The Keyboard & Using it

Setup of the keyboard dock is simple, it is just a dock with a keyboard attached to it. Slide the iPad on and everything is good to go. The OS was designed around the keyboard. The keyboard itself is a trimmed down version of Apple's standard aluminum keyboard that you get with desktop Macs. If you're a fan of the chiclet design, you get great tactile feedback and overall one of the best keyboards out there in my opinion. I'm also a fan of Lenovo's ThinkPad keyboards if that helps put my opinion into perspective.

The lock key on the keyboard immediately locks the iPad. Tap it again to unlock. There's a home key and a search key. You can adjust brightness, skip between songs in the iPod app, adjust/mute volume and even bring up the virtual keyboard by hitting one of the top row of function keys.

Many keyboard shortcuts work. Cmd + X/C/V still lets you cut/copy/paste. The keyboard has arrow keys so you can shift-select text and delete/copy/move it. Even some OS X keyboard shortcuts work. Cmd + Up/Down will move your cursor to the very top or bottom of a document. Others don't translate quite as well. For example, hitting option + delete will delete the first word to the left of your cursor. Unlike in OS X however, it will also delete the preceding space. Let's say I delete the word "something" in the following sentence using the option + delete keystroke: "The quick brown fox did something". In OS X my cursor would end up one space away from the last d in did. On the iPad, my cursor would be right next to the last d.

Deleting the space that preceded the word is silly. I'm guessing if you have to delete an entire word it's because you want to use a different one, not because you want to make the previous word longer or end the sentence.

Formatting shortcuts are absent as well. Want to bold text? Cmd + B won't do anything for you in Pages. You'll have to tap the B button at the top of the screen.

With the physical keyboard you retain the iPad's limited autocorrect functionality however I found myself generally typing faster than the suggested words had the chance to appear. For example, if you type netbook the iPad will by default suggest "net book". With the keyboard dock, if I want to type netbook and not have it autoreplaced with net book I have to type the word then wait a fraction of a second for the suggestion, then tap the X button to close out the suggestion and hit space to go on. If I just type at regular speed the iPad won't even have the opportunity to pop up the net book suggestion before I hit space, which means the OS will assume I wanted the correction and substitute it in for me. It's frustrating but this is one reason I'm thankful Apple toned down the autocorrect on the iPad.

That's not the only autosubstitution problem I found. In Pages if you put two spaces after a word using the virtual keyboard the app will automatically end the previous sentence with a period and begin a new one. Do the same with the physical keyboard and there's no period. Obviously you don't need the little shortcuts as much with a physical keyboard, but it's annoying.

More important than the missing auto-period is the fact that there's no easy way to switch between apps using the keyboard dock. Cmd + tab doesn't do anything (perhaps it will in OS 4?) so you're left with hitting the home key, tapping a new app and going from there.

You also can't do things like use the arrow keys to scroll through a web page and Cmd+L won't let you type in a new URL in Safari. There's no reply to email shortcut either. Despite the addition of a physical keyboard, the iPad is still all about a touch interface. Thankfully the screen isn't very far away from your hands given that it's docked about a centimeter away from the top of the keyboard.

The iPad Keyboard Dock (top) vs. Apple's Aluminum USB Keyboard (bottom)

Switching between the iPad's touchscreen and the physical keyboard actually felt more natural than I expected. I think it has a lot to do with the close proximity of your hands to the iPad while you're typing. Building the keyboard into the dock (or vice versa) was actually a very smart move in this sense. The whole thing, when assembled, works more like a mini iMac Touch rather than a silly tablet + keyboard combination. I'd say if you plan on making your iPad a permanent computing device in your life, the keyboard dock is perfect for getting work done while at home. At this screen size, I'd argue that a multitouch interface does work very well for a desktop. I do wonder how well it'd scale to a more iMac-sized device, but I smell potential.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the iPad keyboard dock is the fact that it doesn't work if you have your iPad in Apple's case. The dock connector can't make good contact with the port on the iPad. Meaning whenever you want to dock it, you have to take off the case and put it back on after you're done. This is a definite buzz kill for the grab and go folks.

And you'll need that case because the iPad keyboard dock only works in portrait mode. If you want to watch a full screen video on the iPad, you'll need the foldable case so you can prop it up in landscape mode. There are some elements of the whole keyboard dock setup that really do seem like Apple thought of everything. The keyboard shortcuts, the face that the virtual keyboard stays hidden when you have it connected. But then there are other obvious problems that weren't solved, like the issue of landscape mode and not being able to work with Apple's own case. My guess is that Apple thought of it but just saw the keyboard dock as a very focused device - for someone who wants to use their iPad for writing longer documents while retaining its portability.

The Quandary & Strange Behavior Final Words
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  • nycromes - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    All of the issues you brought up in this review will surely be fixed, but of course, only in iPad Keyboard Dock v2 or v3. All who bought it will be required to buy the new version because Apple for some reason released a limited product (Who would have thunk it?).

    Anand, please please please put the kool-aid glass down... look at these quotes

    "This truly is a computing platform for people who don't really need a computer" what does that even mean? It just sounds so Apple. Nonsense phrase that has no quantifiable meaning, I think most here would agree that we come to this site for quantifiable reviews.

    "There are some elements of the whole keyboard dock setup that really do seem like Apple thought of everything." How can you say this at the bottom of a page of limitations and odd behavior?

    "It's great that Apple enabled some keyboard shortcuts" these should be functions of the OS, not the keyboard. They really shouldn't have to enable anything at this level. Its not like there are media keys or anything on the keyboard, its pretty much a standard layout.

    I can appreciate that you were trying very hard to be objective, but you have bought into the Apple mentality. To anyone who isn't a fanboy, its glaringly obvious and extremely annoying (as you can see from the comments on these posts). All the same, thanks for giving us a glimpse into the iPad and it's usability.
  • streak24 - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    Here, let me fix that one sentence for Anand...

    "This truly is a tech website for people who don't really need a tech website, at least not all of the power and capabilities of a full fledged tech website."

    Seriously, I had to double check to see if I had accidentally clicked my way to Gizmodo when I saw the front page this morning.

  • snoozemode - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    Acer Aspire 1820PT. I say no more.
  • michal1980 - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    after reading both of these pad 'reviews'

    Negatives get brushed away under the rug, the postives get blown up like a hot air balloon.

    So its more expensive, slower, and does less then a netbook. But you can touch it. OMG. Change your panties there wet all the way over here.

    Just like a middle school girl when she hears Justin Bieber (had to google thisguy).
  • Herald85 - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    Nice Subject ;p

    I agree with you on a certain level. The negative seems to be quite easily dismissed. But the touch interface is indeed the good part. It's intuitive and fast. I don't own a single Apple device but the iPhone / iPad interface I tried (my aunt owns an iPhone 3GS) works so much better than my Samsung Star, Windows XP (Acer netbook) and even my desktops Win7. The market this is aimed at do not care if this device is slower than a netbook. They don't care it's too expensive.

    You do realise this exact exchange of 'blah fanboi' 'yes fanboi but still valid point' happens on every website where they review Apple products? :)
  • Sunsmasher - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    You tech heads still don't get it.
    The ipad is for REGULAR FOLKS, not techies.
    Anand mentioned that he understood it better after a week.
    This device in CONVENIENT and USABLE, as well as aesthetic and beautiful.
    Yes, it's too expensive right now, but that will change.
    This thing is potentially a major paradigm shifter.
  • Aloonatic - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    Yeah, that seems to be what a lot of people don't get about some products. The issue of value with a pure home consumer oriented product like this is different to that of a business/productivity device and cannot be so easily quantified. Yes, you can get more pixels, GBs or GHz somewhere else I'm sure, but that is not the whole story or reason why the general home user buys something like this.

    I can't say I'm sold on this however, especially when you take into account the cost of all the accessories that you will probably need to buy to get the most out of this, as the apparent "fanboy" reviewer pointed out himself in other reviews.

    I'll probably do what I did with my smart phone. Wait for Apple to show the way, work out the bugs, get people (users and devs) used to the idea and problems with a tablet and then get the Android version that will come along with more features at a lower price. For what it is, a coffee table/throw in your back back magazine replacement, it's waaaay too expensive for my blood, but these are early adopter times and prices, and if anyone knows how to milk people and use prestige pricing/marketing it's Apple.

    You could probably go back it the first iPhone review and find people saying similar sort of things, like it's too expensive and no general consumer will want to pay that much and use it when it can't make phone calls well etc, yet that took off. I expect something similar, but not in quite such an exaggerated way.
  • cfaalm - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    Change? I wouldn't hold my breath for any Apple price cuts, especially on their "Precious".

    I think Apple should also sell a special no buttons iPad mouse for $69 LOL
  • nafhan - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    The iPad is not for regular folks - at all. Even Steve said it's for use as a second or third computer. The iPad is supposed to fit in between a "real" computer (desktop or laptop) and a smartphone, and the only people I know who have more than one computer are the techie types or those with money to burn.
    I would wait about a year before recommending the iPad to non-technical types to make sure that it sells well (and will thus be supported for a while), and to see if the HTML5 video situation has improved.
  • michal1980 - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    How is it for regular folks?

    Regular folks that some how have a wireless router in their house but no other computers?

    Or regular folks that some how are too stupid to use a regular computer, yet smart enough to use an iPad that without extras (like wireless internet in your house) is useless?

    How are these regular folks going to use the iPad without another PC around? This thing almost requires another PC to function.

    so please stop with the la-la fantasy Apple Kool-aid, that this device that required another PC to function, is somehow going to be a PC-Lite for people that dont get PC's. Because that line of thinking quite frankly makes you stupid

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