September 29, 2023

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The best tablet keyboards to buy in 2020

If you’re chasing the dream of a 2-in-1 iPad or tablet that functions just as well for work as all the rest of it, you’re going to need to be extremely picky about which keyboard accessory you pick up. Backlit? Trackpad? Knee friendly? All crucial considerations. Here’s five of the best.

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Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro

A gorgeous iPad keyboard and trackpad combo that’s ideal for modular computing

Compatibility: iPad Pro 11in (1st/2nd gen); iPad Pro 12.9in (3rd/4th gen) | Connectivity: Smart Connector | Backlit: Yes | Trackpad: Yes Media keys: No

If you’ve even a sliver of joy within the most cynical shell, your initial moments with Apple’s Magic Keyboard (from £299) will be spent with a goofy expression plastered across your face. Once you’ve manoeuvred its two hinges into position, you’ll gasp as the iPad magnetically snaps to the stand and ‘hovers’ in a manner that makes you feel a bit giddy. Want your iPad to become a tablet again? That takes a literal second – unlike rival keyboard cases that tend to first demand you free your iPad from a snug-fitting plastic cocoon.

In use, the Magic Keyboard similarly impresses, almost living up to its hyperbolic moniker. The keys are backlit and laptop-grade. It’s stable, the iPad not perceptibly budging as you type. The trackpad is dinky compared to slab-like equivalents on Apple notebooks, but it’s responsive and fully supports multi-finger gestures. The entire package neatly folds flat, ready to be slung into a bag – although be mindful the iPad’s edges aren’t protected. And there’s even pass-through charging, to leave your iPad’s sole USB-C port free for other duties.

What’s the catch? In fact, there are several. Smaller ones are an irritating lack of media keys, Apple irksomely burying backlight controls deep in Settings, and the unit’s sheer weight – along with the iPad, you’re verging on MacBook Pro territory. The biggest is the price: the Magic Keyboard costs as much as an iPad. It’s an audacious proposition, then, but also an undeniably premium experience that nails the modular nature of the iPad – and in a manner that no rivals match.

Pros: Desktop-grade keys; responsive trackpad; sturdy; adding/removing the iPad is almost instantaneous
Cons: Heavy; no media keys

Price: £299 (11in)/£349 (12.9in) | Check price on Amazon | Apple | John Lewis

Logitech Combo Touch

Turn ‘non Pro’ iPads into a Microsoft Surface Go

Compatibility: iPad (7th gen); iPad Air (3rd gen); iPad Pro (10.5in) | Connectivity: Smart Connector | Backlit: Yes | Trackpad: Yes | Media keys: Yes

Logitech reportedly worked closely with Apple to get this keyboard case made, which is why it deftly handles all the fancy trackpad/cursor functionality baked into iPadOS. However, the design is markedly different from Apple’s Magic Keyboard, resembling as it does a chunky take on a Surface Go 2.

The Combo Touch (£120) comes in two parts. Your iPad is shoved into a protective case with integrated kickstand. The keyboard/trackpad then snaps magnetically to the iPad’s Smart Connector. In use, the keys feel good to type on, even if they’re a touch too far apart and not quite as pro-grade as the Magic Keyboard’s. The inclusion of media keys is welcome – with a tap, you can return to the Home Screen, change volume levels, control media, and adjust the keyboard’s backlight and iPad display’s brightness. The trackpad is responsive – and bigger than Apple’s. And the case mimics Microsoft’s in having a woven fabric surface that feels lovely and stops everything looking worn after extended use.

The shell that wraps around the iPad is less successful. Sure, it’s rugged in a bag, sturdy in laptop mode, and there’s a loop for your Apple Pencil. But it’s heavy, doubling your iPad’s weight, and bulky and unwieldy when using your iPad as a tablet. Trying to avoid this by removing your iPad from the case is too much of an effort and not something you’ll want to do often. Still, there are ways around this (see below), and the package as a whole feels like a bargain for a ’non Pro’ iPad — especially when compared to the price of the Magic Keyboard.

Add this: Don’t want to use the Combo Touch’s top half? Then prop your iPad against a Canopy ($40) — technically a case for a Mac keyboard. Alternatively, try the sleek MOFT Tablet ($30), which sticks to the iPad’s rear, adds a mere 137g in heft, and offers three viewing angles.

Pros: Great trackpad; media keys; lovely materials; Smart Connector
Cons: Bulky/heavy case; it’s a faff to remove your iPad

Price: £120 | Check price on Amazon | Apple | Currys

Brydge Pro

When all you care about is hammering away at keys

Compatibility: iPad Pro 11in (1st/2nd gen); iPad Pro 12.9in (3rd/4th gen) | Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2 | Backlit: Yes | Trackpad: No | Media keys: Yes

Not keen on having a trackpad welded to your keyboard case? You have options, including Apple’s clever but spongy Smart Keyboard/Smart Keyboard Folio (from £159) and EasyAcc’s astonishingly cheap (yet surprisingly good) Tablet Case (£24). But if you’ve spent days buried under iPad keyboards, you’ll know Brydge is the winner.

Although we’re recommending the Brydge Pro (from £150) here, the company has keyboards for every current iPad – even, entertainingly, the iPad Mini (£100). They all work in much the same way, connecting via Bluetooth, and having you wedge your iPad into a couple of clips. That can be a tense moment — always check for grit, to avoid scratching your iPad’s glass. But once the iPad’s in, you get almost unlimited viewing angles without the need for a space-sapping kickstand.

Rubber feet ensure the unit doesn’t move as you furiously tap away. The keys are stable and responsive. The row of media keys is welcome, even if the selection isn’t as useful as the Logitech’s — there’s no mute or search; backlight controls are annoyingly combined; and a key is wasted on a dedicated Bluetooth button.

When it comes to portability, the Brydge Pro feels more awkward than its rivals. It does fold shut, but the stiff hinge doesn’t scream elegance. You’ll need to charge it, too, because the Brydge Pro doesn’t draw power from your iPad, unlike its Smart Connector-equipped contemporaries. The optional magnetic cover for the iPad’s back is a nice touch, though – grippy in tablet mode and protective when your iPad’s in a bag. In all, this is without doubt the best keys-only iPad keyboard case.

Add this: Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2 (£109) works flawlessly with iPadOS and has a surface about three times larger than trackpads integrated into keyboard cases — ideal when you demand precision or fancy making conspicuously extravagant gestures.

Pros: Great to type on; rugged and robust; media keys
Cons: Connects via Bluetooth; needs charging

Price: £150 (11in)/£170 (12.9in) | Check price on Amazon | Brydge

Microsoft Surface Type Cover

There’s no point buying a Surface without one

Compatibility: Surface tablets | Dimensions: 217 x 295 x 5 mm (Pro) | Weight: 310g (Pro) | Backlight: Yes | Touchpad: Yes, glass

Microsoft’s Type Cover (from £100) set the standard for tablet keyboards. A Surface Go or Surface Pro feels naked without one and, with Windows 10, makes these tablets real laptop-replacing hybrids.

There are a few key elements to the design. The first is uncannily satisfying key action for what is still just a thin piece of board that acts as a low bulk display-protecting cover while the Surface Pro is in a bag. The Type Cover offers excellent portability and utility at the same time, because it does not need to incorporate a bulky mechanism to keep the tablet upright. All Surface tablets have their own kickstands to perform that job.

The keys are backlit too, the aim to replicate the features you’d see in the average £1000-plus laptop. A backlight is not uncommon, but the attention paid to the Type Cover touchpad is. This is a rectangle of textured glass, not a basic panel of plastic, for a finger glide similar to that of a Dell XPS 13 or Surface Laptop 3.

Some versions of the Type Cover are also decked out in Alcantara, an excellent synthetic suede. It is hard-wearing and stain resistant, but still has the softer touch of a more conventional fabric.

The Type Cover is a near-perfect tablet keyboard, with just a few unavoidable compromises. It is very rigid for its thickness, but not perfectly so as it uses magnets to lift the keyboard plate up at an angle for more comfy typing. Expect a slightly cramped feel if you buy the Surface Go 2 version. It’s a smaller tablet, so has a smaller typing surface. Type Covers are also not the most comfortable if you’ll use them perched on your knees, but it’s workable.

Pros: Great touchpad; slim; quality backlit keys
Cons: Some board flex; Go version is not full-size

Price: £100 (Go) £150 (Pro) | Check price on Amazon | John Lewis | Currys

Huawei Smart Magnetic Keyboard/MatePad Pro Keyboard Case

A niche option – but some intriguing tricks

Compatibility: Huawei MatePad Pro | Dimensions: 392.5 x 247.5 x 4.8mm | Weight: 260g | Backlight: No | Touchpad: No

A bunch of clever ideas went into the Smart Magnetic keyboard (£130) for Huawei’s MatePad Pro. It operates like a “wired” keyboard. There’s no charge port, no manual pairing process is needed. But it’s actually a wireless keyboard.

How does that work? It’s powered by the MatePad Pro’s reverse wireless charging, and both magnets and NFC aid the auto-pairing process. Slot the tablet into one of the Smart Magnetic keyboard’s two grooves and you can type away within around two seconds. It’s no more bulky than some folio cases too, and protects both the tablet’s front and back when not in use. The textured polyurethane isn’t nearly as nice as Alcantara, but is tough enough and easy to wipe clean.

Typing feels great as well, for a keyboard this tiny. The keys are well-spaced, there’s no key wobble, 1.3mm travel offers solid tactile feedback and you should be able to get up to full speed within a minute or two. It’s a star when space is very tight, as the footprint is tiny. Working away with the tablet on your knees feels stable thanks to the strong magnets, and the choice of two display angles is a welcome one.

Huawei has favoured ease of use over ultimate versatility, though. The Smart Magnetic may be a wireless keyboard but it only works when physically attached to the tablet. There’s no backlight for the keys or a touchpad either. Think twice before using the Smart Magnetic and a MatePad Pro as a 24/7 laptop-replacer, although the tablet’s Desktop software mode does make Android better for the job if you are set on that route.

Pros: Low bulk; good key travel; clever power mechanic
Cons: No backlight; no true wireless typing; no touchpad

Price: £121 | Check price on Amazon | Currys

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