December 14, 2011, 11:15 AM — For serious typing sessions--or if you just can't get the hang of the iPad's onscreen keyboard--an external keyboard offers the tactile advantages of real keys without sacrificing the iPad's portability and touchscreen features.
The iPad supports almost any Bluetooth keyboard, but there are now dozens of keyboards on the market that are specifically made for use with the iPad. These tend to be designed for portability, and they usually include special iPad-function F-keys for adjusting volume and screen brightness; controlling media playback; opening iOS's Spotlight-search screen; going to the Home screen; and more--some even offer dedicated buttons for cut, copy, and paste. Most iPad keyboards are integrated into some sort of protective case, although a few are standalone accessories; regardless of design, most include rechargeable batteries that last for weeks or months.
I've tested approximately three dozen of the iPad keyboards on the market. Here's a quick look at the main types available, along with my recommendations for a few of the best in each category.
Easily the most-common type, these keyboards are integrated into a folio-style iPad case. The all-in-one design of folio keyboards is convenient, and most models make it easy to type on your lap--no desk or table required. These models also tend to include the thinnest keyboards. However, folio keyboards have a few drawbacks that can significantly affect usability and comfort. For starters, the actual keyboards tend to be cramped and have small, poor-quality keys, sometimes using odd layouts. Most also limit the iPad to landscape orientation--even though portrait orientation is often better when typing traditional documents--and a single propped-up angle. Finally, it can be inconvenient to use your iPad as a tablet while in the case, yet it's often a hassle to remove the iPad from the case. (This also means you end up carrying the keyboard even when you don't need it.) My recommended models attempt to avoid some of these flaws.