There are multiple components to note when you first unpack an iPad, from the device itself and a power adapter, to the user manual and a USB cable, but a keyboard isn’t one of them. The iPad’s functionality has grown since its initial inception in 2010, yet many users still find Apple’s tablet somewhat incomplete despite all the critical acclaim and the perpetually-swirling rumors.
These days, Apple’s signature tablet line is outgrowing its reputation for being simply a “consumption device.” With long-sought after software tools like Microsoft Office garnering more than 12 million downloads in a single week, there’s a growing need for a physical QWERTY keyboard — not a virtual rendition thereof — for the iPad. Thankfully, there are a slew of alternative keyboards designed to connect to your iPad via Bluetooth for increased mobile productivity.
Related: The best keyboards for every tablet
We admit, finding the perfect keyboard can be exhausting, given the fact that most third-party keyboards are poorly designed or overly expensive, but there are some quality options, if you know where to look. Here are nine nominations for the iPad Keyboard Hall of Fame (if there is such a thing). But before you spend big on a fancy folio case for your iPad Air, remember any plain old Bluetooth keyboard will work with your iPad.
Choose your iPad model:
DT writer Brandon Widder contributed to this post.
Best Keyboards for iPad Air
Calling a keyboard “Fabric skin” might be an oxymoron. Even so, it seems that just about every image of the iPad Air has a cup of coffee or glass of water in the background. And what happens, let’s say, if that glass of liquid spills onto your iPad Air? Enter, Logitech’s Fabric Skin Folio Keyboard.
The full-size keyboard is lighter and leaner than Logitech’s past keyboard and case efforts. It conveniently provides a water-repellent exterior that covers both the front and back of the iPad when closed. The rechargeable keyboard also doubles as a dual-view stand that holds the iPad upright or flat. It features automatic wake-sleep functionality in a similar fashion to most popular cases. The device even lasts nearly three months on a full charge, while providing iOS shortcut keys for copy, paste, undo, and other time-saving actions. The design may feel minimal and lightweight with its wipe-clean keys and thin design, but it still manages to protect against a broader swath of elements with minimal fuss and plenty of style.
With the look and feel of a laptop, ZAGG’s flagship keyboard offering is the only folio option on our list with an attractive, backlit design. The full-size keyboard case, available in either black or white, allows users to choose between a melange of different backlight colors and brightness options. In addition, it offers a smattering of viewing angles, using the built-in hinge.
Measuring just a little more than a ¼-inch, it’s also one of the smallest Bluetooth keyboards on the market. It touts roughly six months of battery life between charges and a bevy of special function keys designed to make the most out of your iPad Air. The sleep-wake function also comes standard, and the leather-textured cover offers admirable full-body protection against the common scuffs and scrapes your device is likely to procure during the course of its lifetime. ZAGG’s keyboard may not offer the same level of adjustment as other keyboards, nor is there an option for positioning the screen in portrait mode, but sometimes adequate lighting and protection are enough.
Belkin’s folio case is one of many offerings advertised to give your iPad Air the aesthetic look and feel of a commonplace laptop. Boasting nearly twice the battery life as ZAGG’s aforementioned offering, the device nearly eliminates the need to fumble for an outlet while traveling. Even so, Belkin’s high-end model lives up to its ultimate name by providing decent spacing and key travel in an aircraft-grade, aluminum casing retrofitted with three neodymium magnets for the utmost stability and precise angling.
Furthermore, the full-size keyboard doubles as a stand and folds out of the way for normal handheld use, while moonlighting as a protective case. Built-in sensors also automatically turn the keyboard off when not in use, thus extending battery life and the longevity of the keyboard. The keys are incredibly responsive as well, even if they’re a bit thicker than need be.
Related: The best iPad accessories
Lightweight and versatile, Belkin’s high-end model provides a keyboard that is big enough to get work done, yet minimal enough to take just about anywhere. The folio-case is aptly designed for those who want a laptop experience — one with three viewing angles and large keys — but within a minimalist build. The keyboard provides an aluminum case that doubles as both a screen protector and a stand, allowing you to type in landscape or portrait orientation. Many Bluetooth keyboards offer the function, but few do it as well as Belkin.
The device also offers decent key travel and spacing even with its ultra-thin approach. It rollicks in an exterior design aimed to directly channel your iPad’s sound toward you and offers 160 hours of battery life on a single charge. The keyboard may not have many unique features, but its maneuvering capabilities and spacious design make it one of the best available for the rock-bottom price.
Not everyone needs bells and whistles — and Logitech is aware of that. The company’s Bluetooth keyboard does little more than needed. It quickly attaches to your device via a magnetic hinge, which allows you to use your device in either portrait or landscape viewing modes.
The full-size keyboard feels somewhat cramped due to the size of the tablet, but it makes up for the space crunch with six months of battery life. It also has an aluminum cover that makes use of your iPad’s sleep and wake functions, when the keyboard isn’t in use. The metal backing looks enough like the iPad’s own aluminum finish that the two pieces of hardware blend aesthetically. You can choose black or red color options, keeping things classy even when you’re getting work done. At little more than a ¼-inch thick, you can easily stow the keyboard alongside your tablet for quick access on the go.
By now, you’ve surely noticed more than a few keyboards that simultaneously double as cases. However, few of them offer backlighting in the way Zagg’s Keys Profolio Keyboard Case does. The device allows you to choose from seven different color options and adjust the underlying light for the optimal brightness.
Moreover, the full-size keyboard touts more than 30 days of battery life — when used less than two hours a day — and a magnetic closure for quickly securing your iPad to the keyboard when on the go. Special function keys also allow you to perform essential commands directly on the keyboard, while a leather-adorned cover ensures your device is always protected against the everyday elements. Though heavier and a bit thicker than most offerings on our list at nearly an inch thick, it excels when it comes to its responsive island-style keys and its unique ability to operate in low-light settings with ease. However, hallmark functionality doesn’t always come cheap.
ClamCase Pro — $170
To the untrained eye, the ClamCase Pro may make your iPad look like a MacBook Pro. It’s no wonder, considering that the ClamCase Pro’s aluminum enclosure and polycarbonate shell transform the look and feel of your iPad into something akin to Apple’s most recent MacBook Pro models.
At three pounds and $170, the full-size keyboard is as expensive as it is heavy. However, the size of this keyboard provides terrific key spacing. Additionally, the device has specialized keys for commonly-used features and it comes with a 360-degree hinge designed for unparalleled versatility when it comes to viewing angles and stand functionality. The keyboard is adorned with an island-style keyboard and one-touch Bluetooth pairing, along with sleep-wake functionality and a battery crafted to last months on a single charge. Again, the added weight makes it rather bulky, but durability and stylish aesthetics don’t always result in a minimal design. It’s an acceptable trade off.
The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard has made our best-of list in every iPad category for one reason: It’s a true typists’ keyboard. The iPad Mini is by no means ideal for typists considering its size, but the Logitech’s Bluetooth keyboard layout provides adequate key spacing and travel. It also has an aluminum outer casing that nicely compliments your iPad Mini — whether you opt for the black or white option.
Moreover, the keyboard is affordable, too and conveniently cradles your tablet using powerful magnetic clips and a recessed groove that rests behind the keyboard for optimal viewing at multiple angles. The keyboard even makes use of the iPad’s sleep-wake function and features a rechargeable battery designed to last up to six months on a single charge, assuming you only use it for less than two hours a day. Designated buttons for cutting, pasting, and other essential tasks also add to its appeal. The keyboard comes in an assortment of color combinations for the tech-savvy fashionista in all of us.
ClamCase for iPad Mini — $130
Like its larger counterpart, the ClamCase for the iPad Mini represents a more expensive alternative to the Logitech Ultrathin option. It’s constructed of an aluminum enclosure and a polycarbonite shell designed to parallel the MacBook Pro. The streamlined device conveniently attaches to the Mini with a 360-degree hinge, which allows you to swivel the tablet completely around and presents a wide array of viewing angles, whether you prefer to use the device while in laptop or tablet mode.
The full-size keyboard layout accommodates your palms and masters key travel, while honing in on the iPad Mini’s sleep-wake functionality and one-touch Bluetooth pairing. It weighs nearly a pound, making it one of the heavier options on our list, but it also comes cheaper than the version designed for full-size iPads. And who doesn’t like island-style keys and an auto-off feature for when the keyboard is not in use? Nobody, that’s who.
That’s it for our iPad keyboard case recommendations for now, but we’ll add new ones to the list in the future.