iPad Pro Magic Keyboard vs. Smart Keyboard Folio: Which is better?

Apple’s latest iPad Pro keyboard case is ridiculously pricey, but it improves on the Smart Keyboard Folio in almost every way.

Credit: Apple

For the new iPad Pro, Apple designed a breathtakingly expensive “Magic Keyboard” case that includes a trackpad. If you’re confused by that name, yes, it’s the same name Apple uses for its standalone Bluetooth keyboards. So much for good SEO.

But Apple already has an iPad Pro keyboard case called the Smart Keyboard Folio, which was originally designed for the 2018 tablet, and Apple updated that case to account for the square sensor array in the latest iPad Pros. That means you now have a couple of Apple-branded options for keyboard cases, but as you’ll see in our comparisons below, it’s really “smarter” to go for the Magic Keyboard if you can sling that kind of cash around.

Keyboard

Apple’s use of the name “Magic Keyboard” for its latest case is likely meant to drive home that it’s a “real” keyboard, complete with the scissor switches you’ll find in the recent 16-inch MacBook Pro. The keys are even backlit—which is an improvement over Apple’s standalone Magic Keyboard—and they allow for 1mm of key travel. Below the keyboard, you’ll also find a trackpad, which we’ll discuss at greater length in a bit.

As for the Smart Keyboard Folio, it has no trackpad or backlighting for its keys. 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.

ipad pro smart folio keyboard Leif Johnson/IDG

You can get an idea of what the Smart Keyboard Folio’s keys are like here. These images also showcase the grooves we discuss in the adjustability section.

It’s still possible to love the Smart Keyboard Folio, particularly as the design keeps the case thin and because that canvas keeps crumbs and other particles from slipping in between the keys. That might make it more appealing if you’re often out and about with your iPad Pro, but it’s a stretch.

Trackpad

Here’s an easy one: The Magic Keyboard has a trackpad and the Smart Folio Keyboard doesn’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 on the Smart Folio 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.

ipad pro 2020 magic keyboard Apple

The trackpad is ready for you to use gestures.

Adjustability

Like the Smart Keyboard Folio before it, the Magic Keyboard holds the iPad Pro in place with a powerful magnet. But now 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.

We haven’t had a chance to handle the Magic Keyboard yet, but it looks like one drawback would be that this design would make it even more difficult to type on when the iPad is on anything but a desk or a table.

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.

Ports

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.

usb c port magic keyboard Apple

You can see the Magic Keyboard’s UBC-C charging port in this shot. 

The Smart Keyboard Folio has 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.

Compatibility

Both new models of the Smart Keyboard Folio and the Magic Keyboard case work with both the 2018 and 2020 models of the iPad Pro. 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 iPad Pro. External evidence suggests this technically works, but the cutout for the camera in the 2018 model is too small for the square array found on the 2020 iPad Pro. That means the case will probably be uneven and the magnet will lose some strength because of the relative lack of surface contact. Not recommended.

Weight

We haven’t had a chance to handle the new Magic Keyboard case, but early reports suggest it’s noticeably heavier than the Smart Keyboard Folio. This makes sense, considering the new hinged design, the inclusion of a USB-C port, and the more complex keyboard.

Price

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. 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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Leif Johnson

Leif Johnson

Macworld.com
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