Keyboards for the 12.9″ iPad Pro – An adventure and review

As I’ve mentioned before, I use a 2015 edition iPad Pro 12.9 as a daily driver tablet and almost-laptop-replacement. With the right external keyboard case it can easily be mistaken for a Macbook, and serves most of my on-the-go needs at airports, meetings, conferences, and even in front of the television at night.

However, the two leading contenders for best iPad Pro 12.9 keyboard case have had their quirks and issues, and I’ve run headlong into both devices’ issues.

Those two contenders are the Zagg SlimBook keyboard case and the Logitech Create keyboard case.

A look at the contenders

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The Zagg SlimBook ($139.99 at Zagg, Amazon) is a Bluetooth device that pairs with up to three devices (iPad or not) with a removable shell for the iPad Pro itself and a hinge that lets you fold/open the joined device. it has its own battery, and is rated for about 700 hours of use on a single charge (2 years at 1 hour a day). It may be a challenge to find; it was out of stock for January, and Zagg sold out of the new run in about two days this week.

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The Logitech/Logi Create ($150 or less at Logitech, Amazon new, Amazon refurb) is a non-separable keyboard case that connects using Apple’s Smart Connector. It has no battery, and while the backlight draws some juice from the iPad, I didn’t notice battery issues from the draw. It’s more readily available, and comes in 4 colors. I got the purple one, as it was discounted at the time. If I were buying it again, I’d go with a more conventional color. You’ll see why in a bit.

Similarities

I consider these two devices the contenders primarily because they work as lap-top devices. You have different angles; the hinge on the Zagg holds it in place and gives plenty of adjustment angles, whereas the Logitech has a single magnetic-locking position for keyboard use. But they both provide a stable base of operations, which lets you use them like a laptop.

They also both provide methods for using the device without the keyboard in place. With Zagg, you remove the iPad and its shell and set the keyboard aside. Note that the keyboard does stay paired, which could be bothersome or it could let you use an iPad stand to get a bit more distance between your eyes and the screen. With the Logitech, you simply disconnect the Smart Connector and fold the iPad over; without the SC connection, the keyboard is inert.

There are a lot of other devices that work great on a tabletop or desk, like the Logitech Slim Combo ($149.99 from Amazon), which I tried and wanted to like, but I needed the lap stability factor. A number of others follow the kickstand concept (like a Surface Pro). And there are a couple of devices like the Zagg (cheaper imports that are still readily available), but they don’t have the finish and finesse of these options.

Disparate Disappointments

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The Zagg’s strength, in the variable-angle hinge, is also its most common complaint. The hinge is susceptible to cracking, and if the plastic around the hinge breaks, you can still use the keyboard, but you can no longer practically open and close the device. After mine stopped working recently, I found numerous complaints online from others having this issue, and one person even built metal clamps to resolve the issue.

Zagg’s one year warranty would have covered this, except that they were out of stock with no information on restocking time frames, so I received a gift card for the purchase price (it was the retail price minus the Best Buy gift card and reward certificate amounts I used, but still more than I expected). I ended up ordering a screen film for my phone and marking the “notify me” option for the SlimBook; I ordered the replacement with the remaining gift card balance within minutes of the notification coming in.

The Logitech’s two disappointments together come in even worse than the Zaggs, to be honest. First, the material on the back will build up fingerprint residue and other daily stains as you use it, and if you get a lighter color (even the purple counts as “light” for this), it will look pretty sad after a while. The woven fabric doesn’t lend itself well to skins or stickers to cover up the grime.

 

But even worse, and again this is a frequent woe on Internet forums, the keyboard’s metal parts will indelibly scratch your $1,000 tablet’s screen. (This one was hard to photograph, so you’ll have to imagine it.)

It ends up looking like a half-inch-high barcode stripe along the top inch of the screen, and at first I thought it was fingerprint oil that just needed scrubbing with a microfiber. Alas it was permanent, and taught me that I should have installed the Zagg screen protector much sooner.

Luckily, it qualified under the AppleCare accidental damage classification, and I got a replacement for the $49 deductible (a month before AppleCare ran out, whew!).

Trying Another Keyboard

Since the Zagg was uncertain at the time, and I wasn’t sure where I’d stashed the Logitech keyboard back in November, I searched eBay and Amazon for alternatives. The best option I came up with was the iEGrow keyboard case. Available in gold or silver, it features a 5600mAh battery in the keyboard which can be used to boost your iPad or other USB-cabled device as well as running the keyboard itself.

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The battery adds substantial weight to the case, but if it saves me having to carry a battery pack, it could be worth it. The main complaint that showed up on Amazon was that the circle on the back doesn’t quite align with the Apple logo on the iPad Pro itself, but that didn’t bother me too much.

I used it for about three days but found that the case didn’t quite fit the iPad Pro; the edge along the home button side was noticeably raised compared to the camera side. It did come with a rubber keyboard skin that wasn’t impossible to type through, and offers some protection to the screen.

I probably would’ve kept it and suffered through the ridge issue, but that notification from Zagg came in, so the iEGrow is going back.

Closing Caveats

It’s been two years since I started using the iPad Pro, and in that time I switched keyboards twice. If the Zagg hinge were better or the Logitech keyboard didn’t permanently damage the iPad Pro screen, either could be a slam dunk (or both could). I did finally relocate my Logi, so I’ll be returning the iEGrow and using the Logi (with the Zagg glass screen protector and a microfiber keyboard cover) until the SlimBook arrives next week.

I am a bit surprised that there haven’t been more top-brand choices with Apple renewing the iPad Pro 12.9 in 2017, and that Zagg let their device disappear even from Customer Service. I will say that Zagg customer service was excellent when trying to deal with this issue, as was Apple’s support with the screen issue last fall.

I will also note that if you’re thinking of using your credit card’s extended warranty feature to protect in an eventual failure, make sure you don’t use gift cards or reward certificates; some if not all card warranty programs will decline protection if you didn’t pay for the device entirely with their credit card (this happened for me).

And finally, while the 12.9″ iPad Pro has very limited top-shelf keyboard case options, that is not the case (so to speak) with the 10.5 or 9.7. The 9.7″ iPad Pro seems to work with most cases that fit the iPad Air 2–feel free to buy one of mine on eBay if you like–so you’ll have plenty of options. The newer version of the Belkin QODE Ultimate Pro keyboard for iPad Air 2 is one of my all-time favorites; I wrote about the original version here after Belkin’s CMO sent me one to try out, and I ended up buying the new version on my own and loving it.

Do you have insights or experiences with the iPad Pro in keyboard cases? If so, share in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

Disclosure: All of the devices discussed/reviewed here, with the exception of the first generation Belkin QODE Ultimate Pro mentioned in passing, were purchased out of our own pockets and no consideration was given by (or asked for) from the vendors in question. The Belkin device was provided free of charge in 2014, but with no expectation of review content or direction.

 

Amazon links are affiliate links, and we get a small commission of sorts if you buy through them. Vendor links are direct and we get no consideration for purchases through them.

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