Welcome to Mossberg, a weekly commentary and reviews column on The Verge and Recode by veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg, now an Executive Editor at The Verge and Editor at Large of Recode.
When the iPad came out in 2010, I wrote that it might upend the laptop if it could perform enough of the scenarios a user performed on his or her laptop, using its modern, full-screen, touch-centric software. For me, personally, it performed quite a few, and I used my laptop less and less.
Years later — last November — when Apple came out with the original, huge, 13-inch iPad Pro, complete with snap-on keyboard (a move that followed Microsoft’s lead), the promise was tantalizing that it might totally replace the need for a laptop. But after reviewing it, I felt it had missed the mark for three reasons.
First, I found its size too big and bulky for holding while reading or watching video. Second, though Apple’s huge library of tablet apps worked well on standard-sized iPads, there wasn’t much that made use of the ginormous screen.
But the most important reason I couldn’t replace my laptop with an iPad was the keyboard. I disliked Apple’s keyboard, which has a flat-feeling simulated key travel and lacks backlighting and dedicated feature-control keys for the iPad.
Apple managed to overcome my first two objections with a smaller, standard 9.7-inch version of the Pro released in March. It even surpassed its big sibling in a few areas, including the screen and cameras. But it still had the same Apple keyboard, only now more cramped. So I upgraded, and waited for somebody to release a really nice 9.7-inch snap-on keyboard (as opposed to the many Bluetooth keyboards that require pairing and charging).
Logitech to the rescue
Now somebody has, and this new snap-on keyboard is (in my view) not only better than Apple’s, but it completes the smaller iPad Pro as a great productivity device. In fact, I’m writing this entire column using it. It’s from Logitech and it’s called the Create 9.7. It costs $130, which is $19 less than Apple’s Smart Keyboard for the 9.7-inch iPad.
Here are some of the things the Logitech Create has that the Apple keyboard lacks:
- Real, movable keys that I find comfortable and accurate for typing
- A row of small but usable shortcut keys that do things like trigger the home button; lock the iPad; initiate a search; and control brightness, volume, and media playback. There’s also a key, missing on the Apple model, that calls up the software keyboard anytime you like.
- A holder for the optional $99 Apple Pencil, an accessory that’s one of the best things about the iPad Pros, but which is costly to lose.
On top of all this, the Create, like the Apple keyboard, has some Mac keys, like command, option, control, and tab, which are useful for keyboard shortcuts.
Logitech made a larger version of the Create for the jumbo iPad Pro last year, and I briefly mentioned it in my review. But it lacked the Pencil holder. So, as with the iPad Pro itself, the smaller version is actually improved in some ways.
What I did on my iPad Pro
In addition to writing this column (in Google Docs), I used the iPad Pro and the Logitech Create to quickly compose emails, texts, tweets, Facebook posts, and Slack messages — sometimes in full-screen mode and sometimes in multi-app mode.
I read The Verge and Recode and used the web browser for many things. I began the gripping new Daniel Silva novel in the Kindle app. I watched YouTube videos. I listened to Paul Simon and Linda Ronstadt through the Pro’s fabulous four speakers.
And much more. I used it pretty much in every way like a laptop. I actually found typing to be just as fast as on my larger MacBook Air. This is partly because, even though you’re using a physical keyboard, you still get the iPad’s real-time auto-correct suggestions and shortcuts like hitting the spacebar twice for a period.
Obviously, there are some people who will prefer to, or have to, do some things on a full laptop. Some people need desktop software, not iOS apps. There are some who simply couldn’t abide a keyboard this small. But, for me at least, this is the first time I could see just not using the laptop at all. (I rarely use my laptop’s ports anymore. You may be different.)
The inevitable downsides
Any attachable keyboard is going to make a tablet heavier and thicker. The Create adds more weight and height than the Apple keyboard, mostly because, when closed, it’s a full wraparound case — whereas the Apple is just a cover with a bump in it to accommodate its keyboard.
But I found the weight — still under two pounds — to be an acceptable tradeoff for the nice keyboard. It’s still lighter than the MacBook, Apple’s littlest laptop, but with a keyboard I prefer. The thickness, created by the Logitech’s stiff, wraparound case design, took longer to get used to, but plenty of people use thick iPad cases.
Like the Apple case, the Logitech Create has only a single angle for use when typing on its keyboard. You snap the iPad into the underside of the top of the case, and then, when you open the case, the tablet pivots smoothly and quickly into a single slot above the keys which contains the electronic connecting pins. When you’re done typing, you close the case and the iPad remains firmly ensconced inside the lid, but no longer connected to the keyboard. I found the process better than on the Apple keyboard, but there’s still only that one slot for a screen angle while typing. It didn’t bother me.
The Create also has only one horizontal position for drawing or reading. In this mode, the screen faces up at a slight angle, atop the keyboard. I found it worked well. But it’s missing a vertical, movie-watching or presentation position that hides the keyboard, which the Apple keyboard does include.
It took me the longest to get used to just consuming content while holding the encased iPad Pro, because you’re essentially using that folded, horizontal mode, and it’s thick. I got used to it, but I could also have merely snapped the iPad out of the case altogether for such times.
Also, just like on Microsoft’s Surface tablets (even with their kickstands), this combination works better for typing on a desk than on a lap, because the upright screen is heavier than the horizontal base. In some cases, it even flops a bit. Much depends on the angle at which you’re sitting. That’s why I like being able to summon the software keyboard at will; you get to choose.
Between the right-sized iPad Pro and the new Logitech Create, I think using an iPad instead of your laptop for productivity as well as consumption is finally a pleasure. If you can afford the price, and love the iPad, the solution is now out there, at Logitech.com, Apple.com, and Amazon. I love a good gadget.