The keyboard case turns the 9.7-inch iPad Pro from pinch-hit work machine to full-fledged writing powerhouse.
I've been writing exclusively on the iPad Pro for close to eight months now. And for the last three of those months, I've been using the "Baby Pro," Apple's 9.7-inch iPad model, and Apple's Smart Keyboard. I've come to love the portability of the tinier device, but I wasn't the biggest fan of the Apple Smart Keyboard: While it was certainly serviceable, I found myself repeatedly hitting the top numeral row in search of function buttons, or squinting at the backlit-less keyboard in the darkness. In short: I missed the best part of my 12.9-inch iPad, the Logitech Create keyboard case.
Thankfully, those days are now over: Logitech recently released the 9.7-inch model of its Create Keyboard Case, and it's just as good — if not a good deal better — than its larger cousin. I got my model around the same time as iMore Canada editor Daniel Bader, and we sat down to have a chat about the keyboard's pros, cons, and why we both think it's the best keyboard case you can buy for the Baby Pro.
I think one of the biggest compliments you can give to a hardware keyboard that didn't come pre-installed on the device is that it feels natural. And the Logitech Create keyboard for the iPad Pro 9.7 feels natural to the point where I feel comfortable recommending it over Apple's own Smart Keyboard, which is itself quite a competent product.
It downright blows the Smart Keyboard out of the water. Apple's own product has some things going for it, including a soft-cover fuzz to protect the screen when not in use and cool folding animations in commercials, but it wasn't ever a perfect solution for me. The Create is heavier and bulkier than the Smart Keyboard, yes, but it brings with it all the features I want in an iPad keyboard.
The keys have just the right amount of travel, pushing back against my fingers with the subtle reflexivity of a Mac keyboard. In some ways, Logitech's mimicry of the traditional MacBook keyboards — not the new MacBook, but the one still found on the Pro and Air models — is better suited for the baby Pro's cramped nature. Despite the relative narrowness of the keys themselves, and the product as a whole, the Create keyboard engendered itself to longer typing sessions better than Apple's Smart Keyboard and, indeed, many standalone Bluetooth keyboards for the iPad.
Completely agreed. I've been a fan of Logitech's iPad keyboards for a long time, and the Smart Connector models take a pretty great thing (a Bluetooth keyboard case) and make it dead simple, and comfortable to use, to boot. Backlit keys are a nice feature on a portable keyboard, but they often come at the expense of battery life; with the Create and Smart Connector, you don't have to worry about charging times for your keyboard if it runs out of juice from using the backlight. (It's also a helpful way of telling whether your keyboard is connected and ready to type, especially given the Smart Connector's temperamental nature when it comes to connections at certain angles.) And Logitech's built-in function row is a godsend: Yes, you can use keyboard shortcuts to bring up options like Spotlight or the Home screen, but having a single button available to you is much easier.
The casing and Apple Pencil sleeve
I do have one criticism of the CREATE: It adds a fair amount of thickness to a product that is billed as an ultra-portable computer. At its thickest, the iPad Pro nestled into the case is around 23mm, slightly less than four times that of the iPad on its own. This does mar some of the iPad's appeal, but not enough to overcome the fact that, with it installed, the Pro is truly a laptop replacement.
Even with its added bulk, it's nowhere near as clunky as Logitech's 12.9-inch version, which I used for months before switching to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard. I loved the keyboard on the 12.9-inch model, but I couldn't really recommend it to casual users who needed the occasional keyboard entry due to its heft and weight. The 9.7-inch model bests the original in every way: The added weight feels less awkward on a hardcover-sized item than a picture book-sized tablet, and the company has made some smart improvements to the exterior, too. (For one, the volume buttons are now actual raised plastic buttons, rather than flimsy stickers.) The 9.7-inch iPad's form-factor also means that the case was constructed without the need for empty plastic in a palm rest and keyboard frame — it makes a huge difference where weight and heft are concerned.
The Create also has room to hold an Apple Pencil in its spine, an ingenious use of space that would have been necessary to accommodate the product's slightly thicker shell.
Can I just say how much I love this extra detail? As someone who's carrying around the Apple Pencil constantly, it gives you the perfect place to hide it without requiring a separate accessory bag. If I want to go write and draw at my local Starbucks, all I have to do is grab the iPad in its case and go. I have occasionally had problems with the Create case closing fully when the Pencil is in its sleeve, but that's largely because of the Micron clip I added to the Pencil's rear side — if you've added extra attachments to your stylus, it's something to think about.
Angles and flaws
I can't say I find the case perfect. It still only has one angle for typing — though its less steep incline is considerably more comfortable than Apple's Smart Keyboard case — and I found the iPad to be less secure in the holder than I would have liked. A few times the tablet unfastened itself from its confines and came tumbling out, though thankfully none of those occurrences happened over cement.
The single-angle is my biggest critique of the Smart Connector line of keyboards in general. I know it likely has something to do with the way the Connector lines up with the accessory, but there has to be a fix in there somewhere. (Maybe a piece that connects directly to the Smart Connector and rotates on a hinge with the rest of the case.) Like you, Daniel, I found the iPad easier to pop in and out of the holder than the bigger Create, but I wouldn't call it unstable — I actually prefer its easier removal. Oftentimes it felt like I had to pry the 12.9-inch tablet out of its shell if I wanted to use it freely; this is a much gentler action. I also really appreciate that when you fold the Create and iPad on top of the keyboard, it creates a nice angle for drawing — it's no adjustable angle for a keyboard or anything, but it's a nice additional touch, and one that's a lot easier to get to than trying to maneuver the Smart Keyboard's folds and flips.
There are always going to be people who roll their eyes at the prospect of "turning an iPad into a work machine," and this case isn't for them. There's a lovely line of MacBook Pros coming that I'm sure they'll enjoy. But for me, I love the portability and flexibility of working on Apple's tablet, especially when the Pencil is involved.
Me too. I have written almost every piece of longform content on my iPad and Create over the past few weeks, and but for a few desperate moments that made me long for a trackpad and a macOS carousel, I found it easy to make the device my full-time laptop. That satisfaction was compounded by the fact that my iPad Pro is a cellular model, hooked up to an ultra-fast Canadian LTE network that lets me work from practically anywhere with no concern for Wi-Fi or an outlet.
Really, this case unifies all of my wants for a great iPad accessory: It's a great keyboard, it holds my Pencil, it protects it from both the elements and my occasional clumsiness, and it's not too bulky. Since getting the Create, I haven't gone back to the Smart Keyboard once, nor do I plan to.
And at $129.99, it's $20 cheaper than the Smart Keyboard. Apple's version has its place, especially where size and weight are a factor, but to my mind, Logitech has developed a superior product for less money, even despite its extra girth.