While many iPad users will use the device's virtual keyboard with the new Office for iPad apps, I feel that interface takes up too much space onscreen. Fortunately, you can use a Bluetooth keyboard instead. And since many Apple fans will have all Apple gear, I tested this with an Apple Wireless Keyboard.
This set up actually works pretty well, assuming you have an Apple Smart Case or Smart Cover for iPad, as most users of this device would: These cases provide a landscape-oriented stand of sorts that let you more easily use the device with a physical keyboard.
I have a Smart Case for my iPad mini, but since the iPad Air is on temporary loan, I used an inexpensive Amazon Basics travel tablet stand with that device instead.
Using an iPad in this way is of course old hat for many iPad users. But I'd argue that doing so suddenly makes a lot more sense now that full-featured versions of Office apps—Word and OneNote, especially, but also PowerPoint and Excel—are available on the platform.
The keyboard works mostly as expected. You can wake up the iPad by tapping a key and sign-in to the device with the keyboard, which is nice.
Sticking largely with Word and OneNote, the apps I'd use the most, everything works as expected, for the most part, and you can type or edit normally.
The apps respect common keyboard shortcuts, too. CMD + Z (the Mac's version of CTRL + Z) can be used to undo an action, for example, CMD + C works for Copy and CMD + V works for Paste. You can type SHIFT + an arrow key to select a block of text. It's pretty seamless.
It's not all perfect. For example, if you make a mistake while typing, you can use the keyboard to select the mistyped word and the app will display a pop-up with suggestions. But you cannot select those suggestions with the keyboard. Instead, you have to tap one with your finger. Not a deal breaker but I hate taking my hands off the keys when I'm typing.
Indeed, a lot of the issues I see here are just related to iPad being iPad, which makes sense. You can't use two apps side by side. I didn't see a way to go back to the home screen or switch apps with the keyboard. (Or navigate to other parts of the app UI, for that matter.) And document zooming is a bit awkward: you have to pinch to zoom, and there's no keyboard shortcuts or even onscreen controls for doing so. It would be nice if you could use a trackpad or ThinkPad-like nubbin to select onscreen controls. It is what it is.
I don't write about this kind of thing every often, but one of the things I do fairly regularly is go back and reassess various products I don't use day to day to see whether anything had changed since I had last written about them. Sometime in the past 6 months, I had checked out Apple's word processing app, Pages, with an iPad and this same keyboard, with an eye towards judging its compatibility with Word documents. That compatibility is actually pretty lackluster, but the bigger issue I experienced was a slight lag during typing. This has not been an issue in Word or OneNote for iPad. The performance is topnotch.
In the past, I've railed against technology bloggers who use an iPad with a keyboard because that kind of person should be using a real computer. But for the casual user—i.e. most users—this setup is actually pretty workable. I bet most people could get along without a physical keyboard, but having one is nice for the occasional longer typing session. It's certainly what I'd prefer, and carting around an iPad Air and Apple Wireless Keyboard would certainly be no heavier than doing so with the typical Ultrabook.