The touch-screen keyboard built into the Apple iPad is more than sufficient for typing out a quick e-mail or jotting down a to-do list. But if you intend to use the iPad for writing pages of text at a time, or simply don't like the idea of propping the iPad on your lap for typing out daily e-mails, a keyboard accessory makes sense.
Apple's keyboard dock accessory for the iPad ($69) offers one of the simplest solutions for adding a hard keyboard to the device. It still can't compete with a laptop or desktop computer when it comes to professional typing and editing capabilities, but many will appreciate the familiar functionality of using a full-size keyboard.
The keyboard measures 11 inches wide and 4.5 inches deep, and stands just 0.65 inch tall toward the back, sloping down to a mere 0.25 inch at the spacebar. The white plastic dock fused to the back of the keyboard gives the accessory a total depth of 7.25 inches.
The dock's integrated iPad stand measures 2 inches tall, making it a tough fit for many roll-away computer desk keyboard trays. That said, a desktop is the natural habitat for this keyboard. With its grippy rubber base and 1.4 lbs, heft, the whole thing has been purposefully designed to stay put and reinforce the iPad against tipping over while you poke at the touch screen.
As keyboards go, the iPad keyboard dock is fairly typical among today's Mac keyboards--which is a good thing. The keyboard is comprised mostly of half-inch-wide plastic keys that jut out from a plank of aluminum. Just like the keyboard found on Apple's Macbook laptops, these keys have a shallow action of around an eighth of an inch, which may take a little adjustment if you tend to wale on keyboards like a typewriter.
Because it is a Mac-style keyboard, Apple's Command and Options keys supplant the Alt and Windows keys found on a typical PC keyboard. If you're accustomed to PC keyboard shortcuts for Undo, Cut, Copy, and Paste (Control-Z, X, C, and V), you'll need to train your brain to use the Command key instead of Control.
You'll also notice that the Escape and Function buttons found at the top of a typical keyboard have been replaced with 13 keys that control iPad-specific features. For example, the key in the upper leftmost corner (where you'd typically find the Escape key) takes you back to the iPad's home screen. Other buttons include search, brightness, picture frame, touch-screen keyboard toggle, iPod track control, volume, and screen lock. Each function is represented with an intuitive icon.
If you've already spent some time with the iPad's touch-screen keyboard, you probably won't think twice about missing Escape and function keys. Instead, you'll be overjoyed at the return of the cursor arrow keys and Caps Lock control, which are absent from the iPad. Little things, like not having to switch menus just to type a number or exclamation mark, feel oddly liberating.
Beyond the keyboard, there's not much to know about this iPad accessory. The dock fused to the back of the keyboard is identical to Apple's $29 standard iPad dock, and includes a minijack audio output on the back, along with a passthrough 30-pin dock connection.