My search for the best iPad Pro accessories

iPad Pro and keyboard
iPad Pro and keyboard (Image credit: iMore)

One of the things I love about the iPad Pro is that when it's stripped down to its naked robotic core it's a powerful, useful device in a small, easily-carried package. But the iPad Pro wouldn't be an Apple product if it weren't surrounded by a universe of accessories.

Every accessory adds functionality to the core product, but also complexity and weight. It's a tricky balance, and here's what I've found best suits my lifestyle.

Case, cover, and bag

Let's talk protection. What you need depends on the lifestyle you lead. For me, an Apple Smart Cover has always been a must-have item — not only does it keep my screen from getting dirty or scratched, but it's a convenient way to automatically lock the device, and doubles as a stand. For my 12.9-inch, I've augmented this protection with the $79 Apple Silicone Case — but only when I'm taking the iPad out and about. At home, the case stays in a drawer, because (as is the case with almost every 12.9-inch iPad Pro accessory) it just adds too much bulk.

I don't use a dedicated bag for my iPad, because between my Smart Cover and any case I might choose to dress it in, I feel pretty comfortable dropping it in the laptop slot of my go-to messenger bag. But there are definitely bags out there that are dedicated to carrying iPad Pros (and the accessories, like the ones below, that we surround them with). For me, the most important thing is keeping things as light as possible. (Any case big enough to carry a 13-inch laptop will handle the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, of course.)

The Apple Pencil

I am not a pencil or pen aficionado. The moment my teachers in school began accepting typed homework, I was handing it in fresh off the dot-matrix printer.

As a result, the $99 Apple Pencil is not my personal favorite iPad Pro accessory, but it's a truly amazing piece of kit. Other than the cap (beneath which sits a male Lightning connector for quick charging), it's a device without an interface. Or, to put it more accurately, it's got the same interface as every writing implement since hands first picked up a stick and drew in the dirt.

Fast charging

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is big, with a big battery to match. It takes a very, very long time (basically overnight) to fully charge the battery with the stock cable and adapter that Apple supplies. But there's a way to get much faster charging — if you're willing to pay the price.

That price is a $49 Apple 29W USB-C Power Adapter — built for the new MacBook, but also entirely compatible with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and a $25 USB-C to Lightning Cable. Other iPad models, even the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, don't have the circuitry to use the extra wattage that the USB-C Power Adapter puts out, but the big iPad Pro does. If you find yourself frustrated by the slow speed of charging, it might just be worth $74 to fix that.

Adapters are your friend

The iPad Pro's Lightning port is good for charging, yes, but it's also a way for the device to connect to other devices in ways we wouldn't blink twice about if we were connecting to a traditional desktop computer.

Despite its name, the $39 Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter is not just for cameras. Because it can itself be powered via Lightning, it allows you to connect other USB devices to the iPad, even if they require more power than the iPad itself could deliver. I've used this adapter to power high-quality USB audio interfaces, USB microphones, and even Apple's own $29 USB Ethernet adapter. (Yes, your iPad can use Ethernet.)

If you need to connect your iPad to an external screen, perhaps for a presentation, you should invest in a couple of video adapters — just as you would for a Mac laptop. For the iPad, your options are the $49 Lightning Digital AV Adapter — which has an HDMI port and supports up to 1080p video — and the $49 Lightning to VGA Adapter, because inevitably that place you're giving your next presentation will have a 10-year-old projector that only supports VGA.

Speaking of external video, the $149 Apple TV is actually a pretty great iPad accessory. You can use AirPlay to connect wirelessly to a TV with an Apple TV attached, freeing you from wired iPad adapter nonsense. There are also a lot of video sources that are still not available on the Apple TV, but have iOS apps that will let you use AirPlay.

A stand or an arm

There are many, many iPad stands out there — and even more stands meant for other purposes that end up working great as iPad stands. My friend Andy Ihnatko has, for several years, sworn by a simple art stand he bought at an art supply store for a few bucks. I often use a wooden stand meant for kitchen use that I picked up at Macworld Expo.

I do love a good iPad stand, though. The Smart Cover can be used as a stand, sure, but it's not quite as sturdy as a solid stand made for such a purpose.

As someone who often types on an iPad Pro using a Bluetooth keyboard, a stand is a great addition. The only problem is that, as with a laptop, the ergonomics of having your keyboard and display at similar heights are not particularly good. I wish someone made a mounting arm I could attach to a desk or table and then clip my 12.9-inch iPad Pro into, but I haven't found one. (There are some for the 9.7-inch model, though!)

The quest for the perfect keyboard

So it's come to this. In some ways, the ultimate iPad Pro accessory really is an external keyboard.

There are a bunch to choose from, especially if you throw Bluetooth keyboards into the equation; in all honesty, if you've got a spare Bluetooth keyboard around, it may be all you need. (I wrote this very article on an Apple Magic Keyboard, connected via Bluetooth to my iPad Pro.)

I do like Apple's Smart Keyboard more than I thought I would. On the 9.7-inch iPad Pro it's pretty fantastic, despite the shrunken-down key size. The 12.9-inch model is a decent keyboard, but it does add to the bulk of the device, so I prefer the Smart Cover most of the time.

There are other keyboard options if Apple's options leave you less than thrilled, however. The Logitech Create offers the typing experience of a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, though you have to clip the iPad into the case. iMore's own Serenity Caldwell said it's clunky and heavy, but she loves it — and I sure agree on the "clunky and heavy" part.

The new Razer Mechanical Keyboard case is less clunky, but even heavier.

I haven't yet tried the Zagg SlimBook Pro, but by most accounts it's less clunky than the Create (it's Bluetooth-based, so you can detach the keyboard from the case) but it also has a lesser keyboard.

In short, I'm not sure there's a perfect keyboard for the iPad Pro yet. The Smart Cover comes close, and so does a Bluetooth keyboard of your choice, coupled with a stand. Of all the accessories for the iPad Pro, it's funny that the most important one is also the one that hasn't really been solved yet.

Your picks

That about rounds up my adventures into iPad Pro accessory territory. What gizmos and gadgets are you using for your iPad Pro?

Jason Snell

Former lead editor at Macworld for more than a decade, wrote about Apple and other tech companies for two decades. Now I write at Six Colors and run The Incomparable podcast network, which is all about geeky pop culture, and host the Upgrade and Clockwise tech podcasts.