Zagg Pro Keys for iPad Pro 12.9 Review: Zagg Amps Up the Case for Apple Keyboard Alternatives
Zagg Pro Keys for iPad Pro 12.9
Zagg’s 12.9-inch Pro Keys offers a solid alternative to Apple’s Magic Keyboard. It is a keyboard case because the keyboard wraps completely around the iPad, protecting it from most drops. Serviceable backlit keys could be more improved, but overall the combination provides business users and students an affordable way to turn iPads into near-laptops. Pro Keys attaches via magnets but does not draw power from the iPad or connect to the iPad’s data bus, using Bluetooth for connectivity and its own battery for power.
The Zagg Pro Keys line was designed for professionals and students who want to transform iPads into a more complete creation, collaboration, and engagement experience. Zagg’s reasonably priced keyboards offer a solid alternative to Apple’s keyboards while adding features like complete protection and multi-device connectivity.
What we like
The removable portion of the case is one of the best on the market. It’s very light and very tough. When combined with the keyboard, it wraps around the entire iPad, bringing total projection, including a flap that keeps the Apple Pencil or Zagg Stylus safe. But I find the detached case near perfect for working with the iPad as a tablet. It adds very little weight while offering a good amount of protection. Zagg claims the iPad Pro 12.9 will survive a 6.6-foot drop that I take at face value when totally enclosed. I can’t afford to drop on only 12.9 iPad off the top of my head.
Channels in the case maintain crisp audio, and while buttons remain fully responsive despite them being covered. Only the power button and charging port, along with the camera, remain exposed. Zagg makes no environmental claims, so the exposed ports need to be considered by those looking for water or dust protection.
And for the first time! For the first time, does a case properly handle the Apple Pencil in a way that secures it and maintains wireless charging. I no longer worry about, or experience, my Apple Pencil falling to the floor, or not being charged when I need it.
The backlit keyboard delivers well-spaced keys, as it should on a 12.9-inch surface. While the typing experience doesn’t compare to a good mechanical keyboard, it proves adequate for content creation or web browsing. In addition, multiple colors and levels of backlighting allow for customization and situational settings.
I like that Zagg offers iPad OS keys for tasks like showing the multitasking view, forcing the keyboard to appear, or quickly returning to the home screen. Apple eschews OS-specific keys, bringing awkward combinations of taps and swipes that a simple key would eliminate. That perhaps goes back to the legacy of keyboard combinations, but companies like Zagg know which single keys better facilitate competitive tasks, and they provide those.
Two viewing angles at about 30 degrees and 40 degrees choices for different situations.
Unlike Apple’s keyboards, the Zagg keyboard is self-powered. That means it needs a charge via the built-in USB-C port, but that charge lasts for weeks, so that should be an issue—and it doesn’t draw power from the iPad.
Because Zagg chooses to employ Bluetooth rather than Apple’s iPad connector, the keyboard easily connects and switches between two devices.
What could be improved
I said that the iPad case, when detached from the keyboard, was near perfect. Perfect would include a lightweight, compatible cover for the screen without the keyboard. Like many iPad keyboard cases, the removable case portion of the Zagg Pro Keys combination case only works with the keyboard case. Removing the wrap-around keyboard leaves the iPad screen unprotected. Ideally, the non-keyboard portion of the case would accept another screen cover, one without little heft. I understand the design issues of a pencil on top and a magnet on the bottom. I would think those bottom magnets, along with the one on the back, might offer a wraparound cover that doesn’t involve attaching to magnets on the entire back of the case.
The grey fabric Zagg chose for the case certainly makes holding the iPad feel more secure when holding, but it looks utilitarian. And yes, just as utilitarian as Apple Keyboard Folio. I would love to see Zagg take some swings at iPad keyboard case design inspired by their Gear4 line. The keyboard-less case would benefit from orange highlights borrowed from the Battersea iPhone case and its D30 backplate. A clear option would also be welcome.
In addition to screen protection, the typing experience, while adequate, could be improved. Given the thinness of the substrate on which the keys mount, they can’t deliver the same key travel as one would get with a laptop. As a result, I find them superior to Apple’s original Smart Keyboard Folio, but not as good as their iPad Magic keyboard. Of course, Apple’s Magic Keyboard sits in a class all its own in both price and quality, so while a comparison to that product is unfair, it isn’t completely unwarranted—at least at the key-to-key level, Apple’s Magic Keyboard edges out the Zagg keys for pure typing experience. (While reviewing the Zagg Pro Key Case, Lenovo sent me a Think Pad X1 Carbon Gen 9 with a keyboard even Apple should envy.)
But the well-space keys work, and they don’t produce too many missed strokes or extra characters. However, after accepting the keyboard as it is for typing, I am disappointed by the backlighting, which glows more effectively from beneath the keys and around their edges than through them. I find myself still squinting to see the characters in low light because the iPad’s screen washes out the character illumination, but not the bleed-through from beneath the keys, making typing in the dark less than ideal.
Zagg sells a version of the Pro Keys keyboard for the iPad Pro 11 and Air with a trackpad. Apple’s Magic Keyboard also delivers a trackpad experience. Zagg may have opted out of that feature on the 12.9 model because of its two magnetic positions. The second position takes up real estate that could be used for a trackpad. Like the screen cover issue, Zagg made design choices that precluded a trackpad from the 12.9 model. I would like to see them keep working to solve for that experience.
The stand design works well on a solid surface and OK on the lap. It’s better than a pop-out hinge design like Microsoft’s Surface but not as steady as a traditional laptop. The inch of fabric that ties the keyboard to the back of the case introduces some extra instability into unlevel use scenarios not seen in the Apple Keyboard Folio design. The Zagg Pro Keys is more flexible than Apple’s Keyboard Folio but not as adaptive as the Magic Keyboard.
My final issue with the Zagg Pro Keys weight, which can always be improved for any accessory supporting a product as light as the iPad Pro. The Zagg Pro Keys adds almost a pound and a half to the iPad Pro 12.9. Apple has the same issue, with a fully equipped keyboard iPad weighing in more than a MacBook Air. The problem isn’t the keyboard, but the magnets and the battery. Zagg swaps the deeper keys with a battery, and like Apple, relies on magnets to attach to the back of the keyboard to the iPad. Unfortunately, magnets are not light, so the convenience and coolness of magnets conflict with weight goals.
Zagg Pro Keys: The Bottom Line
Zagg delivers a solid alternative to Apple’s Keyboard Folio—and if you aren’t looking for a trackpad, it will suffice compared to the Magic Keyboard. At $169.99, it is less expensive than both. As a case without the keyboard, I find the material and design one of the best on the market, even without front screen coverage when the keyboard is detached. Zagg faced design constraints they needed to work around and made a few design choices I think could be improved, but on balance, the Zagg Pro Keys keyboard cover delivers on its promises at a reasonable price.
Versions for smaller iPad start at $99.99.
Zagg provided the Zagg Pro Keys for review. Images courtesy of Zagg.
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Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.