The whole purpose of clip-on iPad keyboards is to make this tablet function like a laptop. The Brydge series takes that idea and runs with it: it does everything possible to make the iPad into MacBook.
This company — also called Brydge — just released an improved version of its eponymous keyboard for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Don’t miss our hands-on review.
Brydge 12.9 Series II Review
A MacBook has a clamshell design, and the Brydge 12.9 Series II mimics that. It attaches to Apple’s largest iPad so that together they make a traditional laptop shape.
The accessory manages this with a brilliant pair of clips that also function as hinges. These hold the tablet securely, while also rotating 180º, mimicking the design of a laptop.
The clips are padded, so they didn’t scratch our test iPad. And they didn’t let it slip out, either. Even so, the tablet can be removed with a just couple of quick tugs for times the keyboard is in the way, like when writing on the screen with an Apple Pencil, or reading ebooks.
Brydge doesn’t suggest this, but we also tried removing the iPad from the clips, flipping it around, and then re-inserting in. This puts the combination in a “cinema mode,” convenient for watching TV or movies on the large display. The reason it’s not recommended by the designers is the clips cover the lower left and right corners of the display when arranged this way (and only this way). However, we found this configuration useful.
The accessory needs to match to color of your iPad Pro to mimic a MacBook. That’s why Brydge offers it in Silver, Space Grey, and Gold. Our test unit is Space Grey, and it matches the tablet’s casing color perfectly. You’d think they were made together.
The disadvantage of a clamshell design is that the base has to be weighty enough to support the display when it’s leaning back past 90º. Otherwise it flops over. That means the Brydge 12.9 Series II has to be 1.7 lbs., for a total of 3.2 lbs. when connected to the iPad.
But it’s quite slim. Just half an inch thick. Together with Apple’s tablet they’re about 0.8 inches.
Brydge 12.9 Series II Keyboard
The big screen on the iPad makes room for a keyboard. The key area is 10.75 inches wide, just slightly smaller than a typical 11-inch desktop one.
The Brydge 12.9 Series II has five rows of letter and number keys, and a sixth row of iOS function keys. Most keys are 0.6 inches square, and there’s 0.15 inches of space between them. That’s quite similar to a desktop keyboard. We asked people with a range of hand sizes to try our test unit, and none had problems with touchtyping.
That said, key travel is minimal: a mere 1.5 mm. It’s a much better experience than entering text on the iPad screen, but each key depresses far less than a typical desktop equivalent.
The function keys are very handy. There’s a replacement for the Home button, and you can adjust the iPad’s backlight, and start/stop music you have playing in the background.
Brydge included backlights on the keys so you can work in dim areas, like airplane cabins and classrooms. These are white, and light up all six rows of keys very well.
Anyone who wants to truly replace their MacBook with an iPad Pro is probably wondering about the trackpad. Unfortunately, iOS simply doesn’t support this type of input device, so there’s no point in Brydge putting one in.
Speaking of Apple’s design limitations, the Smart Connector added to the Pro line for external keyboards just isn’t flexible enough for this keyboard. It’s at the hinge, and Brydge tells me they just couldn’t come up with a design that kept a solid connection. So the company had to use Bluetooth instead.
This isn’t a serious problem: most add-on keyboards also use Bluetooth. And this accessory uses Bluetooth 4.1 for easier pairing. The necessary built-in battery is rated for months of use.
Brydge 12.9 Series II Conclusion
There’s probably never going to be a MacBook with a touchscreen. But you can get somewhat close with an iPad Pro connected to a Brydge 12.9 Series II.
We wish Brydge could have found a way to use the Smart Connector rather than Bluetooth. And we’d love a version with a built-in battery that could recharge the iPad.
This is a premium accessory, and is priced to match. It comes in at $149.99. There are certainly cheaper options that that, but Brydge’s offering isn’t out of line with other top-tied add-on keyboards: the Apple Smart Keyboard for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is $169, for example.