An Overview of Bluetooth Keyboards for Use with iOS

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

As the power and versatility of iOS devices sinks in, many users invariably ask veteran iPhone and iPad enthusiasts about Bluetooth keyboards. As someone who's dabbled with Bluetooth keyboards since the addition of external keyboard support hit iOS, I've handled my fair share of these accessories in both my role as an assistive technology instructor and just a tech enthusiast on the internet. Just like with apps and web resources, it's almost impossible to work with or even hear about every example or even every type of Bluetooth keyboard, let alone every model. So we invite you to share your comments on these or other models to help others trying to decide what to buy.

Apple Keyboards

It shouldn't be a surprise that Apple manufactures keyboards designed to complement their computers. In terms of their function and aesthetics, these peripherals hold true to Apple's philosophy of offering the experience they want to provide with premium materials at a luxury price point. Apple's keyboards won't have all the bells and whistles of some other keyboards, nor will they be anywhere near the cheapest option. What they will do is give you the closest experience to typing with a MacBook.

Apple Wireless Keyboard

Apple set the standard in full-sized keyboards with the Apple Wireless Keyboard about a decade ago. Made of aluminum, it had full-sized keys with a key layout similar to that found on modern MacBooks, with four keys to the left: Function, Control, Option and Command. The keys had a decent amount of travel and the tubular battery compartment acted as a riser to provide a downward slope to the keys. This was my first Bluetooth keyboard, used in conjunction with an iPhone 4 and iPad 2. It provides an excellent typing experience but is probably too large and heavy for mobile applications. Also, the keys are sufficiently raised to catch on anything that drags across the keyboard, which can pop loose the keycaps, making it surprisingly fragile given its build quality. This keyboard also only pairs with one device at a time, and its keys maintain the Mac layout even when paired to a Windows or Android device so that if you pair it with a Windows PC the keys to the left of the spacebar will be Function, Control, Option, and Command. This is still my favorite Apple keyboard.

Apple Magic Keyboard

At the same time as the refresh of many of its computers and the introduction of the 12-inch MacBook, Apple introduced the Magic Keyboard. At $100, this new keyboard was flatter and more compact, trading the batteries for a rechargeable design and typing feedback more similar to the more recent MacBook designs. This is the keyboard Apple packages with its iMac computers and promotes most widely. While featuring a sleek design, its price makes it stand out more for what it doesn't offer compared to competing products, such as multi-device pairing or mechanical switches.

Desktop Keyboards for the iPhone

There is a wide swath of keyboards that provide a good typing experience that is meant to simulate or exceed the level of comfort associated with working on a laptop. These keyboards are meant to be portable and work well with smartphones, tablets and even full-sized laptops and desktops. They are priced in the $20 to $50 range but can be had for less if you watch out for deals from Amazon, Staples, Best Buy or your electronics outlet of choice.

Anker Wireless Keyboard

The Anker Wireless Keyboard duplicates the Apple keyboard layout at a significantly lower cost, like a whole lot lower. And, while the materials don't seem as luxurious, Anker's build quality has made it stand out at its price point. Like the Magic Keyboard, Anker's competitor features a rechargeable battery.

Logitech K380

Logitech has long been known as a manufacturer of quality peripherals. The K380 is one of their most compact multi-device keyboard. Slightly larger than the Magic Keyboard, the K380 uses two AAA batteries and pairs with three devices, which the user switches between by pressing F1, F2 or F3. Unlike most keyboards, the K380 and its higher numbered siblings use round, concave keys. The keyboard is somewhat thicker in the rear to accommodate the batteries, which provides a sloped typing surface. The keyboard intelligently lays out the keys to the left of the spacebar based on the operating system of the device paired, so that when typing into a Windows machine the keys are Control, Function, Windows and Alt, while for Mac they'll be Control, Function, Option and Command. I keep this keyboard at my bedside for quick Twitter sessions and to handle emails without having to venture to the office.

Amazon Basics Bluetooth Keyboard

The Amazon Basics Bluetooth Keyboard is one you'll recognize as a product released under a few different brand names. The one I had was from Targus. It's a no frills plastic keyboard with an Apple layout. It's cheap and feels cheap, but it is cheap.

Desktop Keyboards for the iPad

When Apple unveiled the iPad, one of the major selling points was the ability to use the new tablet as a productivity tool with the iWork suite and now Microsoft Office and Google Suite among others. With that in mind, several companies have put out keyboards that act as bases for the iPad and mimic the feel of a keyboard.

Logitech K480

One of the most common iPad keyboards, Logitech's K480 distinguishes itself as one of the oldest mainstream keyboards capable of multi-device pairing. By turning the knob positioned next to a slot meant to hold an iPad, the user can choose one of three devices paired with the keyboard and switch quickly between connections. This means that someone working on this keyboard can quickly switch from navigating through Google Hangouts on their MacBook to composing an email on their Surface Pro 4 to sending a text message on their iPhone. To avoid having to confuse keyboard layouts, the K480 features two pairing buttons, one for iOS and one for Android and Windows. Selecting iOS will designate the keys to the left of the spacebar as Control, Function, Option, and Command, while using the PC option flips the last two to be Windows and Alt. I keep this keyboard in my office at work for use as a backup.

Zagg Limitless

The Zagg Limitless is a thinner and lighter design than the K480 that provides a typing experience far more similar to an average laptop. Like the K480, it switches keyboard layout between Apple and Android/Windows, but does so automatically, without having to designate the layout at the time of pairing. It can pair with three devices and can be had with backlighting for an additional $30. This is the keyboard my wife and I keep in the living room to control our Apple TV and her iPad. It also goes with us on trips.

Logitech K780

Since the iPad first made its appearance, there has been a demand for larger tablets, which has meant there has also been a demand for larger keyboards to accommodate them. The K780 takes the rounded keys of the K480 and puts them into an elongated body with a rubberized base accommodating a numeric keypad and a ledge suitable for an iPad Pro, Surface Pro 4 or similarly super-sized tablet. To add further versatility, the K780 comes with a USB wireless receiver that can be paired with the keyboard to make a device without Bluetooth capabilities like a desktop one of the three devices simultaneously paired to the keyboard. Like the Zagg Limitless and the K380, the K780 intelligently selects its layout to conform with the operating system of the paired device. I use this keyboard in our home office where its quiet keys are a handy feature during podcast sessions.

Compact and Folding Keyboards

When the priority is portability, a compact or folding keyboard can sometimes be worth the inconvenience of nonstandard layouts or smaller keys. Different companies have adopted different design philosophies to accommodate this demand.

iClever Folding Bluetooth Keyboard

Like the Amazon Basics keyboard, this one seems to have been around under different brand names for a while. With a rechargeable battery and a tri-fold design, this keyboard can fit in a jacket or cargo pocket. It has two hinges, with the two ends of the keyboard folding in and down to close over the center. The keyboard powers on whenever it's unfolded. My version is actually laid out for Windows, but it's just a small adjustment to strike the key two to the left of the spacebar whenever I want to strike the Command key. For such a compact keyboard, the keys are surprisingly large and feature a fair bit of travel. If you can ignore the slight flex that occasionally occurs when you strike a key close to the hinge, you will have an almost laptop-like typing experience. Another tradeoff you make for such a compact design with full-sized keys is that there are no function keys. I carry one of these in my backpack, just in case I need to send off a rapid series of texts or tweets.

Anker Ultra-Compact Bluetooth Keyboard.

Anker's super-portable keyboard doesn't fold, but it is surprisingly thin and features a width and height similar to a trade paperback. It is fairly rugged and very easy to slide into the outer pocket of a backpack or similar space for easy access. The keyboard features a layout equivalent to the standard Apple layout, with the exception of the arrow keys, as the up arrow finds itself squeezed between "/" and the right Shift key. This is complicated by the fact that the keys are ever so slightly smaller than usual, making the keyboard somewhat cramped if you have larger hands. I've had one of these for ages and still use it on occasion to type on my phone in a pinch.

Rii Mini Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard

Speaking of small keys, you can't get much smaller than the compact keyboards from Rii. If you've ever used a Blackberry or similar device with a hardware keyboard, you'll find this keyboards tiny caps familiar. Only a few inches wide and less than two inches tall, these devices are meant for thumb or forefinger typing that's faster than using the touchscreen but won't set any speed records.

Keyboard Folios

Some products have sought to pull double duty as both protective cases and keyboards. These keyboards are often constrained by the dimensions of the iPad they're covering, but most of the keyboards discussed above have a folio version. I have used a few of these keyboards, but have never found one I would recommend.

Specialty Keyboards

No keyboard is perfect for everyone but some keyboards are perfect for a very specific subset of the market. They're usually something that will cost a pretty penny and make a statement about the person using it.

LoFree Bluetooth Keyboard

The LoFree keyboard is a recently crowd-funded option that duplicates the Apple keyboard layout with mechanical keyboard switches, providing a typewriter like experience. This keyboard is not meant to be extremely portable and is one of the few keyboards that can set you back more than Apple's offerings. On the plus side, it comes in some rather novel colors.

Apple Smart Keyboard

Apple's keyboard for the iPad Pro is not a Bluetooth device, but is included here for the sake of completeness. This keyboard takes a different approach, with a folio form factor that is soft to the touch and features a shallowness that will be familiar to anyone who uses a modern MacBook laptop. As with Apple's other keyboards, the materials used here are of a superior look and feel to most of the competition.

Logitech G613 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

This beefy desktop keyboard includes the connectivity of the K780 with superior key response time and Logitech's own, quiet mechanical switches. This keyboard may not be an option for road warriors, but if your workflow involves turtling at your desk with a computer, tablet and phone, this might be the keyboard for you. I really want one of these, but its hefty price and constrained supply will likely leave me just wanting one for some time.

Conclusion

There are now hundreds of Bluetooth keyboards on the market, and seemingly a new product announcement or crowd funding launch heralding the arrival of yet another every week or so. The important thing to do is to decide what you want the keyboard to do and then check out reviews with that particular use case in mind. It doesn't matter if the keyboard has backlighting if you can't see the keys or that it can pair with three devices if you only want to use it with your phone. What does matter is that you find the one that's right for you, so shop around, put your hands on lots of different options and choose for yourself. And once you've found one you like, share what you've found -- the good and the bad -- with others in the community either in the comments or by posting in the forums.

Blog Tags: 

20 Comments

Logitech K811

Hi,
I currently use the Logitech K811. It's designed for Mac/iOS, but it works on PC and Android devices as well. I love the typing experience on it. It's a little bit pricy, at around 80 to 100 dollars, but in my opinion, it's worth it. It pairs with up to 3 devices, and has an up to 6 month long rechargeable battery. Definitely consider trying one, and telling me how you like it. :)

a problem: FN key on Logitech K380

My wife bought me a Logitech K380 for my birthday & I am using it now, on my MacBook Air. But it has one serious flaw: The FN key near the bottom left does not work with Voiceover commands. It works in that it changes the operation of the function keys. But if I try to use it in conjunction with the arrow keys, e.g. VO+FN+down-arrow for next sentence or VO+FN+left-arrow for top of document, it has no effect. As a result I have no page-up/down or home or end keys. Do you know any fix or workaround?

Verbatim Folding Keyboard

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I used to own a Verbatim folding BT keyboard. (Those of you who remember the days of 3.5" floppy disks might recall that Verbatim was a disk manufacturer. LOL.) I just checked amazon.com and don't see this keyboard listed any longer, so I can't reference a specific model number.

I bought the Verbatim for portability, and it met that goal quite well. However, I must comment that the number keys were smaller than the other keys and did not line up with the top alphabet row as you would expect. This made initial pairing difficult, as I needed to type a numeric code on the keyboard to pair. However, I did eventually become used to the odd QWERTY-like layout.

Eventually, though, I decided I really needed the flexibility of pairing with multiple devices. I bought a Logitech K380, which pairs with 3 devices - in my case, my phone, iPad, and MacBook. And I like the layout a lot better. Not as portable as the Verbatim, but much nicer in other ways.

Esynic Folding Bluetooth keyboard

I just got the Esynic folding Bluetooth keyboard and I love it. It’s a tri-folding keyboard, similar to the Iclever keyboard. It doesn’t have any mechanical switches; it connects to your phone automatically when you unfold it. The keys are about normal size for a laptop, maybe a little smaller. There aren’t any function keys, but you can press the function key plus the number of the function key you want (E.G., if you want to press F1, you just press the function key plus the number 1). You can get it on Amazon for about $30.

Microsoft Mobile Bluetooth Keyboard 6000

I have the Microsoft Mobile Bluetooth Keyboard 6000 and like it very much. It hasn't been a problem to pair with my iPhone. It has function keys across the top and inverted T arrow keys. The keys are full size and the action is soft and quiet.

K380 Text Navigation

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

The one thing I would recommend as a work around is Command+Up and Command+Down to move to the top or bottom of a document? I can't think of anything for sentence navigation unfortunately.

I always use blue tooth keyboards

I have always used a blue tooth keyboard with my Ipad mini and Iphones.

I used a lodgitech magnettic keyboard cover for my first ipad mini and now use a lodgitech case which holds my keyboard. I love the responsiveness of the lodgitechs as i use my ipad mini for my main computer.

As for my phone, i used a Box Wave i think for my Iphone 5 but it kept freezing my phone and losing signal. I can't remember the make of my case for my 6S but it is a phone case with a slide out keyboard. I would never be without my bluetooth keyboards now.

Eddited to add

Eddited to add:my lodgitech keyboard holds my ipad mini now.

I also have the Esynic

I also have the Esynic Folding Bluetooth keyboard, and its my favorite of the ones I've used, including several of the anchor and apple keyboards. Its perfect for portability and writing large amounts on the go.

Ricci re K380 and fn key

Hi Ricci. Have you tried changing the order in which you press the keys such as pressing the FN key first? I’m sure I’ve seen this problem before and found that the order made a difference. It may be that pressing the voice-over keys first stops the fn key from working if you press the FN key first it may make a difference.

Missing Info

App Developer

It's a very wide-reaching overview and I'm glad for it. However, there are some key (pardon the pun) pieces of info missing: key travel, key spacing, how to disable manufacturer function keys, and whether or not a blind user can know from the power control if the keyboard is on.
For example, I have an old Apple wireles skeyboard, but haven't ever been able to rely on it because I don't know if it's on or not. I only know it's not working, generally, because I rarely use it. The batteries tend to wear out, or the device fails to pair, etc., but the power button does not provide fixed positional info to let me know if it's on or not without being able to see the light. My logitech K780 does so.
Regardless of what Apple might say about its butterfly keyboard mechanism, there's no substitute for key travel. Admittedly, the new Apple keyboards are more usable than netbook keyboards or old membrane keyboards, It was definitely an accomplishment, if the goal was to make the thinnest keyboard that would work for most people. but the 0.5mm key travel is simply inadequate for fast, reliable touch typing, at least when it comes to keys pressed by the pinkies like shift, enter, tab, and backspace. I mistype passwords containing shift keys about half the time on my late-2016 MBP because I physically can't tell if the shift key is pressed. Maybe 20 years ago, but not now. Every other keyboard I've ever used in 35 years of computing has been a non-issue.
Next is key spacing. Here, again, the newer Apple keyboard stands out as making life difficult, at least for me. The right option key is hard for me to locate because of the lack of spacing to the left arrow key, and I have to move my hand off the home row to discern tab from capslock sometimes or backspace from backslash. Of course, I only mention any of this out of a sense of dismay that they're now doing it on their bluetooth keyboard. Even the Ipad Pro type cover offers me a better typing experience. Others like the new Apple keyboard, but my point is that spacing and travel can matter to users.
Key travel of 1.3-1.5 is typical. The butterfly keyboard is usable for alphnumerics, but I won't be buying another Apple if they can't improve the spacing and/or travel on the left/right eges.

Auto-switching to Mac/IOS keyboard layout is not all it's cracked up to be on the Logitech keyboards. For Lenovo and Apple, Fn is on the end. On the K480/K780 (and presumably others), the VO keys in IOS layout become separated by the control key. So, motor memory is foiled. If you switch often between a laptop keyboard and the bluetooth keyboard, this will slow you down on a regular basis.
In order to use traditional function keys on the Logitech keyboards, you have to press the FN key with the combination unless its buggy Logitech Options software is installed. The software started crashing badly on my Windows machine, and I've actually never, in 20 years, had a good experience with Logitech drivers on any product. So I prefer to avoid the Logitech options software. Combinations like alt+F4 or shift+F10 become a think-twice operation, not to mention VO+command+F5 and the like, without the special software.

More Info

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Thanks for the feedback. I’ll update the post with further observations as time allows. I’ve had better luck with Logitech Options, though its lack of labeled controls is somewhat vexing.

Logitek Keys-To-Go

It was Morgan who first recommended this on Applevis, and when I found one on sale I snapped it up. My favorite feature is that it is splash and dustproof. I wouldn't float it in a pool or bury it in the sand, but I can use it in the yard while I garden and not worry if my fingers are a bit dirty or wet.

It has a fabric "cover" that is build in, so it feels like you are typing on cloth. It's very thin, but needs no case being dust-proof so you can drop it in to your bag without needing to be careful. Lasts about a month on battery and is easy to pair. Had some issues with iOS 9 which were fixed. Key travel is surprisingly good for it's thinness, and it works fine with VO. It takes a bit of getting used to for faster touch typing.

Case Keyboards for iPhone?

While on the topic of bt keyboards, anybody have any good recommendations for a keyboard/case combo for the iPhone 7? I've heard mixed things about boxWave, so never really bothered to get one, but for replying to long EMails or doing some heavy duty typing, it would be nice to have a keyboard that I can slide out of my case and get to it.

Logitech Keys to Go

I can also recommend this keyboard. I have one at my desk, and I love it. It is thin and small enough to fit in front of my laptop. So, it is always available. I also have a great keyboard from iClever, but I forget the model of it.

Pairing of Logitech k780

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hi Aser,

After carefully going through this guide and looking at Amazon reviews, I decided to buy the Logitech K780 for my new iPad, and the keyboard just arrived today. However, I’m not sure how to pair it. I’ve read the instructions available online, and it seems there are a couple of different keys I’d need to press and hold to get it into pairing mode, including the easy switch keys. I’ve no idea where those keys are, so rather than spending all day guessing and pressing random keys until I can get it to pair, I thought it would be a lot quicker and easier to ask on here for some blind-friendly instructions, because press this key that’s not on any keyboard I’ve used before until the LED light turns blue is not very helpful to me. Is on/off the switch on the right edge just below the iPad ledge? I already know how to get my iPad to look for Bluetooth devices; I’m just looking for instructions for making sure the keyboard is turned on and ready to pair.

Still not resolved, but...

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I just tried calling Logitech customer support, but my issue isn’t resolved. The support person told me I need to hold down the 2nd, 3rd or 4th key on the top row for about 5 seconds to get it into pairing mode, and then it should appear in the list of devices. That wasn’t working so he asked if the keyboard was turned on. I asked if on/off was that switch on the right of the keyboard, and whether it should be closer to the keyboard keys or to the tablet stand/ledge, and he said it should be closer to the keys. (Edit: as I found out later, this is incorrect. The on position is with the switch closer to the tablet stand.) I’ve tried it in both positions, and with all three of those keys in turn, on my iPad and iPhone, and still no luck. I just wanted to check that information was correct, in case one of us has misunderstood the other. Either there’s been a miscommunication somewhere, because I followed his instructions exactly as I understood them, or there’s a problem with the keyboard. The only thing the support rep could suggest was to wait until I could get sighted help and call back.

Resolved!

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

As I learned from a review I just read, it turns out there’s a tab between the batteries that needs to be pulled out before you can use it, and I hadn’t done that. I’m surprised the Logitech support rep didn’t check that with me, but maybe it’s one of those things that’s obvious to everyone but me. Also, contrary to what he told me, for the keyboard to be on the switch on the right should be closer to the tablet stand, which is what I would’ve thought, but I trusted what he told me over my guess about what was more likely.

Terribly Sorry

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I am so sorry. I came into work this morning and read through your comments with increasing dismay.

Esynic Folding Bluetooth keyboard and escape key

Hi, does this keyboard have the escape key? I got a 1 by 1 foldable keyboard and no matter what I tried, no joy with an escape key meaning that I still had to interact with my iPhone when wanting to go back through decision trees.