About 8 months ago, a new project showed up on Kickstarter, The Brydge Keyboard, that excited a LOT of people. The founders, Brad Leong and Sam Gordon, initially requested a funding target of $90k and a little over a month later, they ended up raising $800k. The Brydge intended to bridge the gap between laptops and tablets by creating a keyboard case with a hinge that let you use your iPad at any angle. By combining the keyboard and the case, The Brydge eliminated the need for extra components, bags, and cables. When the project launched, the team planned on creating 2 aluminum models, one with speakers and one without, but after funding was achieved, they decided to add a third - a black polycarbonate blend that included speakers, but at a lower price point (apparently aerospace-grade aluminum is expensive). The Brydge website describes it best - "Brydge™ is an elegant solution to the lack of quality iPad keyboards and accessories currently on the market. A full-sized aerospace-grade aluminum keyboard with optional stereo speakers, Brydge connects to your iPad using a patent-pending hinge. This click-in hinge allows for close to 180 degrees of iPad positioning and holds your iPad secure." Since I heard about the project, I knew I needed to get my hands on one, and last week, my wish was granted - I received one aluminum and one polycarbonate and have been extensively using them since.
The Brydge relies on rubber shims in the clamp/hinge to hold the iPad in with friction. The shim design was chosen to future-proof the keyboard as, more than likely, Apple will continue to make iPad's thinner, and a new thicker shim can be installed for future models. The Brydge ships with shims installed for the iPad 2, and a set of replacements for the iPad 3/4. I quickly removed the installed shims and started the somewhat painful process of removing the paper and sticky residue from the clamp. I ended up using a toothpick and it definitely helped. And while I complain that it was somewhat painful, it really only took 5 minutes and is a small price to pay for future compatibility - something you don't get with most electronics. The fit is perfectly snug and the iPad doesn't budge once installed. The hinge also has the perfect stiffness - once you adjust it to your desired angle, it stays put even when tapping on-screen or playing a game. The Brydge also takes advantage of the iPad auto-wake/sleep and activates when opened or closed.
Pairing the keyboard takes flipping a small switch on and pressing "Ctrl-K", then entering a 4 digit code displayed on the iPad. The keyboard automatically turns itself off after a few minutes of idle time, and quickly turns back on when you press a key. The Brydge team claims a few months of battery life with normal use, and while I can't attest to that yet, I have no reason to doubt their claims given typical battery life of other bluetooth keyboards (i'll report back in a few months if I see anything different). The keyboard itself is chiclet style and pretty well spaced given its form-factor. I have 2 gripes with the keyboard layout - the "Lock" key is right above backspace, and the right "Shift" is small and to the right of the "Up" arrow. I found myself accidentally hitting lock several times when trying to erase something. People who regularly use it will quickly adjust their keyboard muscle memory, but it is a little annoying at first. Overall as a keyboard, it does what it is supposed to do - it types, it contains a row of function keys that serve as iPad shortcuts, and it provides a good amount of resistance when typing. After a day of use, I had no problems adjusting and my accuracy was drastically improved over the on-screen keyboard.
The speakers are OK - they are stereo speakers that sound better than the built-in ones, but are nothing to get too excited about. They don't turn on automatically with the keyboard to save battery, but a quick key combo activates them. I personally wouldn't pay extra for them, but the polycarbonate one comes with them at no extra charge.
Now the real feature that sets the Brydge apart from the prior bluetooth keyboards I've used is the hinge. It is AWESOME. I am able to move the iPad to any angle I want, which is really convenient since I frequently watch movies in bed and have never found a case with the perfect angle. It also lets me adjust to deal with glare. The build quality feels very strong and I have no doubts that it will continue to provide a strong and sturdy hold on my iPad.
The clamp with the shims installed grips the iPad very well and doesn't make me nervous about scratches or dings from insertion or removal. I'm able to pick up the iPad with the keyboard attached and it doesn't budge. The team recommends not holding it upside down by the keyboard, but it certainly seems like it would be a strong enough grip.
- Adjustable hinge for use at any angle
- "Future-proof" shim design for next generation iPads
- Function-key shortcuts
- Good key-spacing
- Solid build quality
- Placement of lock key
- Size of right shift
So everything above applies to both the aluminum and polycarbonate models, but now a few notes about differences between the two. Both models feel well constructed, but the aluminum feels much more "Apple". Don't get me wrong - both look and work great, but the aluminum can really be mistaken for an Apple accessory, and several people have asked me about my new MacBook Air. If you don't care about the aesthetics, the black would be a great choice - especially since it is $30 cheaper than the model without speakers and $70 cheaper than the aluminum with speakers. There is currently a holiday sale with the following pricing:
Brydge+ (with speakers): $210
Brydge Polycarbonate: $130
If I could only recommend one of the three, I'd say Brydge+ without speakers, but really, if this is something you are looking for, you'll be happy with any of the three! Order one today and drop me an email if you'd like more pictures or have any questions!