6 essential iPad accessories

Enhance your iPad experience with these top add-ons

An iPad tablet works great on its own, but your experience can be made even better with a few accessories.

We are going to look at what we consider to be as close as you can get to a set of “essential” iPad add-ons.

These include some of Apple’s own iPad accessories, such as the famous Apple Pencil, and we will also suggest areas in which you might want to consider another company’s goods.

A woman in a coffee shop using an Apple iPad Pro with Magic KeyboardCredit: Apple

While Apple tends to make great products, some of these peripherals may seem expensive, particularly if you just spent a small fortune on your tablet.

We have cases, keyboards and more to cover, so let’s get started.

1. Pencil and Stylus

Draw, write, scroll

Three stylus compatible with the iPad, lined up togetherCredit: Apple / Logi / Zagg

The Apple Pencil is the most impactful iPad accessory for many people. It looks like a simple white stick but is so much more than the “dumb” styluses you’ll find online. That is also why the Pencil is rather expensive.

This stylus communicates with a layer in the iPad screen called a digitiser, and this lets it tell precisely how hard you are pressing down. It can also tell when the pen is tilted.

All of that doesn’t matter great deal if you’re scribbling down a shopping list, but it’s wonderful if you want to try digital drawing or painting using an app like Procreate. Over the years this combo, an iPad and Procreate, has become a favourite among professional and hobbyist artists.

Make sure you buy the right Apple Pencil, though. There are two generations. The 1st Gen Pencil supports the iPad 9th Generation and iPad 10th Generation. You need a 2nd Gen Pencil for all other models currently stocked by Apple. There’s no interoperability here, so double check before ordering.

What’s the difference? A first-generation Pencil uses a Lightning connector to charge, hidden under the cap at the end. Apple’s second-gen model uses wireless charging and has a virtual button, activated by double tapping the barrel. Handy.

The Logitech Crayon, Zagg Pro and Adonit Note styluses are some of the best Pencil alternatives, and they typically cost less.

They support tilt recognition and palm rejection, which stops your hand from activating the touchscreen as you write. But none of these offer pressure sensitivity. They are not a like-for-like match for an Apple Pencil.

2. Protective Case

Keep your iPad safe and looking new

Apple's official iPad cover in red next to a black Spigen rugged case.Credit: Apple / Spigen

A case is a must-have for any iPhone. It’s perhaps less essential for an iPad, but still recommended if you plan on using your tablet anywhere other than the sofa.

Apple’s own design is called the Smart Folio. It has made these things for years. A Smart Folio protects your tablet’s front and back, and the screen cover is made up of several panels, which can fold up to become a stand.

Magnets in the screen cover also put the tablet to sleep when the screen is covered, and wake it back up when you take it back off.

Looks great, feels great. What’s the catch? An Apple Smart Folio is quite expensive compared to the third-party alternatives, even real leather ones like those from Torro.

Other top names to check out include Targus, Speck, Casemate and Spigen. They also make cases roughly in the Smart Folio mould.

And if you plan to keep your iPad at home you might want to consider something like the Spigen Rugged Armor instead. It just protects the casing, not the screen, and this avoids you having to deal with the front flap whenever you pick the tablet up. 

3. Magic Keyboard / Keyboard Case

Enhance your typing experience

A white Apple Magic Keyboard connected to an iPad, on a white backgroundCredit: Apple

If you want to use your iPad like a laptop, for proper work, you can. However, we highly recommend using a keyboard accessory if that is the plan.

Apple makes brilliant iPad keyboards for the main ranges bar the iPad mini. They’re called Magic Keyboards, and offer the full laptop experience by incorporating a trackpad.

The versions for iPad Pro and Air even hold the tablet in mid-air, using magnets, for a more comfortable angle.

These cost a fair amount, though, and the cheaper Apple Smart Keyboard Folio is a good alternative for those who would rather spend less. They are more like folio cases that happen to have keyboards build into one panel, and there’s no touchpad.

Smart Keyboard accessories also lack key backlighting, which you do get in the Magic Keyboard models. It helps out if you need to type in the dark, or in a dim room.

There are, as usual, a bunch of more affordable alternatives. Head to the Logitech range first if you want something that looks similar to Apple’s Magic Keyboard.

The Logitech Combo Touch family has a more slightly more down-to-earth approach than the Magic Keyboard, using a part-silicone case that hugs the iPad’s body, but you do still get a touchpad and keyboard backlight.

Brydge’s Pro+ keyboards are among the most admired too. They use a slot-in mechanism, so you can completely detach the keyboard part when you don’t need it.

This is a great design if you will only occasionally want to treat your iPad like a laptop.

4. Longer Charging Cable

Top-up the battery with ease

iPads have great battery life. But no matter how low a gadget lasts, you will often find yourself picking it up only to find its charge level circling the drain. We’ve even experienced this with Garmin watches that last a month between charges.

The solution in the iPad’s case is to get any extra-long charge cable. A 1m cable is included with iPads, but this is not long enough to make use while charging comfortable in most situations. You end up leaning over the sofa arm just to keep it plugged-in.

If you have an iPad 9th Generation or a similar older model, it’s likely to have a Lightning connector. Apple makes a 2m cable, but if you go off-brand you can get a much longer one for much less. We find 3m to be an ideal length for care-free home use without leaving lots of loose cable.

Make sure you buy an MFi certified cable, though. This means it has been properly licensed to use the Lightning connector, which is proprietary Apple tech. Sometimes non-licensed Lightning accessories mysteriously stop working.

If you have one of the newer, or more expensive iPads, they are likely to have a USB-C connector. This is a universal standard, meaning long cables are extremely common and available for very little online. Hunt down a 3-5m USB-C to USB-C cable, preferably one certified to allow for power transfer of at least 40W.

5. Headphone Adapter

Keep using your current headphones

Apple's Headphone Adapter on a white backgroundCredit: Apple

Only one version of Apple’s iPad that is still sold new today has a headphone jack, the iPad 9th Generation with 10.2-inch screen.

It’s Apple’s not-so-subtle way of nudging you towards buying wireless headphones — preferably AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, no doubt.

However, you don’t have to play ball. An iPad can still output audio through its USB-C charge connector. And, contrary to some other comments we’ve made in this article, Apple’s USB-C audio adapter is very well-priced.

At £9 it barely costs more than some of the no-brand units you’ll find online. Its quality is excellent, able to provide a clean and great-sounding signal that can do justice to all but the most demanding of cabled headphones. A small investment that could save you hundreds of pounds.

6. AirPods

Sound anywhere, anytime

Apple's AirPods range lined up next to each otherCredit: Apple

AirPods have always paired rather nicely with iPads and iPhones, in a figurative and literal sense. They have Apple-made chips inside that sync up with your iPad so quickly and painlessly.

However, it was only in 2022 that Apple’s AirPods Pro had a shot at becoming a true “best in class” performer. These earphones sound fantastic, both balanced and energetic, and their active noise cancellation (ANC) is among the best we’ve heard in any style of headphone.

ANC decimates the low-frequency sound of busy roads, plain engines and the hubbub of an office, making almost any noisy space much more relaxing to be in.

Apple also makes non-Pro AirPods earphones, which don’t block your ears fully. You may prefer that less invasive feel, but they aren’t nearly as good in noisy environments and don’t sound as good as the AirPods Pro either.

The AirPods Max are Apple’s flagship pair. These are full-size headphones, large and highly recognisable. However, they sound great and last much longer off a charge: up to 20 hours when using ANC or spatial audio, which makes movie soundtracks and music sound more three dimensional.

Andrew Williams

Written by Andrew Williams he/him


Andrew Williams is a contributor to Exceptional. Andrew has been a technology journalist for more than a decade, writing thousands of articles on consumer advice, how tech is made and how it affects our lives.

He has covered cameras and fitness tech, mobile phones, laptops, gaming and more. Andrew has written for many of largest tech publications including Wired, TechRadar, What Hi-Fi, T3, Stuff, Forbes and others.

When not writing about the latest tech, Andrew likes to head out for a run, often with a fitness tracker on test. And he picks up a paint brush when a tech detox is in order.

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