By Jason Snell
May 7, 2019 9:42 AM PT
Review: Brydge Pro 12.9 keyboard
I’ve spent six months using the 2018 iPad Pro with Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio and a collection of external USB and Bluetooth mechanical keyboards. The Smart Keyboard Folio has been a solid traveling companion, and it’s a major improvement over the old thick two-layer Smart Keyboard, but I’ve missed what I had on the older iPad Pro, namely the laptop-style keyboard from Brydge that let me convert my iPad into a laptop shape when I needed it.
Six months into the life of the iPad Pro, Brydge’s new iPad Pro keyboards are finally starting to arrive. Back in December I briefly got my hands on a preproduction model, and two weeks ago I received one of the first $170 12.9-inch units off the production line and have been using it on and off since then. (There’s also a $150 11-inch version, which I haven’t used.)
While it’s taken me some time to adapt to some of the changes Brydge has made, I’m happy to report that this is still the best option for people who want the full laptop typing experience on an iPad Pro.
Why not get a laptop?
When I write about iPad keyboards, the question I get most often is, “Why turn your iPad into a laptop instead of getting a laptop?” If you want my answer, check out the “Why not get a laptop?” section in my December 2018 story about the Brydge Pro keyboard.
As I wrote back in December, a laptop is a sandwich 1, and Apple’s redesign of the iPad Pro means that Brydge had to redesign the Brydge Pro to match. They’ve done a good job. When the iPad is closed against the keyboard, the two sides meet harmoniously, looking like a curvy new Apple laptop. As on previous Brydge keyboards, the anodized aluminum of the keyboard has been matched to the color of the iPad (space gray or silver finishes are available).
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. The clips are much smaller than on previous models (owing to the reduced bezels on the iPad Pro itself), making them a bit harder to fold in and out by hand. But they’re able to hold the iPad securely and it’s still easy to slide the iPad and and out of the clips, so you can convert the iPad from a laptop to a tablet and back again in a few seconds.
Like a good laptop, 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 combined “laptop”, which was sometimes tricky on the previous models.
As with previous Brydge keyboards, the hinge is all the way at the back of the keyboard, just like it would be on a laptop. When you open up the iPad, the bottom edge of the clips pivot to slightly below the flat bottom of the keyboard case. This will make the keyboard slope up slightly on a flat surface—and if it’s on your lap, you’ll notice those clips resting on your legs, though I found that it doesn’t affect in-lap stability.
The Apple Pencil charging area sits at the top of the iPad when it’s in laptop configuration, so you can dock your Pencil there while you work. When you close the laptop, the pencil can remain attached and charging.
The reduced dimensions of the iPad Pro mean that the Brydge Pro weighs less than previous generation models. This model weighs 707g (1.56 pounds), slightly heavier than the iPad itself. When joined with the iPad, you’ve got a 2.95-pound 13-inch laptop—slightly lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
The Brydge 12.9 Pro charges via a USB-C plug, matching the iPad Pro. 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 very long time between charges. Occasionally I remember to charge my keyboard, and it never runs down.
In a twist, Brydge has added protection for the iPad Pro’s back surface via a magnetic cover that snaps to the magnets Apple included on the iPad Pro. It’s a simple way to improve the look and feel of the device, and made my iPad look more like a laptop from some mysterious new company (there’s a Brydge logo on the cover) rather than an iPad with a sideways Apple logo.
Like the iPad Pro itself, these new Brydge keyboards are more expensive than their predecessors, in this case by $20. But they’re still cheaper than the equivalent Apple Smart Keyboard Folios, believe it or not.
How does it type?
The Brydge Pro’s keys are backlit, full-sized and offer a good amount of travel, slightly less than on a classic MacBook keyboard but quite a bit more than on the current Apple laptops. The keys are full sized, offer a full function row (with dedicated keys for Home, Lock, backlighting adjustment, show/hide keyboard, media control, and more), and the arrow keys come in a familiar inverted-T design. I really missed that row of function keys on Apple’s Smart Folio, and it’s a pleasure to once again be able to quickly adjust screen brightness or music volume without taking my hands off the keyboard.
The typing feel of the new keyboard is definitely different than the previous model. The keys themselves have a textured feel, rather than the smooth keycaps of old. (I prefer the smoother feel, if I’m being honest.) While it’s not a perfect comparison, I’d say that the new keyboard feels a little more like typing on Apple’s Magic Keyboard, while the older model felt like a clone of the keyboard on my old 11-inch MacBook Air.
Regardless, I was able to type at full speed on the Brydge keyboard, up to 120 words per minute, without any problems. Adapting from using the Smart Keyboard Folio took some time, however—that keyboard is so thin that I had to train myself to reduce the amount of force I was using to press down keys—so when I started with the Brydge keyboard, I was failing to depress keys properly! After a couple of days I was back in the swing of things, typing like a laptop user instead of an iPad user. This is more my speed, anyway.
Timing is everything
If I’ve got a complaint about this keyboard, it’s about the fact that we’ve had to wait six months for it to arrive. Anyone who has been using an iPad Pro for writing the past six months has had to find another solution in the interim. The good news is, I’d imagine that the iPad Pro’s size and shape probably won’t change again for a little while, so this product can have a long life as a good option for iPad Pro users.
There’s just one little wrinkle: Federico Viticci’s tidbit that iOS 13 may add support for external pointing devices. This gives me pause, because the one thing that would be a better partner for my iPad than than the Brydge Pro would be a newer model of Brydge Pro that included a trackpad, like the company’s Surface Pro keyboards. If I’m going to occasionally make my iPad behave like a laptop, why not go all the way? On the other hand, I don’t want to wait another six months.
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.
The Logitech Slim Folio Pro, on the other hand, might offer a slightly nicer keyboard than the Brydge, but it’s a part of a quite bulky case with a not-quite-laptop design that requires you to laboriously insert and remove your iPad Pro. The beauty of the Brydge keyboard is that you can turn your iPad into a laptop and transform it back into a tablet in moments. To me, that’s the perfect combination, and that’s why I think the Brydge Pro keyboard is the right choice for people who want to get some serious typing done on the iPad Pro while on the go.
Please, nobody mention hot dogs. ↩
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