The iPad is more like a laptop than ever before. For the iPad Pro and newest iPad Air, Apple sells a breathtaking—and breathtakingly expensive Magic Keyboard case that includes a trackpad. If you think you’ve heard that name before, you have—it’s the same name Apple uses for its standalone Bluetooth keyboards and MacBook keyboards.
If you want a little less magic, Apple also sells an iPad keyboard case called the Smart Keyboard Folio. And finally, there’s the plain Smart Keyboard for the entry-level iPad and older iPad Air and iPad Pro models. That means you have few Apple-branded options for keyboard cases, but as you’ll see in our comparisons below, it’s actually “smarter” to go for the Magic Keyboard if you can sling that kind of cash around.
Apple’s use of the name Magic Keyboard for its premium iPad case is meant to drive home that it’s a “real” keyboard, complete with the scissor switches you’ll find in the latest M1 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops. The keys are even backlit—which is an improvement over Apple’s Magic Keyboard for the Mac—and they allow for 1mm of key travel. Below the keyboard, you’ll also find a trackpad, which is probably the main reason why you want to buy one.
As for the Smart Keyboard and Smarty Keyboard Folio, they have no trackpad or backlighting. The keys themselves are covered in a canvas-like material that essentially makes key travel non-existent. Most of the time, typing with it feels like drumming your fingers on a tabletop.
It’s still possible to love the Smart Keyboard Folio, particularly as the design keeps the case thin and keeps crumbs and other particles from slipping in between the keys. That (and the price) might make it more appealing if you’re often out and about with your iPad Pro, but we’d still recommend spending a little more on the Magic Keyboard. If you have an iPad or older iPad Air that doesn’t support the Magic Keyboard, the Smart Keyboard is also a great option if you tend to use your iPad to do a lot of typing.
Here’s an easy one: The Magic Keyboard has a trackpad and the Smart Folio Keyboard and Smart Keyboard don’t.
That’s a massive advantage in the Magic Keyboard’s favor as you’ll have to hook up an external mouse or trackpad to get the same effect with a Smart Keyboard. The trackpad gestures are generally similar to what you would use in a MacBook, but there are some iPad-specific ones as well. Be sure to check out our dedicated how-to for more information.
Like the Smart Keyboard Folio before it, the Magic Keyboard holds the iPad Pro in place with a powerful magnet. But here there’s an especially good reason for that grip. Thanks to a cantilevered hinge on the Magic Keyboard, you can tilt the iPad up to 130 degrees until you find the perfect viewing angle, much as you might with a MacBook. The iPad itself “floats” above the keyboard, so you won’t have to look down as far as you would with the Smart Keyboard Folio.
The Magic Keyboard is a bit more comfortable than the others to use on a lap, but they’re all made primarily for desk use. The Smart Keyboard Folio only allows for two viewing angles, and both are pretty steep. Essentially, you just move the iPad into one of two grooves above the keyboard, where it’s tightly held in place by magnets. The Smart Keyboard only has a single viewing angle and is quite uncomfortable to use on anything but a flat surface.
The Magic Keyboard has a USB-C pass-through port for charging built right into the hinge. You can only use it for charging, but on the bright side, this port frees up the USB-C port on the iPad itself for any thumb drives, wired mice, or other peripherals you want to hook up.
The Smart Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio have no ports, at least if you don’t count the Smart Connector that’s used to attach the device to the tablet in the first place.
Apple Smart Keyboard
Both models of the Smart Keyboard Folio and the Magic Keyboard case work with all models of the iPad Pro made after 2018. If you want to equip your 2018 iPad Pro with the new Magic Keyboard, go for it.
The situation gets trickier if you’re considering using the 2018 Smart Keyboard Folio with the 2020 or 2021 iPad Pro since the cutout for the camera in the 2018 model is too small for the square array found on the 2020 iPad Pro. Furthermore, the 2021 12.9-inch iPad Pro is slightly thicker than the previous version, though in our testing the old Magic Keyboard case works with the new model. Still, you should buy the model that fits your specific iPad.
The Magic Keyboard case is noticeably heavier than the Smart Keyboard Folio and adds quite a bit of weight to the iPad (1.6 pounds versus 0.89 pounds). If you’re going to be carrying your iPad Pro around with the keyboard, it’s definitely something to consider. With the Magic Keyboard attached, the iPad Pro is closer in weight to a laptop than a tablet.
The Magic Keyboard costs a jaw-dropping $349 for the 12.9-inch model. For perspective, that’s more than you’ll pay for an entry-level regular iPad. The 11-inch model is slightly more affordable at $299, but that’s still a hefty chunk of change.
As for the Smart Keyboard Folio, the 12.9-inch model costs $199 and the 11-inch model costs $179, while the Smart Keyboard costs $159. That’s an attractive difference, but keep in mind that you’re really missing out on a lot of features by sticking with Apple’s older design.
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