The Ultimate iPad Setup

Posted by Campbell Bird on April 29th, 2020

iPads are awesome. We all know this. But an iPad all on its own can sometimes just feel like a big, unwieldy phone that sits in some corner, only to be dusted off when you need a way to watch Netflix on a flight.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. With a little additional investment, you can kit out your tablet so that it can serve as your primary computer both for productivity and entertainment purposes.

How do I know this? Well, I’ve been an iPad owner for years, and have written the vast majority of everything I’ve ever posted to this site using one. With all of this in mind, I’ve put together a handy little guide on things to pick up (or skip) when looking to make your iPad the absolute best it can be for everything.

For the purposes of this guide, I’ll be speaking about items generally, as your wants and needs around said items might shift depending on which model of iPad you have. I’ll also be sharing my personal favorite picks, but those are all based on how well they work with an iPad Pro 11 (2018), as it's my current iPad of choice.

A quick note on the Magic Keyboard: Apple seems to be getting into supporting external hardware for iPads, which is great, but I don't see a reason to pick it up over the gear on this list. Unless you want to go all-in on the Apple ecosystem or love trackpads over mice for some reason, it seems like an expensive and less versatile purchase.

Must Haves

Bluetooth Keyboard

A quality keyboard is the single most transformative add-on you can buy for an iPad. It makes the device something you can actually be productive on, and it doesn’t have to cost you that much. I cannot imagine owning an iPad without one.

My pick: Logitech K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard

This is a great keyboard in general, and this versatility is exactly why I’d recommend it to anyone with an iPad. For $40, you get a high quality, portable keyboard that can switch between three devices on the fly. It has incredible battery life, the keys feel good, and—even if you decide you don’t like using it with your iPad—you can use it easily with any other bluetooth devices you might have.

A Simple Case

As far as phones go, I run caseless, but if you’re going to use you iPad as a portable computer (especially with a keyboard), you should get some kind of case for it. Cases make sure you can throw your iPad in a bag without damaging it or prop it up for when you want to use it without holding it. Cases don’t need to be any more complicated than that (more on that later).

My pick: ZtotopCase for iPad Pro 11” 2018

This case is affordable and super versatile, plus it doesn’t make your iPad overly bulky. The magnetic stand and slot for the Apple Pencil are really nice touches as well. Since getting this ZtotopCase for my iPad Pro, I have never felt the need or want to remove it for any reason, regardless of what I’m doing.

Charging Cables

iPads have pretty great battery life these days, but you should always have a couple additional charging cables on hand just in case you need them. For iPad Pro users, it’s especially important to try and buy an additional cable so you can plug into USB-A slots, as Apple only packs in a USB-C to USB-C cable with these models.

My pick: Anker USB-C to USB-A Fast Charging Cable (2-Pack)

Anker makes awesome charging cables, and these are no exception. These cables are build to be durable and support fast charging, which is what you always want from a charging cable. This is especially true for any cables you might take with you while traveling. With two, you can keep one in your bag and use the other one as a spare.

Portable Headphones

If you’re going to make your iPad the ultimate mobile computer, you better have some headphones that are just as portable. For this, I really recommend going with true wireless headphones. These days, bluetooth audio sounds great, and the convenience of never having to manage wires or adapters can’t be understated. The only potential drawback is managing yet another rechargeable device, but my pick ensures you rarely have to worry about that.

My pick: Creative Outlier Gold In-Ear Headphones

The Creative Outlier Golds are true wireless headphones that are comfortable, sound great, and boast a whopping 14 hours of playtime battery life. They also come with a little handy case that can recharge your buds 2.5 times. The best part about these are they’re about half the price of Apple Airpods. These seem like a no-brainer to add to your iPad setup, particularly if you’re in the market for new headphones.


Bluetooth Controller

With the release of iPadOS 13 and Apple Arcade, Apple put more support behind mobile gaming by loosening their restrictions on bluetooth controllers and putting out quite a few games that make good use of them. If you want your iPad to be a portable gaming device, you might want to invest in a good controller to give you some options while gaming on the go.

My pick: DualShock 4 Wireless Controller for Playstation 4

Don’t be fooled into buying an MFi controller. Those days are over. You can just use modern console controllers on iOS and they’re both vastly superior to things like the Rotor Riot or SteelSeries Nimbus. Between the console offerings, I prefer the DualShock 4 for iOS. I’m sure the Xbox One wireless controller is a good pick as well, but the DualShock 4 is a little sleeker and lighter, plus you don’t need to worry about buying and carrying batteries or battery packs with you.

Portable Power

Depending on how long you want to push your iPad while out, you might want to pick up some extra battery for it. Important things to consider here are to make sure you get batteries that work with the cables you have, plus it needs to be able to output power at a rate that will actually charge your tablet. Not all battery packs can do this, so make sure to do your homework.

My pick: Anker PowerCore 20100mAh Power Bank

In addition to making great cables, Anker also makes awesome travel batteries. This power bank delivers a ton of extra juice in a relatively small package, allowing you to charge your iPad back to full at least once. I’m also particularly fond of this one because it seems to hold its charge really well, so you can fully charge it, throw it in a bag, and rest assured you’ll have power availabile for a good long time.

Wireless Mouse

iPadOS 13 brought support for bluetooth mice, but only recently has that really meant anything significant. With Apple throwing more support behind mice with the release of their Magic Keyboard, there's a lot more stuff you can do with a point-and-click interface on mobile devices now, both for work and play. In particular, I've found Steam Link's keyboard and mouse support a tremendous boon which allows me to play just about any PC game on my tablet.

My pick: Logitech M720 Triathalon Multi-Device Wireless Mouse

As with my keyboard pick, I recommend a device that provides quality and versatility at a relatively low cost. Logitech's Triathalon wireless mouse works beautifully on iOS, has a compact form factor (without feeling cramped), and can connect with two other devices using Bluetooth. It also has pretty great battery life and can even connect to legacy, non-bluetooth devices via an included dongle that is stored inside the mouse's battery compartment.

Unnecessary Add-Ons

Keyboard Case

Although I said keyboards are practically essential for iPads, a keyboard case definitely isn’t. They add unnecessary bulk to your tablet, which is particularly annoying when you don’t need to type anything. The less immediate problem with keyboard cases is also the fact that you will have to buy a new one if you get a new tablet, even if the keyboard and the case continue to work fine. As the owner of three keyboard cases that still work, trust me: Having a separated keyboard and case is the preferred way to go.

Tablet Hub

Unless you’re a specific kind of person (working with large video/image files regularly), you don’t need a hub for your iPad. I don’t have one and I’ve also never felt the need to pick one up. Transferring things on and off of an iPad has never been easier, so having a bulky thing to plug into the side of your tablet to facilitate this probably isn’t worth it.

Any Apple-Specific Products and Services

Apple stuff is expensive and embeds you in a single ecosystem. There are quality alternatives for almost every iPad add-on offered by Apple, and most are just as good. If they aren’t, at least they’re more versatile, plus you’ll be saving some money.

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