The iPad has a problem: typing on a touchscreen keyboard (and thereby losing half your viewing space) just isn’t that conducive to being productive. You can connect any Bluetooth keyboard, but then you have added complication of finding a case to prop up the iPad and all of extra things to carry around; or it only works when laying flat on a desk.
Brydge+ solves this problem, and more besides. With integrated Bluetooth speakers, a set of clamshell hinges that securely connect to your iPad, and iPad-specific function keys – you really aren’t going to find a better iPad keyboard.
The Brydge keyboard case began as a Kickstarter and went on to enormous success – 10 minutes alone with the product and you’ll see why. The Brydge+ we’re reviewing today is the option with speakers currently available for $99, a speakerless model for $89, and a plastic model for $79. There are less expensive alternatives such as the Snugg FlipStand Keyboard Case ($49), or the Kensington Keyfolio ($70), but neither is these is really suitable for use on your lap – a common situation when travelling. On the higher end of the market is the Logitech Fabric Skin, a water repellant keyboard and folio case ($120), though the particular style and feel of the keys won’t please everyone, it doesn’t have speakers, and the plastic locks break quickly according to many reports.
This review was written using the Brydge+ keyboard in an extended session of a few hours, to fully test comfort during prolonged use.
Inside the box you’ll find:
Brydge+ keyboard, already fitted with rubber clips for iPad 3rd and 4th generation
Case stickers to protect your case, if you wish
iPad 2 rubber clips (and a warning to check which iPad you have first)
Quick start guide, mainly about the process of initial pairing
The Brydge+ is beautiful, complimenting the iPad in every way it could; sleek brushed aluminium with matte black keys. The only thing that stands out to me is the oblong speaker grill – Apple would never have something so crass.
The iPad – second, third or fourth generation only (not iPad Air — you’ll need the $150 BrydgeAir) – slides into the keyboard through two hinges at the back. The hinges are strong, and can be fully extended all the way back so the iPad lies flat with the keyboard.
It can also be fully closed into a neat clamshell, then placed into the neoprene sleeve for easy transport. When in regular use, the back of iPad is fully exposed to anything it might encounter. For that reason, the Brydge isn’t suitable for general use around the home, particular if you’re sharing with kids.
Though held only by the friction from rubber inserts, it is surprisingly secure, but Brydge doesn’t recommend you carry it just by the keyboard. Use two hands to carry it around, and close the clamshell when possible.
Initial pairing of the keyboard is simple: turn on the device from the sliding switch at the side, and hit Control-K – you’ll then find it listed in the Bluetooth settings. Click to pair, and type in the code displayed. Done. There were no connection problems, and no need to pair again later.
The keys are satisfyingly solid, raised about 1.5mm from the metal casing, with pleasing tactility. If you’ve used other mobile keyboard in the past, particularly those atrocious Microsoft Surface rubbery things, you’ll really appreciate the quality of these. They’re only about 1mm smaller than a standard Apple keyboard and slightly more closely spaced, but you shouldn’t have any trouble adapting.
My one complaint is the small right-hand Shift key – it’s far too easy to hit the neighbouring up arrow instead, ruining the flow of typing. I can’t think of another design that would have worked in the same amount of space, but it’s a minor frustration none the less.
Finally, I’d say about 1 percent of key presses results in double characters – I believe this is quite typical with Bluetooth technology though and can depend upon interference.
After prolonged use typing out this review, I did feel a little finger strain, but nothing that short breaks between typing (which you should be doing anyway) wouldn’t deal with. One thing I can confidently say is that attempting to then compare to the on-screen keyboard was like day and night – it makes you wonder how anyone survives without one of these.
Pairing the built-in speaker is a separate process, and it doesn’t automatically reconnect in order to save on battery life. Hold Control-B for a second or two turns on the speaker, letting you know with a 4-tone sequence, but continue holding for longer and you’ll enter pairing mode, indicated by a 2-tone sequence. Timing it just right is a little difficult until you get the knack of it – often I would turn off the speaker, only to find I’d actually entered pairing mode.
On full volume, the Brydge+ speaker seems only slightly louder than the built-in iPad output – but completely lacking in bass or clarity. Tested against a third generation iPad, I’ve got to honest here: I actually preferred the iPad built-in output, which does appear to have an overall warmer, rounder quality of sound. The Brydge+ speaker is an afterthought, with the only discernible benefit being that you’re saving your main iPad battery and using the power from the Brydge+ instead.
Function Keys, and iOS7
A row of function keys along the top will be instantly familiar to Mac users:
Volume and media controls
Show / hide on-screen keyboard
Keyboard language input switch – though I did initially think this was a Safari / Internet quick launch key, which would have been infinitely more useful.
Sadly, the search and photo slideshow functions were removed in iOS7 (or at least, the commands to launch them were removed, obviously iOS 7 still has a search feature and can still display slideshows). Even more disappointing was that there is no mention of this on the product support site or FAQ. The rest of the commands function fine, and I hope that with the coming extensibility APIs of iOS 8, the other features can perhaps return (or even be reprogrammable).
The Brydge+ iPad keyboard also functions like a smart case: closing it automatically locks the screen, and automatically unlocks when opening.
Frustratingly, there’s still no way to task switch other than to double tap the home button and scroll through apps with your fingers. No Command-Tab; not even the arrow keys to select a window or Enter to switch – it must all be done through touch gestures.
Is It Right for You?
From the perspective of giving you an easy way to type accurately and at a reasonably normal speed, the Brydge+ keyboard works wonders and feels great. However, adding a decent keyboard to the iPad – which looks and feels not dissimilar to my MacBook Air – has its own drawbacks.
Upon first use, I instinctively reached for a trackpad, and upon finding none, spent a good few seconds wondering how I was supposed to move my mouse cursor down to Safari without one; followed by even more seconds wondering where my cursor has gone. Yes, I am that stupid. For me, the Brydge+ “bridged” the gap between iPad and full laptop just a little too much – so much so that instead of feeling more productive for having a keyboard on my iPad, I now felt cheated for not having more laptop features. When all I had was a touchscreen, it was easy to accept certain limitations; now I want more.
If you spend a good deal of time just responding to emails on your iPad, you’ll love the Brydge+. I haven’t even mentioned that there are a few great keyboard shortcuts specific to Mail so you can essentially leave the touchscreen alone – and you’ll appreciate them for sure. If you travel a lot and despise having to take both your iPad and laptop, the Brydge+ may be the one killer device that will allow you to finally leave your laptop behind.
The speaker functionality however, is just not worth it unless you really want to sacrifice quality of sound for battery life. I’d recommend buying the standard, speakerless Brydge+ model and not the Brydge+ with speakers, which are otherwise identical.
People have landed some well-deserved criticism at the iPad before as being unable to replace a laptop; the Brydge+ keyboard equips your iPad to do just that, but is still held back by Apple limitations.
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it – but get the standard model without speaker and save $10.
How do I win the Brydge+ keyboard?
You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning! You will receive 5 additional entries into the giveaway for every successful referral via your shared links.
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This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, July 18. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email. View the list of winners here.
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