Tag Archive for ‘Accessory’

Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro

Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro 11-inch

I ordered the Magic Keyboard for 11-inch iPad Pro just a few hours after pre-orders became available. I had a feeling that this was going to be a transformative accessory and based on the reactions I’ve seen online so far, that hunch was correct. Now that I’ve spent a few days with it, I can confirm it’s an incredible piece of tech, but I’m not quite sure its going to change the way I personally use my iPad.

When the package arrived, it was much heavier than I was expecting. Even after seeing reviews that noted its weight, I wasn’t really prepared for it. After just a few minutes with it unboxed, though, the term “heavy” was rapidly replaced with “dense”.

The Magic Keyboard is heavier than most of us expected, sure. But it’s not really the weight itself that’s so surprising, its the accessory’s weight compared to its physical size. It feels solid, like it’s absolutely packed with technology. Albeit to a lesser degree, this is a similar feeling to what I had when I purchased the first iPhone in 2007 — I just couldn’t believe how small it was with the features it offered.

The Magic Keyboard is filled to the brim with magnets, features a comfy little trackpad, a backlit keyboard, a nifty hinge that’s reminiscent of the iMac G4, and an extra USB-C port to boot. It doesn’t seem like Apple should have been able to get this much into such a small package. But they have and it’s delightful.

The magnets in the lid are very strong. To the point where I’m not worried at all about the iPad falling off when I don’t want it to. That does make it a bit tricky to remove the iPad, though. I tend to brace the keyboard with one hand and lift up on one of the bottom corners of the iPad itself with the other. It’s a bit too easy to have the iPad slip during this process, though. Often this causes the opposite corner of the iPad to bump against the keyboard, which isn’t ideal.

It’s definitely a trade-off, but I’d rather it be a little finicky to remove than have to worry about the iPad falling out unexpectedly. And I’d place this in the nit-pick category, for sure, it’s not like it’s that difficult to gracefully remove the iPad.

The backlit keyboard feels comfortable to type on, despite some of the keys being smaller than usual. I might have made slightly different decisions when designing the layout than Apple did, specifically the narrow hyphen key, but that’s mostly because of my own typing style — I almost certainly over use em-dashes.

It also would have been nice to see a function row with an escape key, but I don’t know how often I’d really use those. It’s omission is likely because of physical design limitations, though. If a function row was added, it would often be located uncomfortably far behind the bottom edge of the iPad. Since that’s the case, it’s probably better that Apple left it out.

You can get the functionality of the escape key mapped to one of the modifier keys, though. If you navigate to Settings > General > Keyboard > Hardware Keyboard > Modifier Keys, you can select one of the modifier keys and set it to act as an escape key. I’ve done so for the globe key, since I don’t use anything other than the standard virtual keyboard on my iPad.

The trackpad below the keyboard, is what many consider to be the star of the show. It’s the hardware feature that really sets the Magic Keyboard apart from what we’ve seen with the iPad previously. It functions exactly how you’d hope it to, giving you the ability to two-finger scroll, three-finger-swipe, tap to click, and all of the other nifty trackpad features that Apple added with iPadOS 13.4.

The physical size of the trackpad isn’t as generous as we’ve seen in Apple’s MacBook-line, but that’s because of the size limitation of the iPad itself. In the first few days with the accessory, I would mouse around with my middle or index finger and then attempt to click with my thumb. That’s my normal behavior on the MacBook Air and naturally have been trying to do so on the iPad too. But too frequently I would find myself missing the bottom edge of the trackpad entirely. I’ve since adjusting my hand positioning a bit, keeping my thumb a smidge closer to my mousing finger. I’ve also been more heavily relying on tap-to-click, which has worked just fine for me.

Coming from such a large trackpad on the MacBook Air, getting used to the trackpad in the Magic Keyboard has been an adjustment, but nothing that was insurmountable. And already I’m finding myself rarely running into these issues anymore.

The trackpad might be what sets the Magic Keyboard apart from the crowd, but the hinge system is makes the accessory’s design so striking. It’s clearly designed with weight distribution in mind. Allowing the iPad to float over the keyboard means that the entire package’s center of gravity is never too far back, which would cause it to tip over too easily.

With the two hinge system, I’ve never been concerned about the device tipping over. Even when tapping at the top corners of the display with the hinge pushed as far back as it can be — this thing isn’t going to tip over unless you really want it to. And that’s while allowing for a pretty comfortable range of motion. I’m sure there will be some users that are left wanting more — especially if they are a bit taller or frequently use their iPad at a standing desk. But for me, it’s just right.

I find my fingers bumping up against the bottom edge of the iPad while typing on occasion. Typically when I’m reaching for the hyphen or delete keys. I think I type with my hands a bit higher than most, though, so some owners might never run into that issue at all. It’s not exactly bad and it’s happening far less frequently than it did when the keyboard first arrived, so perhaps it’ll simply take a bit more time to adjust for. But if you keep your hands a bit high over your keyboard while typing, it might be something to keep in mind.

Built-in to the left side of the hinge is an additional USB-C port that can be used for charging. My buddy Matt Birchler did some testing and found that the port charges the iPad Pro at nearly the same speed as the iPad’s built-in port when using the stock charger. That was surprising to me — I presumed it would charge at a much slower rate, like half of the normal speed. But this is great news for iPad users that plan to use the Magic Keyboard full time.

Many iPad owners will find it useful to have an additional port available, so they can charge their device through the Magic Keyboard while another accessory is connected through the iPad Pro’s built-in port. But I’ve never actually connected anything other than a charging cable to my iPad. And I’m in the habit of charging my iPad each night, so charging the device while I use it is a rare sight. Maybe when the battery has aged a few years I’ll make use of it, but until then, it’s superfluous for me.

The Magic Keyboard’s base is quite rigid and feels like it was built to last. That combined with the excellent weight-distribution of the double hinge, means that the Magic Keyboard gives you a great typing experience on your lap too. I wrote the entirety of this review on the Magic Keyboard and much of that time was spent with it right on my lap.

It’s not exactly as comfortable to use on your lap as a MacBook is, but that’s sort-of to be expected. Given how much of the weight is located above the keyboard, though, I think Apple did an outstanding job engineering this thing to be useable on your lap. And that’s a huge leap forward compared to what we had available to us previously.

But the biggest surprise to me about the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro and what has really shaped my thoughts about it overall is the fact that it made my iPad less inviting to use. For the first couple of days, I kept my iPad in it full time and found myself reaching for my iPhone when I typically would have been using the iPad. Perhaps because of the greater barrier to entry in opening the device with the keyboard attached — the magnets are strong and unlike MacBook’s there isn’t a cutout where you can easily open the hinge.

Or it could also be the indirect nature of interacting with the iPad through the keyboard and trackpad. It doesn’t lend itself well to touching the screen because of its mostly vertical position. And I really enjoy directly interacting with my apps through touch.

It also could have been the added weight, but whatever the specifics are, the Magic Keyboard has taught me that holding the iPad Pro in my hands is my favorite way to use the device by far. And anything that gets in the way of that tends to discourage me from actually using it.

Now that isn’t to say I don’t like the Magic Keyboard. Quite the opposite, actually — I love the Magic Keyboard. It’s my favorite accessory for the device. But for me, it isn’t something I plan to keep my iPad in permanently. The vast majority of the time, I’m going to continue using my iPad Pro exactly how I was before — setting it in Twelve South’s Compass Pro to watch videos, holding it in my hands on the couch to browse the web, tapping away on the screen to compose tweets and shorter links here on Initial Charge, and so on.

The Magic Keyboard plays an important role for me — it will become my default keyboard for the iPad Pro. Instead of getting out my Canopy by Studio Neat when I want to type for long stretches, I’ll grab Apple’s Magic Keyboard instead. This will let me enjoy the benefits of the integrated trackpad, physical keyboard, and its comfortable lap-top usage when I need it. And when I’m done writing, I can detach the iPad and use it as I always have — re-establishing the inviting nature of the platform that I’ve grown so fond of.

Is that worth the $299 price tag? It is for me. But I spent about half that on Apple’s standard Magic Keyboard alongside a Canopy. And I bought those specifically for the iPad — it’s not like I had the keyboard laying around and bought the Canopy to use with it. So I’m not above spending a bit too much money on accessories for my devices.

Considering what the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro brings to the table, I think it’s worth it. Especially if you care a lot about the typing experience and want something that offers unmatched integration with the iPad Pro and iPadOS. It’s a slick piece of tech that every iPad Pro owner should, at the very least, consider adding to their kit.

The Twelve South BookArc ➝

A great review of the Twelve South BookArc by Josh Ginter. I’ve used this stand with my MacBook Air for a handful of months and I’m a huge fan. It gets my Mac out of the way when it’s connected to my external monitor and gives me precious desk space back. It’s pretty snazzy to look at, too.

The Best MacBook Accessory on the Market ➝

There are plenty of accessories from folks like Twelve South, Anker, and even Apple that can be an important part of your daily workflow. But I can’t imagine owning a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro without at least one of these. I try to keep my desk clear of clutter and store items in my desk drawers when I’m not using them, but this has become such a crucial part of my Mac experience that it lives on my desk so it’s always at the ready.

Canopy by Studio Neat

From an accessory standpoint, I’m a bit of a minimalist. I don’t have a case on my iPhone or iPad and prefer to carry as few items in my tech bag as possible. The less I have to schlep around the better. And when I’m looking to add new items to my setup, I have a high barrier to entry — the product has to be well-made and provide incredible utility before it finds a permanent home in my kit.

For years, my iPad stand of choice was the Compass by Twelve South. A simple, foldable stand made out of heavy gauge steel with rubber feet. It can hold most iPads in portrait or landscape, at two different angles, without too much wobble when tapping the top corners of the screen.

The Compass is a great product, but Twelve South released an updated version — the Compass 2 — a few years ago, which is a major regression. The feet sit much closer together compared to the original Compass and, as a result, it offers far less stability when tapping on the edges of the screen. If you can still find an original Compass, I highly recommend it.

Canopy Beside iPhone and AirPods

I bought the Compass when it first become available — during the original iPad era. But last year it was beginning to show signs of its age with relatively loose hinges and one foot that swung further open than the other, which had my iPad sitting a bit askew. It worked, but I thought I was better off buying a new one before it became unusable and while Amazon still had them available.

The Compass was an important accessory for me. Whenever I would type a feature article, my iPad Air 2 would be propped-up in the Compass with my Bluetooth keyboard on the desk in front of it. I’ve typed tens of thousands of words with that setup and the thought of having to find a new stand was a bit unnerving — there’s very few iPad stands on the market that collapse into such a small package and still offer great stability for your device.

But earlier this year, in an effort to transition all of my accessories to Lightning-powered variants, I retired my old, AA-powered Apple Bluetooth Keyboard and purchased a Magic Keyboard. It took some getting used to, especially the odd arrow key configuration, but I’ve grown to love it. The keys produce a satisfying sound while typing and the slim profile allows it to easily slip into a small bag.

After a few months with the keyboard, I realized that my iPad habits were changing. I was writing less content for Initial Charge with the on-screen keyboard than ever before. Even if I just planned on writing a paragraph or two in a Linked List entry, I would get out the keyboard and setup my iPad in the Compass.

I can’t exactly put my finger on why this happened. Prior to purchasing the Magic Keyboard, I would frequently use the Compass alone, laid back in “typing mode”, to write shorter pieces with the on-screen keyboard. But over the past few months, the Magic Keyboard and Compass became inseparable, I never used one without the other. And I saw this as an opportunity to further simplify my kit.

Canopy Stacked on iPad

Studio Neat’s Canopy seemed like the perfect addition to my setup. The Canopy is a slim Magic Keyboard case that folds out into a stand for the iPad. It offers the functionality I need from the Compass without the increased volume in my bag — it only adds a few millimeters to each side of the Magic Keyboard.

I was first made aware of the Canopy when John Voorhees wrote about it on MacStories. It looked like a great product, which is what I would expect given Studio Neat’s reputation. With the idea of simplifying my setup in mind, I ordered the Canopy about a month ago and have used it on a near-daily-basis since it arrived.

My first surprise upon receiving the Canopy was that it attaches to the Magic Keyboard using “micro-suction pads”. Perhaps I should have read the product page a little more thoroughly, but for some reason I assumed the keyboard was attached in such a way that I could remove it more easily.

With these micro-suction pads, there’s a finite number of times your keyboard can be detached. With each removal, the suction pads’ stickiness weakens. When I first placed my keyboard inside the Canopy, it was a bit off-center and it took a few tries to get it right. Even with just a few removals, I could notice the degradation of stickiness. And because of that, you’ll probably want your Magic Keyboard to just live inside the Canopy.

Update 7/30/2017: Matt Gemmell offered a correction on Twitter — apparently the micro-suction pads don’t have a finite number of attachment cycles. They’re made out of tiny suction cups which can be cleaned with sticky tape.

Having your Magic Keyboard permanently placed inside the Canopy means that it probably isn’t a great fit for anyone that uses the same keyboard on their iPad as they do on their Mac. You could certainly lay the Canopy flat when your keyboard is paired with a Mac, but you’d need a fair bit of desk space between your keyboard and display, which might not be practical for some users.

iPad in Canopy

One concern I had before using it myself was the way the iPad sat up against the top edge of the keyboard — the Canopy doesn’t offer any material to act as a buffer between the two. There’s the possibility that the keyboard’s aluminum housing could scratch the iPad, but I haven’t had any blemishes develop yet.

In the four weeks that I’ve had the Canopy, it has held up quite well. I’ve noticed some minor fraying develop on the front edge from opening and closing, but overall, the whole thing feels solid. The material is rigid enough to hold your iPad without any wobble from screen taps and the snap mechanism that keeps the stand upright, while in use, and holds it closed, while it’s folded up, feels like it could withstand years of abuse. The fraying would be concerning, but I don’t expect it to snowball into something that renders the Canopy unusable.

Studio Neat’s Canopy is perfect for iPad-only (or iPad-mostly) users who enjoy typing on the Magic Keyboard and prefer to use their iPad without a case. Which isn’t to say that you couldn’t use the Canopy alongside an iPad case — there’s certainly enough room to — but it’s refreshing to find a product that’s designed to help you add a physical keyboard to your iPad that doesn’t also attach to your iPad. The Canopy gives you much of the benefits of an iPad keyboard case without having to actually use an iPad keyboard case — most of which are ugly and miserable to use.

The Canopy stands out from the keyboard accessory crowd because it combines sturdy materials and a brilliant aesthetic with a keyboard that feels good to type on. It folds up quickly to throw in a bag and sets up easily to reduce friction between you and your work. It’s the kind of accessory that doesn’t get in your way while your using it, but reminds you of how well-built and handsome it is every time you set it up or snap it closed.

At $40, the Canopy might seem like an expensive product, especially since you have to purchase the keyboard separately. But I think it offers enough utility in such a slim package that it’s more than worth the cost. If you’re looking for an iPad typing solution that doesn’t add much bulk to your bag, the Canopy is a great solution.

Osmo ➝

Really neat accessory that uses the iPad’s camera to track Osmo tiles and other objects for interacting with Osmo’s Doodles, Words, and Tangram applications. Currently preordering for $49 and shipping this fall.

Thermodo by Robocat

Thermodo

One of the few devices I’ve actually backed on Kickstarter is the Thermodo. A tiny little thermometer that connects to your mobile device’s headphone jack and, alongside the companion app, displays the current temperature. It was a neat idea that I thought could have some applications in my day job as the Frozen Food Manager in a retail store.

I received my Thermodo a few weeks ago and have put it through its paces, measuring everything from the internal temperature of a retail frozen food case to my living room near my front window. I can’t speak on the accuracy of the device, as I never took the time to compare its reading to the temperature reading from a known-to-be-accurate thermometer. But, the folks at Robocat claim that the device is incredibly accurate. From the Thermodo FAQ regarding temperature readings that are warmer than expected:

The Sensor inside Thermodo is a high grade precision sensor with decimal accuracy, chances are next to nothing that a reading is due to a faulty thermodo. In 99.9% of the scenarios, it’s about the environment. Things like microclimates and pockets of warmth radiating off objects is exactly the sort of things Thermodo is good at measuring – so consider all these things when you’re experiencing temperatures that you feel might be ‘off’.

Which brings me to my first of two gripes with the device. Sometimes the readings seem warmer than they should be, which often is a result of the Thermodo being too close to an object that’s giving off heat. Usually you can just move your device so that it’s further away from the object that’s radiating heat but sometimes that object is you and the only way to get an accurate reading is to set your device down and wait a minute or two until the Thermodo settles on a more accurate temperature reading.

The more problematic object that results in inaccurate temperature readings is actually your device itself. Luckily the folks at Robocat thought of this while they were developing the companion app and added a setting to compensate for device heat. But, it leaves me concerned that the application is either over or under compensating for this additional heat and I’m never really sure whether to tell the app that my device is warm or operating at regular temperatures.

The second gripe regarding the Thermodo is that it can often take several minutes before it settles on a temperature. I usually keep my Thermodo in my pocket attached to my keys. But, that means that when I want to make a quick reading I have to take the Thermodo out and set it in the location I’ll be testing for a few minutes, so that it can cool down from the warmth of my jeans pocket. The core of the problem is that the Thermodo itself is much warmer from my body heat than the location I’m attempting to use it in and it takes time for the device’s housing to cool down to the temperature of its new environment. Certainly not a deal breaker but it does make quick temperature readings a much more frustrating experience.

The Thermodo companion app that is very beautifully designed. Large type displays the current temperature reading with a wavy line that turns blue or red depending on whether the temperature is getting warmer or cooler and moves more violently when the temperature changes are drastic. There’s a pull down menu from the top that gives you access to an about page with an explanation of the Thermodo and tips for more accurate readings, the applications settings, apps that use Thermodo (which is currently empty), and links to Robocat related material on the web. The application settings are very simple — options for Farenheit or Celsius, the ability to compensate for device heat, and a toggle to show or hide indicator arrows.

On the hardware end the Thermodo hardware is a very simple device — A keychain ring, the headphone jack casing, and the Thermodo itself which sits inside the casing when not in use. The casing has “Thermodo” written on the side and the end of the Thermodo has the Robocat logo printed on it. The casing holds the Thermodo in quite well and there’s a satisfying snap when you place the Thermodo in it that reassures me that it’s not going to fall out at inopportune times. The silver color that is hidden by the red paint is starting to show through on the edges after just a few weeks of use, which may or may not be bothersome to some users — I rather like the character it adds. Overall I’d say the Thermodo is very well built and I expect it to last for many years to come.

The Thermodo is a pretty cool device that I’ve had some use for during the time that I’ve owned it — like when three of my frozen food coolers stopped working and I needed to check different areas inside of them to see whether or not I needed to move the product into another unit overnight until it could get fixed, that was a fun day. But, aside from catastrophic events (that very few people have to deal with) I’m not sure how much use I’m going to get out of it. It is novel to compare the temperature of the living room to that of the kitchen. But unfortunately it is just that, novel — a new and unusual object that’s fun to play around with. I’m simply not sure that most people would actually have any application for it. This might change once more applications are developed that make use of the Thermodo API, but I can’t really imagine what those applications might be.

If you have an idea in your head of how you could actually use the Thermodo, I think it’s a worthwhile investment. But if your unsure, it’s likely that it’ll end up in a drawer somewhere collecting dust. As of now, I plan on continuing to carry my Thermodo with me attached to my keys for the foreseeable future — it has applications in my day job and helped me deal with a difficult situation that I wouldn’t have been able to predict ahead of time.

The Thermodo is currently available for preorder for $44.99 in anodized aluminum and $29.99 in black, white, and red.