Since the iPad Pro’s release I’ve been looking at Apple's new fondle slab with eyes of grabbing one in my next upgrade cycle. Dusting off my original iPad Air I wanted to see if I could do most of my daily computing tasks on the iPad. Hammering out long form text on the iPad might be ok for the new generations of bloggers whose keyboard experiences have started on glass, not forged in the experience of using mechanical keyboards from yesteryear, but it isn’t really for me.
If you are going to invest in a keyboard then it might as well be a good one, especially if it's going to be an everyday carry and a main workhorse. Enter the Brydge+ Bluetooth keyboard which has the option of bluetooth speakers built in.
An all aluminium construction, speakers and rechargeable batteries means Brydge+ will add a touch of bulk to your bag as on it own it weighs in at 1.15lbs (0.52kg). Combining with an iPad 2 brings the combined weight up to 2.46lbs (1.12kg), for iPad 3 and 4 2.46lbs (1.17kg). For comparison a Macbook weighs 2lbs, Macbook Air 2.5lbs and a non Retina Macbook Pro 13” 2.06 kg (4.5 pounds).
When the Mac first went to unibody aluminium construction a lot of people weren't happy with the sharp edges, whilst the Brydge+ does look fairly angular and somewhat unforgiving at first appearances, I have found it comfortable throughout many hours of continuous usage.
Recharging duties are taken care by a recessed micro usb slot on the side next to a clear power switch which flashes to let you know when you power on, power is running low and when the unit is ready for pairing. Battery life without using speakers has gone into months. Using the speaker’s battery life is a couple of days with moderate usage.
Up top those bluetooth speakers are nicely covered with a well machined speaker grille, more on the speakers later. Holding your iPad in place are two hinges which fold flat onto the Brydge and give an impressive, almost 180 degree viewing experience.
Rubber feet on the base down below prevent any slippage nicely, coping well nicely with angling for the best display view with those hinges.
Coming with three shims for the hinge grips the original Brydge supports all iPads from 1 to 4 and a separate model is available for iPad Air models. No word yet on a model for the Pro. Once the shims are installed and iPad slotted into place there's a firm but fair amount of grip. There's no feeling of it pinching the screen. It will keep your iPad secure if you hold it upside down but vigorous shaking will prove a bit too much.
So in terms of construction Brydge keyboards certainly set a standard that even Apple themselves could well approve of.
The Two Step Pairing Process
Both speaker and keyboard are treated as 2 separate devices. You might want to keep the manual handy if you opt for the original Brydge. Pairing the speakers is a process of pressing CMD + B for 4 seconds, waiting for 4 beeps, releasing that combination. This wakes up the speakers, to pair press CMD + B one more time and pair as normal.
For the keyboard its CMD + K. Thankfully Brydge’s website has a decent search engine and getting to those instructions is easy. Later versions have a dedicated pairing key.
Typing with the Brydge
To give a point of reference I normally use the full sized Apple keyboard or the Microsoft Universal keyboard.
Brydge sits between the 2 in terms of key size and key travel but has a much firmer push on the keys. This takes some momentary adjustment to get used to at the start but the bigger key size helps. Out of the box my accuracy was not that far off that of my everyday keyboard.
Whilst it is not the quietest keyboard out there, you do get a substantial sound to keypresses, it didn’t strike me as annoyingly or overly loud or distracting.
Matching the width of the iPad does mean the Brydge is a smidgen smaller than the Apple wireless keyboard. Yet it still gives a good enough amount of key spacing so fingers aren't crossing over whilst touch typing.
However there is one problem with the placement of one noticeable key that’s integrated into the OS. The lock screen key. Situated above the small yet often used backspace key it’s all too easy to lock the screen when trying to delete. At first this is a huge frustration but ultimately, after the umpteenth time, you learn the size and feel of the keys.
Being of a decent size and supporting Mac CMD, ALT and CTRL keys means working with text is a joyous affair, especially when copy and pasting gets involved. Above the main keys there are 14 functions keys which also act similarly to the native Mac experience. Keyboard access to task switching, brightness and iTunes controls have been used more often than I thought they would be.
The only downside seems to be that after upgrading to iOS 9.1 both the www and search buttons now take you to the iOS search instead of launching your browser of choice.
Brydge Bluetooth Speaker.
Brydge is available in 2 versions; with and without speakers. My review unit came with speakers and offers a vast improvement over the iPad’s feeble efforts as a speaker.
It's certainly louder and sounds better but it’s nothing to really write home about. Treble trills out any real bass, but for adding extra volume and an overall better sounding experience it does its job. For times when you want to watch videos with a decent amount of sound it does the job well enough and for me seemed better than my iPad’s sound output.
There is no denying how well built the Brydge keyboards are. Couple that with a rechargeable battery that lasts for an absolute age in just keyboard mode and you have a quality product. The bulk of they keyboard may dissuade some, but you have to take into account there needs to be some weight to stop the keyboard wanting to tip up when the iPad is at some of the more backwards leaning viewing angles. Having function keys is a joyous experience to boot. Finally more than once I’ve caught myself looking downwards between my palms for a trackpad.
I can only really criticise the Brydge+ for placing the small lock button right above the small backspace button.
The Brydge+ unit reviewed here has since been replaced by models for the iPad Air and iPad mini but worth hunting one down if you have a older generation of iPad. Ebay has them starting from £40.
Note: In order to save battery life the Bluetooth speakers do not automatically pair when the Brydge power is turned on and speakers will automatically turn off if they are disconnected from your iPad for a few minutes.