Last spring, I was able to pilot the (big) iPad Pro and loved it. The keyboard had a great feel and the size made it practically laptop like. But the key word there is practically. It wasn’t laptop enough to be a laptop and wasn’t iPad enough (largely because of the size) to be an iPad. But it was hard to argue with the functionality of the keyboard and the Apple Pen, whose feel was by far more lifelike (pen-like) than any stylus I had used.

This fall then I wrote two grants, one to the Classical Association of the Atlantic States and the other to the Classical Association of New England, for an iPad Pro, this time the small one, and accessories for it. After maybe six months I think I can offer some sound advice on how to accessorize your iPad Pro. Or at least how I accessorized mine and why it works for me.

My Situation – I use the iPad Pro to…

  • …bring to class
  • …connect to my computer via WiFi
  • …control my computer (via the Doceri app)
  • …annotate the computer while mobile

What that means is I need portability, reliability, and efficiency. (And I get it: don’t we all want that, but if you’re sitting at a desk with a machine all day, you can, say, sacrifice some efficiency for something else.)

The Keyboard

The biggest, and most obvious, choice was the keyboard. I spent a lot of time looking into keyboards and still wasn’t certain when I made my final decision. Ultimately I went with, and rightly so, the Apple Smart Keyboard, but here’s how that process went and the factors that influenced me.

In addition to the Apple Smart Keyboard, I looked at the Logitech CREATE and two keyboards from Zagg: the Rugged Book and the Slim Book. The two Zagg keyboards are similar: both connect via bluetooth, both include integrated clamshell cases, both have professed long-life batteries (two years of use without a charge, according to Zagg). The Logitech has those features (minus the battery life) but includes a holder for the pen which, for me, was the fatal flaw of the Apple Smart Keyboard, that I had to carry the pen: not uncommon to Apple, beautiful in the design category but less than beautiful in the secondary function category, the pen had a detachable cap about the size of a Tic Tac and no flat sides, which means that it rolls freely on a tabletop. Because of my need for portability, the pen factor was a big one. And I was almost ready to pull the trigger on one of the Zagg keyboards (probably the Rugged Book, just because I would be mobile with the iPad so much) but…

The Smart Connector

The innovation of the iPad Pro is of course the smart connector and, in the end, I went with it and I was right. The smart connector makes everything easy (more on that below). With a little research (also more on that below), I realized there were workarounds for the pen factors but not for the smart connector. So, in the end, the smart connector was the selling point of the Apple Smart Connector. (And I had used a Zagg keyboard with my iPad 2 and realized the relative clunkiness of inserting and removing the iPad.)

Making the smart connector the driver then dictated cases as well. I ended up buying (read: overpaying for) the Apple silicone back because it left exposed the smart connector. (I realize of course that it is not the only one but I wanted as seamless a fit as I could get and so sprung for Apple’s.) I also bought the smart cover, somewhat hesitantly because I wasn’t sure why, in effect, I would need two covers (the keyboard being the first). But the smart connector made the two cases both viable and helpful. For every day use, pull the keyboard off and use the smart cover. When I need increased functionality, it’s an easy switch to the keyboard. This was my first introduction to how essential the smart connector is. (And the keyboard is small enough, unlike the others I considered, that it’s easy to carry it with the iPad even when I’m not using it.)

Charging

I also endorsed the smart connector by buying Logitech’s BASE Charging Stand. Again, I wasn’t convinced I would love it, but it seemed too convenient to pass up. If it didn’t have the smart connector, it might have been more trouble than it’s worth but, again, the smart connector makes it: the case pulls off and the iPad snaps right in to charge, while remaining upright and visible. As with the keyboard and the smart cover, there is a seamless transition between use and charging.

Managing the Pen

By going with the Smart Keyboard, and eschewing the Logitech keyboard with the pen holder, I needed some pen accessories, which, and I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, were available in abundance. I bought two cases for the pen: a simple case from MoKu and Amazon for $8 with room for accessories.

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And an Insignia sling holder that goes over the smart case and/or keyboard.

I thought I would use the sling holder more, but the case is my everyday carrier because I can bring the pen and the adapter to class easily. On a field trip, however, when I’m not bringing the adapter, the sling is perfect. I went to the Harvard Art Museum with a class and was going to use the pen to annotate some digital handouts. The sling was the perfect way to transport the pen on the road.

And finally, the Insignia cap holder. So simple but so necessary.

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Conclusion

So that’s about it. I’m happy with all of my purchases because they enable me to use the iPad Pro exactly how I want to; they enhance the experience rather than inhibiting the experience. Your experience might be different, and so you should make decisions based on your situation, but this is mine and what led me to make the choices I made. Hope it was helpful.

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