By Jason Snell
January 27, 2017 11:37 AM PT
Brydge Keyboard 12.9 Review: Closer to iPad keyboard perfection
I’ve been struggling to find the perfect 12.9-inch iPad Pro keyboard. The Razer Mechanical, Logitech Create, and Apple Smart Keyboard all have issues that prevent me from endorsing them. The big screen is why I love the big iPad, but its surface area makes it tough to match with a keyboard that’s functional and not bulky. Generally, I’ve been traveling with an Apple Magic Keyboard and the Studio Neat Canopy.
But I think I’ve found the best external keyboard yet for the 12.9-inch iPad: the $150 Brydge Keyboard 12.9. It’s not perfect, but it’s the first external keyboard that I can see myself using on a regular basis.
The Brydge keyboard is an aluminum-bodied Bluetooth keyboard with the same surface area as the iPad Pro. At the top of the keyboard, there are two padded hinges into which you slide the iPad Pro. Once the two devices are attached, the iPad Pro is effectively a 13-inch laptop, albeit one with a touchscreen and no trackpad.
Here are the ways that the Brydge keyboard excels over other keyboards I’ve tried:
Ease of attachment/removal. The Logitech Create keyboard will also turn your iPad into a laptop, but snapping the iPad into the case takes time and effort, as does extracting it. I never want to commit to my iPad remaining a laptop for an extended period of time—if I want to go keyboardless, I want to be able to do it in a heartbeat. Inserting the iPad into the hinge clips on the Brydge takes a little training, but after I’d tried it a couple of times I could do it in seconds. Removing the iPad is even easier.
Works in your lap. A lot of tablet keyboards use the “kickstand” method for stability on flat surfaces—a support extends out from the back of the tablet, rather than the L shape you’d find in a laptop. The result is that these keyboards work well on tables and desks, but not on laps, where they tend to be unstable at best and unusable at worst. The Brydge keyboard works like a laptop, with all the support coming from the heavy-duty hinges and the weight of the keyboard body itself.
Adjustable viewing angle. Some keyboards and cases, including the Logitech Create and the Studio Neat Canopy, are limited to a single viewing angle. That’s great if it’s the perfect angle for you, but the Brydge hinges let you move the iPad screen a full 180 degrees, so you can pick the angle that works for you at any given moment. Just like a laptop.
A good keyboard. The Brydge Keyboard’s keys are very much in the style of the previous generation of Apple laptop keys, like those still found on the MacBook Air. I’m a big fan of that keyboard style, so this works for me. The keyboard also features a full row of function keys (unlike the Apple Smart Keyboard), and three levels of keyboard backlighting.
Color matched and lid closed. The Brydge keyboards are sheathed in aluminum and come in all the same colors as the iPad Pro, so my Space Gray keyboard matches my Space Gray iPad. When I close the “lid”—put my iPad against the top of the keyboard—the two sides come together perfectly and resemble nothing more than a closed 13-inch laptop.
I didn’t find weight to be an issue. Like the Logitech Create, the Brydge Keyboard weighs about 1.6 pounds, roughly the same weight as the iPad Pro itself. When connected together, it’s a 3.2-pound “laptop.” When I want something lighter, I remove the iPad and walk away.
There are, however, a few things that prevent me from declaring the Brydge the perfect 12.9-inch iPad Pro keyboard.
My biggest complaint is the lack of an escape key. Believe it or not, just as on the Mac, you can tap the escape key on iOS to cancel out of various states, including Spotlight searches. I didn’t realize I used that key a lot on my Magic Keyboard with the Canopy until switching to the Brydge. Brydge offers a Home key, Lock key, and even a Siri key, but I’d easily trade one of them for a proper escape key.
This is a Bluetooth keyboard, so it doesn’t use the Smart Connector on the iPad Pro. As a result, you need to occasionally charge it via a micro-USB cable. The battery life of the keyboard seems quite good, though it’ll be reduced somewhat if you use the backlighting. I don’t think occasionally recharging a keyboard is a big deal, so this didn’t bother me.
While it’s not a big deal for me, some people are sticklers for device protection. While I’d have no problem putting this set-up in a backpack or shoulder bag, it’s worth noting that the Brydge keyboard does not provide any protection for the back of the iPad, and because of the way the hinges are constructed, you can’t use it if your iPad is in a case.
But my biggest caveat with the Brydge keyboard is not the keyboard itself, but a lack of consistency in the manufacturing process. The first keyboard I bought from Brydge just didn’t work—it dropped characters even at slow typing speeds. A second model, shipped to me as a replacement, showed the same problem. All the while, Brydge customer support was responsive and helpful, and on the third try I got a working model. In the end, it all worked out—and at no extra cost to me—but it left me a little uneasy.
Still, here’s where I am now: I can slip my iPad Pro into the Brydge Keyboard and it’s suddenly a laptop, ready for me to write an article (like this one) or revise a novel or anything else that requires a whole lot of words. I can pull the iPad out of the keyboard in a second and walk away with an unencumbered tablet. That’s the combination I’ve been looking for. I’ll keep my eye out for perfection, but in the meantime I’ll be using the Brydge keyboard as my iPad keyboard of choice.
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