By Jason Snell
July 22, 2016 3:50 PM PT
Razer Mechanical Keyboard Case: The quest for the perfect iPad Pro keyboard continues
Ever since I decided to embrace the iPad Pro, I’ve been trying to figure out the best option for an external keyboard. One of the things I do for a living is write. As much as I like the iPad Pro 12.9’s software keyboard, I like physical keyboards even more.
The $150 Logitech Create will turn your iPad Pro into a laptop, but it’s a pain to get the iPad in and out of the shell, the screen angle isn’t adjustable, and it’s not particularly attractive. The Zagg SlimBook Pro is similar, but my former Macworld colleague Dan Frakes says that the keyboard isn’t quite as good as the Logitech model. 1
Most of the time I’m still using either Apple’s $99 Magic Keyboard and an iPad stand, or the $169 Smart Keyboard. The Magic Keyboard is an excellent keyboard, but a lot less portable than a case that comes with you all the time. The 12.9-inch Smart Keyboard is bulky (in a way the 9.7-inch model isn’t) and the keys aren’t great, but they’re always with you, which is a pretty good feature for a mobile device.
My ideal iPad Pro keyboard accessory would be a mix of all of these different products. It would have the key travel of a physical keyboard and the ability to be used comfortably in my lap, and ideally the screen angle would be adjustable.
So where does that leave us? With a bunch of different products that do some, but not all, of those tasks.
Razer’s Mechanical Keyboard Case for iPad Pro
Onto the scene rolls the next contender, the $160 Razer Mechanical Keyboard Case for iPad Pro. It offers, Razer claims, the “world’s first mechanical switch for a mobile device.” I’m not entirely sure about that, but this case does feature an ultra-thin keyboard that still, somehow, offers mechanical keyswitches that provide feedback (both tactile and aural) unlike other keyboards.
And yes, the keys on the Razer case are clicky and noisy. There’s definitely a tactile pop to them, though when I put my headphones on and cranked up the tunes I found that it lost a lot of its oomph—the clicky sound is more noticeable to me than the tactile feedback.
The Razer case comes in two parts: A keyboard that also serves as an iPad cover, and a polycarbonate case with an integrated metal kickstand that you slip on the iPad Pro. The kickstand feels substantial, and allows you to choose just the right angle for your iPad (rather than locking you into a single angle, as so many iPad stands do).
But that substance also adds bulk, and I don’t think I’d want to use my iPad for extended amounts of time with the Razer shell on. It’s like a heavy winter jacket—clothing I’d put on for a purpose, but not wear the entire day. I wouldn’t attach the Razer case unless I knew I was in for a whole lot of typing.
To be specific, attaching the entire Razer case to your iPad Pro adds 2.1 pounds, compared to 1.6 pounds for the Logi case. The whole thing ends up weighing in at 3.7 pounds… in other words, it’s heavier than the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro.
This doesn’t disqualify the Razer case necessarily—you can’t pull 2.1 pounds off of a MacBook Pro and carry the screen around the house—but let’s call it what it is: This is a case that turns your iPad into a laptop. If that’s a dealbreaker, consider that the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with the 12-ounce Smart Keyboard weighs in at 2.5 pounds.
One of the big advantages of the Logitech Create keyboard is that it largely duplicates the placement and feel of the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air keyboards. If you’re used to Apple laptop keyboards (other than the new MacBook, that is), you’ll feel at home on that keyboard. The Razer keyboard, on the other hand, is a peculiar layout unlike any keyboard found on other Apple devices. The up arrow key is nestled between the shift and slash keys, the command keys don’t have any extra width, and the key in the very bottom corner slides up the software keyboard.
I’m sure I could get used to the Razer’s key layout in time, if it were like any of the other keyboards I use on a regular basis, but it’s quite different, and most long-time Apple keyboard users will have a learning curve. (To Razer’s credit, the keyboard does have all the keys you’d expect on an iOS keyboard: there are equivalents for Home, Lock, Search, the Emoji/International keyboard, and the aforementioned software keyboard toggle.)
Even though this keyboard is integrated into a case, it uses Bluetooth instead of Apple’s Smart Connector. This means you’ll need to charge it—Razer says it’ll last 600 hours with the backlight turned off, or about 10 hours if you have the backlight turned up all the way.
But this design feature also has a big advantage: you can pull the keyboard right off of the iPad stand (they’re magnetically attached), and operate them separately. I love this approach, which gives you a whole lot more ergonomic flexibility. I was able to place the iPad higher up on a table and put the keyboard down in my lap rather than compromising on an uncomfortable in-between position, as I would with a laptop. (Zagg’s case also offers this feature.)
The Zagg and Logitech cases still have one serious advantage: Thanks to their hinges, both will let you use the device on your lap with the ease and stability of a laptop. The Razer case can only prop the iPad up by using the kickstand on the back of its backshell, so it’s really only for use on a flat surface.
Finally, there’s this logic problem: It’s great to type on those clicky keys, but at what cost? If you’re using a mobile device, do you want to bring a super clicky keyboard with you, so everyone else in the cafe can stare daggers at you for filling the air with the loud sounds of typing?
In the end, I have to say that while I’m impressed with the Razer case—it feels solid, looks good, and that keyboard is truly clicky and tactile—it isn’t really what I’m looking for. I appreciate the detachable keyboard, but the lack of the ability to use it in my lap like a laptop really hinders its utility, and the key layout is not to my tastes. And while it’s a much more attractive product than the Logitech Create, it adds even more bulk and weight.
If you want to turn your iPad into a nearly four-pound black laptop with mechanical keyswitches, this is the product for you. For everyone else? I think I’d still recommend an external Bluetooth keyboard and a stand or Apple’s own Smart Keyboard.
I haven’t tried the Zagg SlimBook. It’s next on my list, though. ↩
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