The iPad is a versatile tool, and one of the ways it achieves this is by not featuring a BlackBerry-esque hardware keyboard: instead, the screen becomes a keyboard as and when it's needed, which means you don't waste chassis space on a keyboard when you're playing a game or watching a movie.
But make no bones about it: an onscreen keyboard is a compromise. It's convenient, yes, but the lack of tactile feedback makes it less satisfying and accurate to use than the keyboard on a laptop. For frequent iPad typists, therefore, a separate keyboard accessory may be a wise choice.
But which is the best iPad keyboard for you? Read on to discover the different types of iPad keyboard that are available, and some of the best models to purchase.
For typing comfort: Separate keyboard
You don't have to buy a special iPad keyboard, you can use any keyboard that has Bluetooth capabilties, such as the Apple Magic Keyboard (£99).
Wireless keyboards connect to the iPad via Bluetooth - and because the keyboard is separate it can be much larger than the iPad.
The advantage of this type of keyboard is that you will get larger keys than on a model designed to fit the iPad; the disadvantage is that you need to carry two devices around: keyboard and iPad.
Turning iPad into a laptop: Folio and clam keyboard
A folio keyboard encloses the iPad in a case to make a folding case - so it offers protection to your iPad when you are traveling as well as allowing you to type on a normal keyboard. These are the most laptop-esque of iPad keyboards.
Folio keyboards turn the iPad into a single device with a keyboard attached. Some of them use a flap system to hold up the iPad, while others use a clamshell design (similar to a laptop).
A particularly good option is Brydge Keyboards. They turn your iPad into a near laptop and are Apple-standard premium quality products.
For versatility: Keyboard stand
With a keyboard stand you have to slot the iPad into the keyboard to start typing; many have a horizontal groove across them that acts as a stand for the iPad during use.
Like the folio keyboards, these are a good way to make an iPad act more like a laptop.
Those are the main types of iPad keyboards. Over the next few slides we will take a look at the newest cases for the iPad - including the big-screen 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
Apple Smart Keyboard for 10.5in iPad Pro
- Buy from Apple
It's a bit pricey - surprise, surprise - but Apple's Smart Keyboard was specifically designed for use with the iPad Pro models, and turns them into a real rival for Microsoft's Surface Pro.
The Smart Keyboard is a solid accessory for either iPad Pro (10.5in or 12.9in), but one that represents a compromise compared to conventional keyboards. It's a bit slower to type on, but it's solid and reasonably slim.
The Smart Connector is one of this device's trump cards - you don't need to worry about battery life, or a Bluetooth connection, because everything is handled through that port.
The Smart Keyboard also has some useful extra shortcuts that are designed for iOS commands, such as a Home key (Command-H) and Search (Command-Space). It also lets you use a number of familiar Mac keyboard commands too, such as using Command-Tab to cycle between apps.
Apple Magic Keyboard
- Buy from Apple
The Magic Keyboard works with all iOS devices running iOS 9.1 and above. We tried it out with a number of iPads in our office – including the iPad Pro – and it worked fine (Apple’s older Wireless Keyboard used to work with the iPad too, so you can also try that if you already have one of those).
The advantage of using a conventional, standalone keyboard such as this is that it has larger keys than most iPad-sized keyboard-covers, and the keyboard panel is angled upwards at a more comfortable angle, so you can get down to some serious typing when you need to. The new Magic Keyboard also has a rechargeable battery that Apple says can last for a month between charges. And, of course, if you’ve already got one of these keyboards in your office then you don’t need to spend any extra money buying a brand new keyboard just for your iPad.
The disadvantage is that it’s not really very portable, and doesn’t act either as a cover, or as a stand for your iPad, so you’ll still need to spend some money on accessories somewhere along the line.
Brydge iPad Keyboard
- Buy from Brydge
Brydge is known for making cases that turn iPads into MacBooks, and the Brydge for iPad Pro is no exception - in fact, it's more MacBook-like than ever. The keyboard case is precision engineered from high-grade aluminium for a very Apple-esque feel, differentiating itself from soft material-made cases on the market. It even features MacBook-esque black keys that are, of course, backlit and provide the most comfortable typing experience we've ever had on an iPad.
The experience was so comfortable and natural that we went to reach for a trackpad on several occasions thinking we were actually using a MacBook Pro. It also has the reverse effect, as we've started tapping the MacBook Pro display thinking it's the iPad Pro.
It turns the iPad Pro from a tablet to a laptop, no question about it. It even offers a number of iOS-dedicated keys, allowing you to change the brightness of the display, control your media playback and more via the keyboard.
The clam-shell hinges of the Bryde provide a 180 degree viewing angle, which is more than can be said for most of its competitors (even the angle of Apple's own keyboard case can't be changed) and features small pads at the front to stop your iPad screen from touching the keyboard when closed. However with that being said, the Brydge connects via Bluetooth and not the new Smart Connector like many of its competitors, and requires charging every so often.
Essentially, if you're looking for a good looking, high-end keyboard case for your iPad Pro, there's nothing better on the market than the Brydge Keyboards.
Belkin QODE Ultimate Lite
The QODE Ultimate Lite is a keyboard-cover designed specifically for the iPad Air 2 (the original iPad Air is thicker, so it won’t fit inside the cover), and it weighs just 360g, so it doesn’t add too much weight when you’re carrying the iPad around with you.
The outer cover is made of sturdy plastic to keep the iPad safe, but the inner keyboard has an aluminium panel that gives it a nice firm feel when you’re typing. It’s also packed with useful function keys that allow you to play music and video files, switch between apps, and perform tasks such as copying and pasting text and other data.
It has a rechargeable battery, and Belkin's SmartSense feature can tell when you open the cover to use the keyboard. That allows it to turn the keyboard on or off automatically in order to preserve battery power, and Belkin says that you should be able to get as much as six months' use between charges.
QODE Ultimate Pro Keyboard Case for iPad Air 2
The QODE Pro is the cousin to the QODE Ultimate Lite, and its few extra functions are why the price is higher. Its look and feel is very premium, and your iPad Air 2 will fit snugly in the casing - but not any other iPad, remember. The keyboard is Apple specific, so you have all your usual shortcuts and key layout.
You can take the iPad in its case on and off the Keyboard attachment easily as the two parts connect magnetically. This is where the smart Bluetooth technology comes in - once the keyboard is paired with your iPad, it'll automatically connect the two when the magnetic parts meet, a bit like the Smart Connector on the iPad Pro. It works amazingly well, and the magnet on the back holds your iPad in a comfortable laptop-like position for typing and viewing (in both landscape and portrait).
The keyboard is fully backlit and the keys have a nice matte finish; it's a joy to type on. Cleverly, if you're connected to your iPad, you can connect another Bluetooth device simultaneously switch between the two, so if you're typing you could switch to your phone to answer a text. A tad tricky to set up, but once it is, it works well and helps your workflow.
Inateck Wireless Keyboard Case for iPad Air 2
Inateck has made an affordable, functional and light Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad Air 2 or 9.7in iPad Pro. When combined with Apple's slim tablet, it can easiy replicate a laptop-like writing set-up.
Once paired with your iPad, the Bluetooth connection picks up automatically, so you can easily move from using the case to unclipping the tablet from the frame. This frame holds the device in landscape mode when typing and connects well with a magnetic closure, meaning when unclipped the device isn't paired and you won't waste battery.
The keyboard has a claimed 100 hours of battery life, so once it's charged you won't have to worry about running out of a juice during the work day or even if off on a short business trip.
Incipio ClamCase for iPad
- Buy from Incipio
There are several versions of the ClamCase available for most iPad models and its clam-shell design really makes your iPad look like a MacBook laptop. The iPad slots into the top half, and the clam-shell design folds up and down like a regular laptop. There's no stand that folds out to support the iPad screen, as the hinged case holds it upright just like a regular laptop screen.
We were also impressed to discover that the screen can fold all the way around the back and be used like a regular iPad (although that's a design feature that is quite common with many convertible PC laptops these days).
The ClamCase Pro comes with a firm, comfortable keyboard, and we found it easy to get typing at full speed. The larger ClamCase keyboard for the iPad Air has a separate row of function keys, with options for Search, Siri and media playback.
It's not perfect - the iPad is a little heavier than the keyboard panel so the ClamCase feels a bit top-heavy when it’s sitting on your lap. However, the overall design is very attractive and the ClamCase is a good option if you want to use your iPad as a real alternative to a conventional laptop.
Logitech Create keyboard case for iPad Pro 12.9in
- Buy from Logitech
Launched when the 12.9in iPad came out, and also available for the 9.7in model, it's not quite as slim as Apple’s, but we like its solid and sturdy design, with an aluminium keyboard panel that provides a nice, firm base for typing, and additional protection when the keyboard-cover is closed.
The 9.7in model has a Pencil holder, which is great - the 12.9in CREATE doesn't have one.
Like Apple's Smart Keyboard, the CREATE uses the Smart Connector on the side of the iPad Pro for its power supply, so you don’t have to worry about rechargeable batteries.
The size of the iPad Pro means that the CREATE can provide a full-size keyboard for comfortable typing, and there's even room for a row of function keys for iOS commands such as returning to the Home screen and activating the search function. You can also use familiar Mac keyboard commands, such as Command-Tab to switch between apps, and there's even an adjustable backlight that you can use when travelling on trains and planes.
Our only minor complaint is that the 1.29in CREATE is a bit heavy, at 725g, which means that the iPad Pro and CREATE together actually weigh as much as an ordinary laptop. The 9.7in is obvious smaller, and more manageable at 426g.
Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard
Microsoft's keyboards aren’t very pretty, but they're always well-built, comfortable to use, and sturdy enough to take a bit of a pounding when you need to do some serious typing or number-crunching.
The Universal Foldable keyboard is a bit of an oddity. It's a standalone Bluetooth keyboard that will connect to any device that works with Bluetooth, including Macs and PCs as well smartphones and tablets. But, as the name suggests, you can fold it in half so that it’s really small and light when you need to carry it around with you. And when you need to do some work you can just unfold it again and start tapping away.
Despite being a Microsoft product, it still remembers to provide good support for iOS devices, and even has a Mac Command key so that you can switch between apps and use other familiar Mac shortcuts.
The keyboard is covered with a tough fabric to keep it safe, along with a water-resistant coating to protect it outdoors, or cope with a spilled coffee at lunchtime. The keyboard can also pair with two separate devices, and allows you to switch between then whenever you want, and the rechargeable battery should last for up to three months between charges.
Griffin Wired Keyboard with Lightning Connector
Most of these keyboards use Bluetooth to connect to your iPad, but there may be times when Bluetooth isn’t an option. You can’t use Bluetooth when your iPad is in Airplane mode, and quite a few government and other offices will ban the use of Bluetooth as it’s a potential security risk.
Griffin’s Wired Keyboard has a Lightning interface built into it, so that you plug it straight into recent iPhone or iPad model that also uses Lightning. The cable is one metre long, so you’ve got a bit of room to play with when setting up your keyboard and iPad. It can’t be used as a cover, or as a stand, but it’s larger than most iPad keyboards and is raised at the back so that it sits at a more comfortable angle when you’re typing.
In fact, it looks rather similar to Apple’s Magic Keyboard – which does use Bluetooth – and has a similar set of functions keys, including a Home button and the Mac’s command key for switching between apps. Ditching Bluetooth also means that the Wired Keyboard doesn’t need its own battery, just drawing a very small amount of power through the Lightning cable. It’s also one of the cheapest iPad keyboards we’ve see so far.