the lower-left corner of the keyboard is really just a second Home-screen button… which means that if you accidentally hit it (which isn’t difficult to do given the keyboard’s smaller-than-standard layout), you’re whisked out of your app and back to the Home screen.
Also from Zagg is the new US$70 ZaggKeys Universal Tablet Keyboard and Stand. Though its individual keys are similar to those on the Flex, the body of the keyboard is slightly convex. Zagg says this is a more ergonomic design, but I’m not convinced – thanks to the curve, I found it a bit more difficult to reach the top row of keys than on the Flex. And the Universal is about 0.5in deeper, front edge to back, than the Flex, and slightly thicker thanks to its curved shape.
But the Universal fixes the Flex’s annoying Home-button placement, and it’s even lighter than the Flex at 190g by itself or 295g with the included travel case. (The case doubles as a tabletop tablet stand while you’re using the keyboard.) If you’ve got an Android or Windows tablet, a switch on the back of the Universal changes the special-function keys to work with those platforms. The downside to this flexibility is a useless-to-iPad-users Start key that displaces the left-hand Option key.
Latest update. Added Zagg ZaggKeys Universal. Updated prices. Removed Kensington KeyStand Compact Keyboard & Stand, which has been discontinued.
Stand-alone keyboards: wired
Most iPad keyboards connect wirelessly, using Bluetooth. But there are times when Bluetooth isn’t an option, such as when you’re on a plane and not allowed to use wireless technology. And some situations just aren’t suited to Bluetooth pairing, such as a classroom full of iPads that share a keyboard or two. In these circumstances, a wired keyboard is a better option.
The downside to the wired approach is that your iPad’s stand or case must keep the tablet’s Lightning- or 30-pin-connector port accessible, but the upside is an instant, no-hassle connection, along with the capability to quickly move the keyboard between devices.
The best wired iPad keyboard I’ve seen is Macally’s US$60 iKey Wired Keyboard. Available in two versions, the iKeyLT Lightning Wired Keyboard (shown here, for Lightning-connector devices) and the iKey30 30 Pin Wired Keyboard (for older, 30-pin dock-connector devices), this keyboard features full-size keys in a standard layout, and it connects to your iPad (or other iOS device) using a 1m cable. It also includes a few other niceties, including dedicated keys for undo, redo and taking a screenshot, as well as keys for typing €, £, ¥, .com, .net, .org and .biz. Both models come with a fold-up iPad stand, but that stand is flimsy and feels like an afterthought.
Logitech’s US$60 Wired Keyboard for iPad, also available in both Lightning-connector and 30-pin versions, is a solid offering designed specifically for schools. It features a rugged, spill-resistant design and a shorter cable. However, the Logitech keyboard is a bit thicker than the Macally models, and its keys aren’t quite as responsive. (I’ve tested the 30-pin version, but not the Lightning-connector model, which Logitech says is identical except for the connector.)
Latest update. Added Logitech Wired Keyboad for iPad.
Desktop keyboards and desktop/tablet hybrids
If you generally use an external keyboard only when at your desk, you may want to consider forgoing travel-friendly size and weight in favour of some desktop niceties. Several vendors make keyboards designed to be used at a desk that add features you won’t find in a portable keyboard. Other vendors make keyboards that can pair with multiple devices – say, your desktop computer, your laptop and your iPad – and let you easily switch your Bluetooth connection between those devices, so you can use a single keyboard with all your gear. You’ll still need a stand, but you’ll have one less keyboard on your desk.
Recommendations. I already recommended (in the stand-alone-keyboard section, above) Logitech’s excellent Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard K811 and Wireless Solar Keyboard K760. Each of these models can pair with multiple devices, and each works great as a keyboard for both an iPad and a desktop computer simultaneously.
Matias, the well-known maker of mechanical-keyswitch keyboards such as the Quiet Pro, offers a number of desktop/iOS hybrid models. The US$200 Tactile One Keyboard is a full-size desktop keyboard that uses the same excellent keys as the popular Tactile Pro and includes a USB 3.0 hub. You connect the Tactile One to your computer via USB, and to your iPad (or other iOS device) via Bluetooth. A button on the keyboard lets you toggle between the USB and Bluetooth connections. A cushioned pad, positioned between the main key area and the numeric keypad, lets you keep your smartphone close at hand. (The One line is officially designed for the iPhone, but it works just as well with the iPad.)
If you prefer a compact keyboard, the US$50 Slim One Keyboard is based on the same concept as the Tactile One, but instead of a full-size keyboard with a number pad, the Slim is about the size of Apple’s wired keyboard and uses similar flat, low-profile keys. Those keys are pretty good as iPad keyboards go, though they’re not quite as good as the keys on Apple’s own keyboards. Both One keyboards are handy if you tend to use your iPad at your desk for, say, reading and posting to Twitter, or for taking quick notes.
Honourable mentions. Matias’s US$100 One Keyboard is similar to the Tactile One, but uses less expensive (and less tactilely pleasing) keys; it also includes a USB 2.0 hub instead of USB 3.0.
Like Logitech’s Easy-Switch K811 keyboard, Kanex’s US$69 Multi-Sync Keyboard can pair with multiple iOS devices and Macs simultaneously, letting you switch between paired devices with a button press. But the Multi-Sync also includes a USB port for connecting directly to your computer, leaving you with all three Bluetooth slots for iOS devices (or other computers). The Multi-Sync also offers a full-size design, complete with a numeric keypad, and it includes a great stand that I also recommend separately in the next section. However, the Kanex keyboard’s keys aren’t nearly as good as those on the Logitech or Matias models.
Stand-alone stands and cases for keyboards
If you’re using a stand-alone keyboard, and your iPad’s case doesn’t include a suitable stand, you’ll need a separate stand to prop up your iPad. My current favourites for travel are Kanex’s Foldable iDevice Stand (US$18 for two), Twelve South’s US$40 Compass Mobile Stand and Rain Design’s US$50 iSlider iPad Pocket Stand. The Kanex stand weighs less than 28g and folds into an almost-flat package, yet it offers multiple angles and is surprisingly sturdy. The Compass is heavier (193g) and it offers just two angles – one upright and one for onscreen typing – but it’s more stable when used with an iPad in portrait orientation. The iSlider (213g) is bulkier still, but it’s the sturdiest of the bunch, and its clever design offers a range of angles, from nearly horizontal to nearly vertical.
If you’ll be using your iPad/keyboard combo mainly at your desk, consider Heckler Design’s US$49 @Rest for iPad, a heavy, rock-solid stand that offers several angles and compatibility with a range of cases, Rain Design’s US$50 iRest Lap Stand, which doubles as a comfortable stand for propping your iPad in your lap when you’re lounging or Gogo’s US$25 Stump Portable Tablet Stand, which, thanks to its nearly 255g weight and chunky profile, isn’t as portable as its name would imply, but offers a stable base that doesn’t take up much room on your desk.
If you’re using Apple’s Wireless Keyboard, my favourite solution is Incase’s US$30 Origami Workstation, which encloses your Wireless Keyboard in a sturdy travel case that unfolds into a solid iPad stand when it’s time to get to work. The stand even works in a pinch for typing on your lap. Another option is the Touchtype (US$49 for polyurethane, US$99 for leather), a folio-style case that holds both your iPad and Apple’s Wireless Keyboard. When you’re ready to type, slip the keyboard out of the case and the case becomes an iPad stand for either portrait- or landscape-orientation use.
The US$40 Nimblstand is a nifty Apple Wireless Keyboard stand for those who need to type and draw. The keyboard slides into a groove in the front, and your iPad rests in a thin cradle just above the keyboard. A stabilising wedge in back allows your iPad to lean much farther than with most stands, even in portrait orientation, making it easier to view the screen while typing. When you want to sketch or draw – or just to read something on the screen without hands – you move that wedge to the other side (under the keyboard), flip the stand around, and the Nimblstand’s second cradle holds your iPad at an even-closer-to-horizontal angle that’s great for onscreen strokes. There’s even a slot to hold a Wacom Bamboo Stylus.
Finally, if you’ve got Apple’s Wireless Keyboard or InNuevo’s InNuevo Keyboard, the US$115 Dockr 2 (iPad 1, 2, 3, 4) is an interesting option. It looks much like a laptop, but when you open the lid, the base offers a well that’s custom-fit for these two keyboards; the lid becomes an adjustable stand that holds any iPad model in portrait or landscape orientation. (It doesn’t hold the iPad Air or mini firmly, so you won’t want to carry those iPad models inside; the iPad 1, 2, 3, and 4 fit more securely.) The Dockr also includes a set of Bluetooth speakers and a battery that adds a bit of extra use time to your iPad. The speakers are fairly tinny, and the case is plasticky and bulky, but the Dockr is great on your lap, and it could be a nice option for a classroom. (The company sells the Dockr 2 and InNuevo Keyboard together for US$150.)
For other stand options, check out all our stand reviews.
Keyboard bags. You may also consider a pouch or bag for carrying your stand-alone keyboard. WaterField Designs offers a number of nice options, including a couple that hold your iPad and a keyboard. I personally use WaterField’s lightweight, padded Keyboard Socket (US$15), which fits a number of the stand-alone keyboards I recommend here.
Latest update. Added Kanex’s Foldable iDevice Stand, Gogo’s Stump stand and the Nimblstand. Updated prices. Removed Griffin Technology’s Xpo Compact Universal Tablet Stand, which has been discontinued.
iPad mini keyboards
By many estimates, Apple’s iPad mini has turned out to be even more popular than the full-size models. But the mini’s smaller screen means that it’s even more difficult to do serious typing using iOS’s software keyboard – which for some people will make a physical keyboard that much more appealing.
However, all the usability trade-offs I mentioned for iPad keyboard cases affect iPad mini keyboard cases even more. Because the iPad mini has a considerably smaller footprint, any keyboard case that tries to match that footprint must incorporate an even more cramped keyboard, with even smaller keys, than would a keyboard for a full-size iPad. Most iPad mini keyboard cases we’ve tested omit some keys altogether, or at best relegate them to fn-key-enabled functions of remaining keys.
I’ve tested a number of iPad mini-sized keyboard cases, and while they vary in design and key quality, I’ve found most of them to be exceedingly frustrating to use for touch-typing. A number of them have keyboards that just feel cheap and flimsy, and most are so cramped, and have enough keys in non-standard locations, that I couldn’t type a sentence without multiple errors.
Others, such as Genius’s LuxePad i9010 Ultra-Thin Keyboard for iPad mini, Kensington’s Hard Shell Keyboard for iPad mini, Logitech’s Ultrathin mini, and Zagg’s ZaggKeys Mini 7, use higher-quality keys, but in the case of the Ultrathin mini, some are just too small for comfortable use, and on the LuxePad i9010, Hard Shell Keyboard and Mini 7, larger key size has been achieved by placing some keys in non-standard locations and by overlaying commonly used keys, requiring the fn key to access the overlays.
In short: if you’re a hunt-and-peck typist, many iPad mini keyboard cases may be acceptable to you, but touch-typists like me will largely be disappointed. That said, there are a few models that stand out from the rest.
Recommendations. I don’t have any strong recommendations here. If you’re a touch-typist, and you don’t need to type on your lap, consider going with a stand-alone keyboard instead. You’ll get a much better typing experience, you won’t ruin the iPad mini’s thin profile and light weight, and you can leave the keyboard behind when you want to travel light – which, if you’ve got an iPad mini, is likely a good deal of the time.
Honourable mentions. If you truly need a keyboard that fits the iPad mini’s profile, a few models get my limited recommendation. If you don’t mind a bit of extra bulk, Zagg’s US$90 ZaggKeys Mini 9 forgoes an iPad mini-matching footprint in favour of a better typing experience. The Mini 9 is about 1.5in wider than the Mini 7 mentioned above (9.6 versus 8.1in), but is the same depth and thickness.
Your iPad looks a bit odd in the Mini 9′s too-long case, but it fits snuggly (almost too snuggly – it’s a bit of a challenge to remove the iPad, especially the iPad mini with Retina display, which is slightly thicker than the original model). In return for putting up with this extra length, however, you get a keyboard that’s about the same size as you’d find in a standard iPad keyboard case: somewhat cramped, but entirely useable, with all the keys in the correct places. It even works in your lap. Though the Mini 9 was one of the first iPad mini cases on the market, it’s still my overall favourite, despite the larger-than-a-mini size, because I can actually type on it.
Zagg also has a couple other decent offerings, the US$100 ZaggKeys Folio for iPad mini and the US$100 ZaggKeys Cover for iPad mini. Each is roughly the same size as the iPad mini itself and uses the same backlit keyboard. The main difference is that the Folio uses a plastic back shell that holds your iPad. The cover features a hinge into which you slide the iPad – the cover doesn’t actually, well, cover the mini’s backside. The keys aren’t full size, but most of the main keys are large enough and, as we pointed out in our review, you can actually type on them. To fit everything, other keys are half-width, while a few serve fn-enabled double duty. The result is, as with other iPad mini keyboards, a good amount of compromise, but if you want a keyboard that matches your iPad mini’s footprint, these two offer the best set of compromises we’ve seen. (Which to choose? Check out our full review for the relative merits of each.)
Finally, New Trent’s US$50 Airbender Mini, like the full-size Airbender Keyboard Case mentioned above, has a cramped keyboard with keys that feel just OK. But also, as with its larger sibling, after opening the case/screen, you can rotate the iPad into portrait orientation, and the hinge can detach from the keyboard to become a stand for a more ergonomic typing setup. A quick-release clip lets detach your iPad completely from the stand/hinge for use sans keyboard, but whereas the full-size Airbender uses a simple back shell for your iPad, the Airbender Mini’s case section is all-over protective.
There’s a rigid shell on the back, a plastic front with a use-through, transparent screen cover and a silicone jacket that wraps around everything. As with the full-size Airbender, if the keyboard itself were better, this might be the keyboard case I’d use for my mini. (New Trent recently released the Airbender Mini 1.0. I’ve asked the company what’s new about it; I’ll update this article when I hear back.)
Latest update. Added mention of Kensington and Genius iPad mini keyboards. Added mention of New Trent Airbender Mini 1.0.
by Dan Frakes, Macworld