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Image credit: Valentina Palladino / Engadget

The best accessories for your new iPad

Make your iPad work harder for you with a few accoutrements.
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iPad accessories
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

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Accessories will be key whether you’re turning your new iPad into a laptop replacement or just trying to protect it against daily-life hazards. It’s tempting to turn to Apple’s own accessories -- and in some cases, you should -- but there are slews of other options available that work just as well and are often more affordable. We tested out a bunch of cases, keyboards, styli and more to see which iPad accessories are the best one to get right now.

Cases

Otterbox Symmetry Case for iPad Pro
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

I’ve always been that person who takes her new smartphone or tablet out of the box and immediately puts it in a case. While some detest hiding the precise industrial design of their new expensive gear, they provide undeniable protection. Apple’s Smart Covers for its various iPads are fine, but they’re overpriced and most of them don’t give your iPad any edge protection. Similar alternatives, some of which do surround the edges of an iPad, are abundant online and I’ve found ProCase and MoKo make some of the best -- even better, they cost a fraction of what Apple’s Smart Cover costs.

If you’re willing to spend a bit more on a case, get something that combines protection and style. Otterbox is an expert in the former, but its Symmetry Series 360 series shows that the company can also handle the latter. Symmetry cases look similar to the Smart Cover, but the clear, scratch-resistant back is sturdy without adding a lot of weight to the iPad and the edge protection is substantial. I also like the extra flap Otterbox added that keeps the screen cover closed and holds the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil to the side of the new iPad Pros. Symmetry Series 360 cases are available for most new iPads, and while expensive at $90, they’re worth it if you want a great balance of protection and style.

Buy Otterbox Symmetry 360 case at Amazon - $90

ProCase Leather Folio case for iPad Pro
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

A much more affordable alternative is ProCase’s Leather Folio. While ProCase isn’t as well known for protection as Otterbox is, this model has a TPU interior that wraps around most of the iPad’s edges to keep it secure. The TPU lining also surrounds the second-gen Apple Pencil while it magnetically charges against the new iPad Pros, making it one of the more secure cases for those that have the Pencil.

Leather folios will appeal to a certain type of person -- I didn’t think I was that person until I tried this case. Not only is it attractive but it’s practical. It has a pocket on the front flap, three notches on which to prop up the iPad at different viewing angles and an elastic strap that can either keep the folio closed or hold the front flap against the back of the iPad while you’re using it. It’s definitely worth its $18 price tag for those that want a case that’s just as practical as it is professional.

Buy ProCase Leather Folio at Amazon - $18

Keyboards

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

There are two types of people that want keyboards for their iPads: those who just want something more comfortable than the on-screen keyboard for banging out the occasional email, and the second want to use their iPad like a fully-fledged laptop. If you’re part of the first crowd, there are tons of inexpensive Bluetooth keyboards that will do the trick.

I’m partial to Logitech’s Keys to Go, an ultra-slim keyboard that almost disappears in your bag. It’s without a doubt one of the most portable Bluetooth keyboards you’ll find and it’s not terribly uncomfortable to type on. Yes, the keys have little travel and a bubbly feel to them, but they’ll let you compose a quick email or respond to a message on Facebook much more easily than you could with the touchscreen. I also like that its wipeable fabric prevents spills and dirt from getting inside the keyboard. Plus, at $50, it won’t break the bank.

If you fall into the second category, there are even more options for you. The most luxurious comes from Apple itself in the Magic Keyboard. The $300 case magnetically attaches to the new iPad Pros and keeps them “floating” above the keyboard and trackpad. Engadget’s Chris Velazco praised the Magic Keyboard for its typing comfort and precise trackpad, but docked it for its limited range of motion. It’s certainly the fanciest keyboard available for the iPad Pros and it’s one to consider if money is no object and you want the most stylish (and possibly most comfortable) keyboard you can buy.

Buy Keys to Go at Amazon - $46

Buy Magic Keyboard at Amazon - $300

Logitech Slim Folio Pro for iPad Pro
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

But as far as protection goes, the Magic Keyboard provides basically as much as Apple’s Smart Cover (which isn’t much). If you need something a bit more durable (and don’t want to spend $300), Zagg’s $100 Slim Book Go could do the trick. It keeps things fairly svelte as its name suggests, and it’s actually slightly thinner than one of its top competitors, the $120 Logitech Slim Folio Pro.

Like Logitech’s option, however, the Zagg’s keyboard case adds a bit more weight to the iPad than a basic case does, but that’s to be expected with any keyboard attachment. The weight from the Zagg case comes from its thicker hinge and the sturdy backplate that props the iPad up while you’re typing. That’s actually one of my favorite things about the Slim Book Go -- there’s very little chance of the iPad buckling under pressure or toppling over when it’s propped up in this case, as is often the case with flimsier designs.

Logitech’s Slim Folio Pro, however, is much better if you care about style (the soft-touch finish is comparable to Apple’s own accessories) and I prefer its keys and the flap that holds the Apple Pencil along the side of the iPad. Typing on Zagg’s Slim Book Go is acceptable, but it was more comfortable to use Logitech’s larger, squared-off keys. I also made fewer typing errors when using Logitech’s keyboard. Both keyboard cases charge up via a USB-C port, so you can use the same cable that came with your iPad Pro, and both have backlit keys as well.

Buy Zagg Slim Book Go at Amazon - $100

Buy Logitech Slim Folio Pro at Amazon - $120

Stylus

Valentina Palladino / Engadget
Image credit: Valentina Palladino / Engadget

This will come as no surprise but the Apple Pencil is the best stylus you can get for the iPad. Both the 1st- and 2nd-generation Pencils are designed to work specifically with iPads and it shows in their seamless writing performance. Plus the 2nd-generation stylus has a double-tap feature that you can customize to a certain degree. Accuracy is excellent and pressure-sensitivity allows you to add as much or as little detail as you want to digital artwork. I highly recommend shelling out $100 or $130 for the Apple Pencil if you’re an artist -- you won’t be disappointed.

But there are other options: Logitech’s Crayon is more affordable at $70 and it has arguably a better grip than either Apple Pencil. It’s just as good in terms of latency and accuracy -- I experienced no lag when I was using it to draw in Procreate and my strokes always ended up exactly where I wanted them to be.

Buy Apple Pencil (1st gen) at Amazon - $95

Buy Apple Pencil (2nd gen) at Amazon - $129

Logitech Crayon stylus
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

But as someone who primarily uses an Apple Pencil for digital art, I missed pressure sensitivity when using Logitech’s Crayon. Aside from that, the other biggest annoyance of the Crayon is that you have to use a Lightning or USB-C cable to charge it (even the newest model for the iPad Pros doesn’t magnetically attach to the tablet for charging). While I wouldn’t recommend the Crayon for serious artists, I would recommend it for basically anyone else who’s on a strict budget, especially digital journal-keepers, hardcore note-takers and the like.

Buy Logitech Crayon at Best Buy - $70

Hubs and adapters

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

If you plan to be a “pro” user of an iPad Pro, you’ll probably need more than the tablet’s single USB-C port. Apple has provided little guidance to which USB-C hubs and adapters work best with the iPad Pros -- there’s no MFi certification for accessories like this yet. Some hubs specifically advertise that they work with the newest iPad Pros, and if you want to be really safe, I’d recommend buying one of those that comes from a reputable brand.

One of the most popular in that category is HyperDrive’s USB-C adapter. I’ll admit I was skeptical about this one, mostly because so many Amazon reviewers and YouTube personalities have raved about it (and I have a hard time believing a 6-port adapter the size of a lighter should cost $90). However, after testing it out, I can say it delivers on its promises: it’s a neat little adapter that’s just large enough to fit an HDMI port, a USB-C port, a USB-A port, micro- and regular SD card slots and a headphone jack on its edges. That should cover most things you’d need an adapter for, save for hardwired internet.

However, what sets the HyperDrive USB-C adapter apart is that it comes with a tool kit that gives you more flexibility in how you use it. The default plate that surrounds the USB-C plug fits iPads without screen protectors, but there’s an included plate that accommodates screen protectors. HyperDrive even included a third plate with a dongle-like attachment so the adapter doesn’t have to sit right up against the iPad. All you need to do is use the tiny screwdriver that’s in the box to switch out the plates.

Buy 6-in-1 USB-C adapter at Hyper - $90

Anker USB-C hub
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

I think that somewhat justifies its $90 price tag. So many adapters that hug the iPad Pro’s edges are slick but they become basically unusable if you have a case, skin or screen protector.

But $90 for an adapter is still a lot of money and I’d only recommend spending that much if you plan on using the iPad Pro as your daily driver. A cheaper alternative is Anker’s 5-in-1 USB-C adapter: it works just as well as HyperDrive’s, has most of the same ports with the exception of an extra USB-C port and a headphone jack, and costs only $26.

There aren’t many Lightning adapters that add the same versatility to other iPads. However, one accessory that I’ve found really useful in a pinch is SanDisk’s iXpand flash drive. For $45, you can get 128GB of extra storage for your iPad (or iPhone) with this little thumb drive. If you primarily use your iPad to save photos or documents like PDFs, you can easily free up internal storage by offloading files you don’t need immediately with the iXpand drive.

Buy Anker 5-in-1 USB-C adapter at Amazon - $26

Buy SanDisk iXpand (128GB) at Amazon - $45

Other useful accessories

Portable power banks for iPad Pro
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Most of us aren’t taking many trips right now, but having a battery pack in your bag is still useful when you’re on the go. RavPower’s 26,800mAh power bank can charge the latest iPad Pros 1.5 times using its 30W USB-C PD port. It also works with the newest MacBook Pros and other USB-C laptops in addition to the Nintendo Switch -- so it can be your one-stop-shop for all your charging needs. I also appreciate that it comes with its own USB-C to C cable, so you don’t need to remember to bring one with you, as well as the microUSB cable used to charge the power bank itself.

RavPower’s PD charger will set you back $60, but you can opt for the $50 Anker Powercore Essential PD charger if you want to spend a bit less. Its 20,000mAh capacity will provide at least 50 percent more juice to most iPads and both its USB-C and USB-A ports are 18W for high-speed charging. It’s not great for larger devices like laptops, but it works well with smartphones and tablets.

If you’re a heavy user of the Apple Pencil or another stylus, you should consider getting a screen protector for your iPad. They pull double-duty: not only do they act as a first line of defense if your iPad goes careening onto the concrete, but they can also enhance the digital drawing and writing experience. Using a stylus on an iPad is strange at first because gliding the stylus nib over a glass surface feels nothing like “normal” writing. Matte screen protectors can replicate the pen-on-paper experience to a point, and they also prevent the stylus nib from wearing down so quickly. Bersem’s paper-like screen protectors are a great value at $21 for a pack of two. Not only does the matte finish help when you’re drawing or taking digital notes, but it also reduces screen glare and doesn’t interfere with FaceID on the newest iPads.

Buy RavPower 26,800 power bank at Amazon - $60

Buy Anker 20,000 power bank at Amazon - $50

Buy Bersem screen protector (2-pack) at Amazon - $21

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