We love our tablets, and have reviewed models including early iPad wannabes, e-readers, and great Android models, but as convenient as tablets are for some tasks, many of us still find them vexing to use for serious typing or entering of text and data. What else explains the multitudes of keyboards and cases available for them? We have tested keyboards in the past, but the approach taken by a small kickstarter.com-funded startup in creating the original Brydge keyboard for the iPad was unique. It claims to bridge the gap between an iPad and an Apple MacBook Air. In April 2014 Brydge was acquired, a new management team installed, and Brydge has been rapidly growing ever since. Originally their keyboards were only available by direct sales, now they state that you can find their products in more than 2,000 retail locations worldwide, both in-store and online, bringing a new level of customer support.
When we first tested the original Brydge+ in 2013, we noted that it sported a beautifully designed and constructed full-sized aerospace-grade aluminum keyboard with a pair of optional integrated stereo speakers. We are happy to say that it’s still built to the same, if not higher standards. To connect the keyboard to your iPad, there is a simple (why didn’t I think of that?) patent-pending hinge that grips your iPad securely with rubber pads that also allow you to remove it instantly without marring the surface. This click-in hinge allows for close to 180 degrees of iPad positioning and holds your iPad secure, and the iPad goes to sleep when closed up against it. In our tests with the new model the iPad didn’t shake free once adjusted, but it first required bending the hinge clips a bit closer to tighten up the fit. We would love to see another set of rubber pads that are just a smidgen thicker to accommodate the extra gap. Before we tightened the hinges, the iPad fit loose enough to fall out, so a bit of a tweaking is in order before use.
Aesthetically, the Brydge's aluminum body is machined and anodized to a high-level of fit and finish so that it matches the look, feel, and quality of the iPad. Their site states that “When paired together, Brydge and your iPad appear to be two parts of the same device, blending style and functionality seamlessly.” a claim that we found true in practice. Several of our colleagues at a recent conference wanted to look at our reduced-size MacBook Air, only to be surprised to find it was an iPad paired with the Brydge 9.7. Most convincingly, everyone agreed it felt superior when compared to competing devices, with the keyboard action secure and providing just the right amount of resistance and stiffness. The speakers, while not designed to shake the room, were a subtle improvement upon the inadequate speaker design of the iPad.
When I initially grabbed the original unit to test on a short trip, I inadvertently left the user guide behind at home. I’d forgotten how to sync it to the iPad, so I headed to their site, downloaded the user guide and read the two necessary key combinations to sync the keyboard and the speakers. The new improved model doesn’t require a code, and has a speaker key that sets up the pairing, and there is now a pairing button for the keyboard, so no codes needed, a welcome improvement. Battery power seemed to go on forever, unless you use the speakers that will lower the battery length. Our other request for the original model was for a discreet battery indicator to let us know when it’s time to charge it, that too has been addressed by a battery button that indicates charge condition.
We were delighted to see backlit keys added to the unit, and it’s available in three colors: Silver, Space Gray, and Gold. For users of the original model one of the most welcome fixes are to the old lock device key, which was located at the top right of the keyboard, and it was really easy to inadvertently hit the key, locking the iPad in the middle of whatever you were doing. That troublesome key has been relocated on the new units, as has the layout of the arrow keys, which was an annoyance on the original model, both are huge improvements. In keeping with the iPad Air smaller bezel size and outside dimensions, the new Brydge 9.7 keyboard is smaller, and the speakers are now small grills on the back edge, and the harder edges of the original units are now smooth gentle curves.
The Brydge 9.7 isn’t inexpensive ($149 currently) but with the level of it's fit and finish isn't out-of-line, and to meet the needs of folks wanting a lower priced option for older iPad’s such as the iPad 2, 3, & 4, they have the Brydge+ Polycarbonate, made of a sturdy polycarbonate composite instead of aluminum, with a current price of $79.99. They have other models to fit the Mini, and both sizes of the iPad Pro.
We heartily recommend the Brydge 9.7 as one of those “I-can’t-imagine-how-I-lived-without-it” accessories for your iPad. It serves not only to protect your iPad with hard, beautifully finished metal shell, but the integrated speakers and keyboard really help to realize the potential of the tablet, with the advantages of the iOS, but without the expense of the different computing approach of the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. We love the sophistication and standards they applied to the design, and refinements to their original design. Even with the various keyboards out there, including Apple’s own, everywhere we go with the unit we find ourselves as Brydge evangelists – everyone wants to try it out and learn where to get more information. The Brydge 9.7 iPad Keyboard is highly recommended.
Harris Fogel and Nancy Burlan, posted 11/26/16
For more information on Brydge Keyboards visit: https://www.brydgekeyboards.com