By Jason Snell
December 28, 2018 11:24 AM PT
Hands on with the Brydge 12.9 Pro keyboard
iPads with new shapes usually require new accessories. While I’ve been writing on my new iPad Pro with Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of a new version of my go-to travel keyboard for iPad, from Brydge. It’s a Bluetooth keyboard that’s designed like the bottom half of a laptop, with a couple of clips into which you slide the iPad Pro.
While the new $170 Brydge 12.9 Pro keyboard isn’t yet shipping, the company sent me a prototype to use for a week. It’s going to be hard to send it back and wait for the final version to ship in early spring. It’s the same great laptop-style experience, in a new smaller design that’s shaped like the new iPad Pro itself.
Why not get a laptop?
When I write about the Brydge keyboard, the question I get most often is, “Why turn your iPad into a laptop instead of getting a laptop?”
To steal a phrase from John Siracusa, my favorite thing about the iPad is that it’s a naked robotic core—in this case, a 12.9-inch touchscreen and powerful computer all in a single metal and glass slab. I can pair that device with other accessories to make it into anything I want.
If I’m working at my kitchen counter, I’ll stick it in a stand resembling an iMac foot and pair it with a USB or Bluetooth keyboard. If I’m looking for something relatively thin and light that still lets me type when I need to, I can add the Smart Keyboard folio. If I want to just sit on the couch and look up actors on IMDB while reading Twitter, I’ll use it completely unadorned. In moments, a single iPad Pro can be a desktop or laptop or tablet.
And sometimes I want my iPad Pro to be a full-on laptop, one I can use in my lap with the same kind of stability as I’d find on a MacBook Pro. And I want to set the display—in this case, the iPad itself—at whatever angle I want. When I’m done, I can turn my iPad back into a tablet instantly just by pulling it out of the Brydge Keyboard.1
This is the configuration I use to work at my local cafe, and it’s generally what I travel with. Again, it’s easy to pull my iPad out and use it a tablet most of the time—and I do—but when it’s time to get down to writing, the Brydge Keyboard comes out and my iPad becomes a laptop.
The perfect sandwich
When you think about it, a laptop is a little like a sandwich.2 It’s got a top part and a bottom part and they go together. A sandwich where the top and bottom pieces of bread don’t match would be inconceivable! So Brydge’s challenge in designing the Bryge 12.9 Pro (and its $150 11-inch counterpart, which I didn’t get to test) is to match the design language of the new iPad Pro.
The result is solid. The front curves are round, and the edges are straight. When the iPad is closed against the keyboard, the two sides meet harmoniously, looking like some sort of weird new Apple laptop. As on previous Brydge keyboards, the anodized aluminum of the keyboard has been matched to the color of the iPad.
To attach the iPad to the Brydge 12.9 Pro, you slide it into two hinged clips covered with rubber padding. As with previous models, it takes a little practice to get the feel right. My main concern once the new iPad Pro was unveiled was if Brydge would be able to design a clip small enough to only cover the iPad’s much smaller bezels that also held the iPad securely. I’m happy to report that the answer is yes—there’s enough room and once the iPad is attached, the connection feels solid.
The clips are the same size front and back, meaning you can remove the iPad, flip it around, and insert it back into the clips to use the Brydge as a “movie mode” stand, or even fold it down and use it as a double-thick, double-weight tablet. (I don’t really see the appeal, but Brydge says that some customers requested it.)
In a nice touch, the Brydge 12.9 Pro comes with a slight indentation at the bottom of the wrist-rest space (below where a trackpad would be, if it had a trackpad). This creates a natural lifting point to open the “laptop”, which was sometimes tricky on the previous models.
As with previous Brydge keyboards, when you open the iPad, the bottom edge of the clips are below the flat bottom of the keyboard case, so the keyboard will slope up slightly—and if it’s on your lap, you’ll notice those clips, though it doesn’t affect in-lap stability.
Brydge recently updated its previous-generation keyboards and so far as I can tell, that technology has been brought forward into this keyboard. The keys are backlit, full-sized and offer a good amount of travel, more than you’ll get on a modern Apple laptop. The reduction in the size of the iPad hasn’t hurt the keyboard at all, since the previous 12.9 keyboard had empty space to the left and right of the keys. And unlike Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio, the Brydge 12.9 Pro has a full function row, letting you adjust brightness (of both the iPad and the keyboard’s backlighting) and volume, control media playback, and access the home screen or lock the iPad.
I wrote numerous articles—including this one—on the Brydge 12.9 Pro, and it was an enjoyable experience that wasn’t appreciably different from how I used the previous-generation model. Using the iPad Pro in a Brydge 12.9 Pro keyboard gives you what you’d expect from a MacBook—except, in my opinion, the Brydge’s keys are better. (The key layout too, since the arrow keys are a true inverted T, so it’s easy to orient by feel.)
The reduced size of the keyboard also means it weighs less than the previous generation. This model weighs 635g (1.4 pounds), essentially identical to the weight of the iPad itself. When joined with the iPad, you’ve got a 2.8-pound 13-inch laptop—lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. (The previous-generation 12.9-inch Brydge keyboard weighed 715g, meaning the pair together weighed 3.2 pounds. This is better.)
One difference is the charging port on the Brydge 12.9 Pro, which has been updated to be a USB-C plug for obvious reasons. I tend not to use backlighting and didn’t get a chance to test battery life on this model, but in general I’ve found that Brydge’s keyboards last a long, long time between charges. Occasionally I remember to charge my keyboard and it never runs down. I’d imagine that this model will perform similarly. (Brydge says that you will be able to plug in a USB-C cable to the iPad and the keyboard and type using the USB-C connection, though that feature wasn’t enabled on the device I tested.)
In a twist, Brydge is adding protection for the iPad’s back surface. The company says it’s making a leather magnetic cover that will snap on the back of the device, offering scratch protection. It’s a nice idea, though I have stowed past iPad Pros in bags while attached to Brydge keyboards, and they’ve never experienced any harm.
Another way this keyboard resembles the iPad Pro it’s paired with is in terms of pricing—both sizes of Brydge Pro keyboards cost $20 more than their previous-model counterparts. But I will point out that both of these sturdy, anodized aluminum laptop keyboards are still cheaper than their Apple Smart Keyboard Folio counterparts.
It’s all in how you use it
Whether the Brydge 12.9 Pro keyboard will be the right choice of accessories to pair with your iPad Pro’s naked robotic core really depends on how you plan on using it. I have spent a couple of decades writing on laptops, and expect a stable laptop-style typing surface that can sit in my lap or on a desk or table.
While the Smart Keyboard Folio is more stable in a lap than its predecessor, it’s not as stable as the Brydge 12.9 Pro, nor is it as enjoyable to type on. It’s lighter, I’ll grant you, and if I needed to carry an iPad keyboard everywhere I went, I’d probably give the Smart Keyboard Folio strong consideration.
For me, however, the appeal of writing on a laptop keyboard that’s solid and stable in my lap is just too great. And that’s why I’ll be excited to use this new Brydge keyboard when the real version ships early this spring.
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