For almost as long as there have been iPads, there have been people at airports and cafes pecking away at emails on tiny Bluetooth keyboards. Some of these were even pretty good, but I was never able to make them stick; I found them too fiddly to set up, and they never felt great as actual keyboards.
It wasn't until the iPad Pro, with its relatively simple and lightweight Smart Keyboard cover, that I started to do much typing on the iPad. And as someone who does a lot of writing professionally, the iPad Pro is now my favorite writing machine — even though the Smart Keyboard cover itself is only passable, I still prefer it to the MacBook's ultra-thin setup.
This, combined with my love for mechanical keyboards, should make me the ideal customer for Razer's Mechanical Keyboard Case for iPad. To be clear, I am. I really do like this product, its myriad of quirks aside. But it is also hyper-niche, and for reasons I'll lay out, I don't think it'll be for many people outside my profession or predilections.
Just to get the technical details out of the way, the Razer Mechanical Keyboard Case for iPad is a $169.99 backlit keyboard that connects to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro over Bluetooth and props it up with a case that includes a kickstand. Its standout feature is the mechanism that Razer has devised for its keys, claiming to have created the "world's first low-profile" mechanical switches.
What this meant at first is that this keyboard felt like nothing else I'd ever typed on. The travel is incredibly low, somewhere in between a MacBook and MacBook Air, yet you still get the familiar feedback of a mechanical keyboard with a tangible bump and subtle click letting you know when the key has been activated. After my fingers adjusted to this bemused sensation and I was a few thousand words in — and with the caveat that this is obviously subjective — I'd already concluded that this was the best keyboard I'd ever used on a portable device in terms of response and accuracy. It's really a dream, offering everything I like about the light, responsive Apple chiclet keyboards without sacrificing all the tactile enjoyment of mechanical switches. It's fast, precise, and — crucially, unlike the MacBook — makes my fingers happy even after hours of use.
There are a few oddities in the layout, however. The arrow keys are shunted to the left by a button that only exists to bring up and hide the software keyboard, something I basically never want to do when I'm at a desk with physical keys in front of me. It's been tough to develop the muscle memory not to expect the right key to be at the far right of the keyboard, though at least Razer uses full-size up and down keys unlike Apple's recent efforts. The command keys are also oddly small, and it's a little confusing to have the shift-modified inputs printed below each key's regular function rather than above, as is standard.
A bigger problem for most people will be the size and weight. Apple's Smart Keyboard cover is already kind of hard to justify for me considering it makes the iPad Pro heavier and thicker than my MacBook. Logitech's Create keyboard goes further by bringing the iPad Pro past the MacBook Air, meanwhile, but Razer's keyboard is something else — it makes the iPad Pro bigger and heavier than a MacBook Pro. It perhaps goes without saying that you really have to want to write on your iPad for this to be a viable product.
Forget about using this in economy
Even if that is you — it is me — there are problems. The case is bulky and ungainly; although I've never used a case on an iPad beyond a Smart Cover before, I think even people who usually do would be put off by this one. The part that supports the kickstand hinge and magnetically attaches to the keyboard half works well enough but is awkward as a permanent addition, and the kickstand itself often refuses to stay flush with the back of the iPad. The way the kickstand sticks out when extended also gives the iPad Pro a deeper footprint than any laptop, making coffee shop table space even more at a premium — even though you can adjust the angle, you can forget about using this on an airplane seat tray in economy. The laptop-style design means your hands are further away from the iPad's screen than with Apple's Smart Keyboard cover, making it feel like more of a chore to reach up for touch functionality. And it's harder than it should be to take the iPad out of the case, which you will often want to do.
The decision to go with Bluetooth rather than Apple's Smart Connector is also questionable. It means you have to keep the keyboard charged — Razer quotes 600 hours of use with the backlighting off and 10 with it on at maximum, and although I have no reason not to believe these figure, they're also not the point. And unlike the Smart Keyboard cover, you have to press a little switch on the Razer and wait for it to pair each time you use it. It's just not as smooth an experience. Bluetooth does mean that you can use the keyboard while detached from the iPad, or with another device entirely, but since this product is so clearly tied to the iPad Pro in function I think it might have been the wrong call. This is for people who want to turn their iPad Pro into a laptop with an awesome keyboard; the design decisions should have been made with that as the focus.
So, to recap: Razer's Mechanical Keyboard for iPad Pro is a great choice for people who own a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, do a lot of writing on it, don't mind significant extra bulk, don't plan to use it in places where space is a constraint, and do appreciate mechanical key switches. Sound like you? Probably not. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro itself is already a hard sell for most people; the 9.7-inch model paired with the new, smaller Logitech Create keyboard that Walt Mossberg reviewed this week is a more mainstream combination that preserves the portability advantages of the iPad.
A legitimate breakthrough for mobile keyboards
But I'm really glad this keyboard exists, and you don't have to be the target consumer to feel the same way. Razer has said that it'll be bringing the low-profile mechanical switch design to other products, which at the very least should make the next Razer Blade laptop a more appealing proposition, along with enabling new designs for its range of gaming peripherals. This is a legitimate breakthrough for mobile keyboards, which have never been truly great and in some cases have actually gotten worse of late. I highly recommend trying it out for yourself; as long as the table is big enough, it's now officially my favorite way to type at a cafe.