Tapping directly on the screen, using a fold-out keyboard, dictating documents by voice--I've tried all of the tricks and tips for doing "real" work on an Apple iPad.

While some of these techniques work OK, none of them has compared perfectly with an actual laptop. Recently, on a long flight with only an iPad and a Logitech Slim Folio case, I found the nirvana state for typing up long documents in a cramped space on a plane. And I felt like it worked better than every other time.

In the past I've used the iPad Pro with various cases and typed directly on the screen. I've often convinced myself this works fine, and for the most part it does, but lately I've drifted back to laptops like the Google Pixelbook and the Dell XPS. I like the tactile feedback, a sense that my finger taps will register as actual words and not gibberish.

In my latest test, it helps that Apple has steadily increased the power of this laptop replacement. The latest model, which debuted recently, uses the A10 Fusion chipset, a step below the one in the iPad Pro called the A10X Fusion but still plenty fast for Google Docs, Google Drive, the Chrome browser, and the other apps I use on a daily basis.

I like that Apple added support for the Pencil, which means you can use the new model for jotting down notes and reminders.

Still, it turns out Apple does not make a cover keyboard that works with this 9.7-inch tablet, The smart keyboard they do offer works only with the iPad Pro models. So it was left to  Logitech to come up with a keyboard that is designed to work with the 9.7-inch model.

When I first tried out the Slim Folio, I wasn't sure if it was going to work. Travel tip on that one: I recommend using any new gadget for a few days before you leave on a trip. Once you're in the air, you can't exactly change your mind.

Going in, I knew there was hope. Airplanes are getting more and more cramped. I was flying a German airline called Condor and things were a tad confined. I needed something small enough to fit easily on the tiny fold-down tray or on my lap.

I pulled out the iPad with the Slim Folio and felt like there was enough space to do all of my work. The keys feel springy and responsive. They have a 1.5mm travel distance and use "mechanical scissor keys" that feel more like a laptop keyboard. My fingers flying, I was happy to see how accurately I could type, even though my elbows didn't have much room and I felt packed in like a sardine.

That's an advantage over a laptop, especially a larger 13-inch model that spreads out the keyboard wider. Those are ideal for photos and movies, but not great for airplanes. Even though my flight didn't have Wi-Fi, I was able to use Google Docs offline and type multiple documents without any problems. My only gripe here is that, as we all know, the most powerful apps, like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, which I used daily as part of my normal process (mostly editing photos and resizing them), don't run on an iPad.

I did find a workaround on that as well, editing right in Chrome using the Pixlr.com photo editor for just about everything I needed to do (except some more advanced photo fixes.) Almost everything worked perfectly fine, including the Pencil for writing my agenda for the next few days, and even playing a couple of light games at the end of my flight.

The speed and power is there, the size is about right--Apple has kept pace with my own needs as far as the apps I use. But the big kudos go to Logitech for the keyboard that helped me type fast enough to forget all about the fact that my laptop was not on board.

Published on: May 21, 2018