Review: BrydgeAir keyboard makes your iPad Air feel like a 'MacBook mini'

Posted:
in iPad edited July 2015
iPad Air 1 & 2 owners looking for a quick and easy way to turn their tablet into a MacBook-style, lap-friendly portable computer need look no further than the new backlit BrydgeAir keyboard -- a well-built, well-designed productivity accessory.




The Brydge for iPad has been around for a few years, but the aluminum unibody Bluetooth accessory has just been given a thinner and lighter redesign intended to complement Apple's iPad Air and new iPad Air 2. The newly launched BrydgeAir comes with the keyboard itself in the box, along with a flat micro USB cable for recharging and simple setup instructions.

Retailing for $169, the BrydgeAir includes a full array of keys, including numbers, arrows, and a row of iPad-specific functions including brightness, search, home button, media controls, volume and more. It's also backlit.

In addition to including physical keyboard controls, the BrydgeAir also includes a separate Bluetooth radio for enhanced audio. Much like Apple's MacBook Pro, the keyboard's speakers are hidden behind the unit, and project off of the bottom of the iPad when docked.


Left: An iPad Air with the BydgeAir. Right: A 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display.


A sample BrydgeAir intended to match Apple's white and aluminum iPad Air 1 and 2 was provided to AppleInsider for review. Another version made for Apple's space gray iPad Air models is also available for $169, while a gold version carries a $20 premium.

And yes, we typed this entire review on the BrydgeAir with an iPad Air and Apple's Pages word processing application.

Design and setup




The design of the BrydgeAir mirrors the iPad Air, in an effort to make the two devices seem as complementary of one another as possible. This is especially evident when the iPad is "docked" in the keyboard and closed, clamshell style.

Looking at it from the side, the volume buttons and lock switch on the iPad Air rest opposite identical-looking buttons on the keyboard, albeit with very different functions. On the BrydgeAir, the switch controls the power, while two pill-shaped buttons next to it handle Bluetooth pairing of the keyboard and audio components.


Top: iPad Air volume buttons and rotation lock. Bottom: BrydgeAir. Bluetooth sync buttons and power switch.


And opposite the lock button atop the iPad Air (or on the left side, when docked), the BrydgeAir mirrors this with a similar-sized space for a micro USB port. This attention to detail is a nice touch.

The design itself is solid. While the keyboard is somewhat heavy at 1.15 pounds -- more than doubling the weight of a 1-pound iPad Air on its own -- this weight does play a key role in the so-called "lap-ability" of the BrydgeAir, which we'll discuss in the usage portion of this review.

Another feature we really enjoy are the hinges on the BrydgeAir.




We've never taken to folio-style keyboard accessories, which require the iPad to be housed in a cumbersome protective case in order to offer a laptop-style experience. And some other options on the market connect to the side of the iPad magnetically, like a Smart Cover, but these don't allow the screen to be opened and set at any angle.

Here, the BrydgeAir excels, allowing users to adjust the iPad to any angle they choose and steadily holding it in place. Again, this feature gives the iPad Air a true notebook-style experience.

And because the BrydgeAir doesn't require a special case to hold the iPad, we were table to keep our tablet as Apple intended, light and portable and easily removed from the keyboard in a pinch.


The BrydgeAir hinges allow an iPad Air to be displayed securely at a range of 180 degrees.


The one issue we did have with the design of the BrydgeAir hinges are the protective rubber stoppers, which appear to be held on by a light adhesive. The first time we attempted to place our iPad in the hinges, we noticed the rubber pushing to the side, exposing the glass of the iPad Air to the aluminum of the hinge and potentially scratching it.

We found that inserting our iPad Air at a slight angle, and with a little bit of care, resolved this, and have since grown accustomed to quickly placing and removing the iPad from the BrydgeAir hinges.

The BrydgeAir does automatically lock and activate the iPad's screen when the clamshell is closed or open. We did find that without a recessed "lip" on the keyboard itself, separating the two magnetically-connected devices is not as easy as it is on an actual MacBook. Instead we learned to wiggle our fingertips into the small space in between the keyboard and iPad in order to separate them.




Connecting the BrydgeAir to our iPad Air was simple. After turning it on, we simply held down the dedicated keyboard Bluetooth button to enable pairing mode, which made the device show up as a Bluetooth accessory in the iOS Settings application.

Pairing the speakers is a similar process, holding the button located to the right of the keyboard's. Enabling the speakers also plays an audible sound, and giving the speakers their own dedicated button makes it easy for users to turn off the external speakers and conserve battery life.

Pairing alerts and other information, like battery life, are cleverly hidden on the right side of the keyboard, underneath the backslash button. When sitting in front of the BrydgeAir, these alerts can be viewed as needed.

In all, the design of the BrydgeAir makes it easy to recommend. And in daily usage, our experiences were similarly positive.

Usage




The highest compliment that we can pay the BrydgeAir is every time we used it, we would instinctively put our thumb below the spacebar in search of a TrackPad. The look and feel replicate that of a MacBook-style notebook so well that when typing for extended periods of time, we would forget we were on an iPad.

For us, the key to the success of the BrydgeAir design is the aforementioned "lap-ability" of it. That is to say, we could use it on our lap, at any angle, without any concern or frustration.

For example, when we tested out Microsoft's Surface 2 last year, the ultra-light flat keyboard that connects to the tablet worked fine on a desk, but attempting to use it on our lap was unmanageable.




Thankfully, the BrydgeAir has none of those issues. The base is heavy enough to hold up an iPad Air while resting on your lap, offering a true notebook-style experience that users expect. And because the iPad docks without a case, it can be easily removed and maintain its portability.

The keys themselves are smaller than on a full-size MacBook, for obvious reason: They must be squeezed into the same size surface area as the iPad Air. While small, we found the keys to be responsive, and typing on the BrydgeAir did not feel overly cramped.

The row of iOS-specific commands at the top of the keyboard are also an excellent inclusion. In particular, dedicated buttons for home, brightness, Spotlight search, and volume controls greatly enhanced productivity. And there's also a dedicated Siri button in the bottom left corner of the keyboard.

And as anyone who has used a physical keyb


oard with an iPad knows, arrow buttons make word processing a much more pleasant experience.

The BrydgeAir also has a dedicated button for the keyboard's backlight function. The white backlight can be set to off or three varying degrees of brightness.

The one downside we did find in using the BrydgeAir was its built-in speakers. While pairing of these was easy and convenient, and they did in fact boost volume levels, to our ears the keyboard's internal speakers were too "tinny" for our tastes. We found that the stereo speakers on the iPad Air actually sounded richer.


The rear speakers project off the bottom of the iPad Air's bezel.


But poor built-in speakers on a portable device are the norm, and anyone looking for improved audio quality should simply use headphones. Just don't buy a BrydgeAir expecting great sound.

The BrydgeAir is advertised to offer up to 3 months of usage on a single charge, depending on speakers and backlit keys usage.

Conclusion

The huge lineup of keyboard accessories designed for Apple's iPad serves to show how many people are looking for greater productivity on their tablet. But many of the best options out there require an iPad to be stuffed inside a cumbersome case that makes the whole design bulky and heavy.




iPad owners who use a protective case on their tablet, or who want the thinnest, lightest or most portable option possible, regardless of lap usage, should look elsewhere.

But or those who may want to occasionally use a keyboard with their iPad on the go, laptop-style, but who also plan to frequently use the iPad "naked" in a tablet-only mode, the BrydgeAir is hard to beat. The appealing design and strong construction of the BrydgeAir make it an easy recommendation for any iPad Air or iPad Air 2 owner.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

Pros:
  • Sturdy construction and clever design really do make your iPad Air feel like a mini MacBook
  • The keys are responsive and backlit, and dedicated iOS-specific buttons and arrows greatly improve productivity
  • Strong hinges hold your iPad in place at any angle desired without the need for a case
  • Quickly insert or remove your iPad as needed to maintain portability
Cons:
  • External speakers are subpar, and rubber protection on hinges could be improved
  • Price tag of $170 makes it clear this a premium-level keyboard

Where to buy

The BrydgeAir is available in silver and space gray for $169, while a special gold version runs $189. It's compatible with the new iPad Air 2 and the first iPad Air, and new orders are advertised to arrive before Christmas.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 42

    Previous Brydge products have been heavily criticised for failing keyboards. It would be great to have a follow-up from you guys, especially in case you experience this as well.

  • Reply 2 of 42

    Funny how MS makes fun of the iPad because it doesn't have a keyboard yet their own Surface keyboard is sold separately.

  • Reply 3 of 42
    MacProMacPro Posts: 16,938member
    Funny how MS makes fun of the iPad because it doesn't have a keyboard yet their own Surface keyboard is sold separately.

    With Microsoft's market share being <2% for phones and tablets the joke's on them I'd say! LOL
  • Reply 4 of 42
    MacProMacPro Posts: 16,938member
    I think this may well be on my Christmas shopping list as a gift for my wife. I will re read in case I missed it but I assume they can be charged easily along side the iPad, with the micro USB I assume.
  • Reply 5 of 42
    If I wanted a MacBook...

    and so on.
  • Reply 6 of 42
    MacProMacPro Posts: 16,938member
    quadra 610 wrote: »
    If I wanted a MacBook...

    and so on.

    It depends on the circumstances. My wife travels a lot to visit our new granddaughter from here in FL to NE and she has a MBP and an iPad and iPhone However, she carries as little as possible as she has to fly the last leg; Boston to Martha's Vineyard on a puddle jumper. As a realtor she has to stay in touch even if away for only a long weekend. Last trip she tried just taking the iPad Air and iPhone to save weight and it was fine except a pain typing a lot. Corrections are especially difficult in text using fingers with 'ladies finger nails' on an iPad. I have just ordered this for her Christmas present as I suspect it will be the perfect solution for her when sans MBP. I ordered the nice case too. My only regret is that this is not a real Apple product, it so easily could be.

    I was this close to getting her a MBA for the weight issue but she loved her MBP with its SSD (I added) and 16 GIGs or RAM (I added) and yet another MB would be overkill.
  • Reply 7 of 42
    I've looked at this, but there's too many reasons to keep me from buying it.

    1: There is [I]no[/I] way I'm spending $169 on a keyboard dock right now when an iPad Pro may be out in a matter of months, rendering this useless.
    2: Nearly 40% of the MSRP of the iPad? Really?
    3: This is $169. A few months ago I got a used MacBook Air for $199. Yes, it's an old MBA, but the keyboard's a lot nicer and bigger, plus multitouch trackpad and larger screen. Only weighs a tad more than the Brydge/iPad combo.
    4: Without multi window support, iOS can never replace OS X for my writing tasks (and I love iOS and use my iPad more than any other computing device, typing this on it now).
  • Reply 8 of 42
    I've looked at this, but there's too many reasons to keep me from buying it.

    1: There is no way I'm spending $169 on a keyboard dock right now when an iPad Pro may be out in a matter of months, rendering this useless.
    2: Nearly 40% of the MSRP of the iPad? Really?
    3: This is $169. A few months ago I got a used MacBook Air for $199. Yes, it's an old MBA, but the keyboard's a lot nicer and bigger, plus multitouch trackpad and larger screen. Only weighs a tad more than the Brydge/iPad combo.
    4: Without multi window support, iOS can never replace OS X for my writing tasks (and I love iOS and use my iPad more than any other computing device, typing this on it now).

    I have also found that when using a third-party keyboard the autocorrect never works (but this could be a phenomenon that only I am experiencing). That said, this keyboard definitely looks to be one of the nicer offerings out there. Jury is still out on whether or not this is worth a purchase because nothing on the market holds a candle to the portability, power and everyday usefulness of my very lovely MacBook Air, IMHO. What an amazing laptop that thing is.
  • Reply 9 of 42
    malaxmalax Posts: 1,598member

    Looks like an impressive product.  Thanks for the review.  My wife is addicted to her iPhone and iPad, but only uses her (hand-me-down) MacBook Air when she has to use the school's Web site (thanks to crappy LMS software).  She just doesn't like "computers."  I could see this as a good option for her.  Personally I don't want need a keyboard for my iPad and want/need for MacBook for "real work."

  • Reply 10 of 42
    As one moron said "a rounding error"
    With Microsoft's market share being <2% for phones and tablets the joke's on them I'd say! LOL
  • Reply 11 of 42
    appexappex Posts: 687member
    Just get a MacBook Air. iOS of for joy. Mac is for work and joy!
  • Reply 12 of 42
    MacProMacPro Posts: 16,938member
    paul94544 wrote: »
    As one moron said "a rounding error"

    LOL
  • Reply 13 of 42
    MacProMacPro Posts: 16,938member
    I have also found that when using a third-party keyboard the autocorrect never works (but this could be a phenomenon that only I am experiencing). That said, this keyboard definitely looks to be one of the nicer offerings out there. Jury is still out on whether or not this is worth a purchase because nothing on the market holds a candle to the portability, power and everyday usefulness of my very lovely MacBook Air, IMHO. What an amazing laptop that thing is.

    It is, if nothing else, a nice response to that company that sells a few tablets now and then and makes a fuss about an optional keyboard, what is there name ... Oh, I remember Microsoft. :D
  • Reply 14 of 42
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 5,628member

    If I wanted something like this I’d get a MacBook Air.

     

    MacBook Air, 11” w/128GB = $899.00 Runs OS X Yosemite + USB 3.0 connectivity and Thunderbolt.

     

    iPad 2 Air, 9.7” display, WiFi only, 128GB = $699 + this $169 gadget = $868.00 Runs iOS 8 + NO USB connectivity or Thunderbolt

     

    Both can use my iPhone 6 as a hotspot and both can use my iPhone 6 for Handoff, Continuity, and syncing.

     

    Any questions? I don’t have any.

  • Reply 15 of 42
    I've looked at this, but there's too many reasons to keep me from buying it.

    1: There is no way I'm spending $169 on a keyboard dock right now when an iPad Pro may be out in a matter of months, rendering this useless.
    2: Nearly 40% of the MSRP of the iPad? Really?
    3: This is $169. A few months ago I got a used MacBook Air for $199. Yes, it's an old MBA, but the keyboard's a lot nicer and bigger, plus multitouch trackpad and larger screen. Only weighs a tad more than the Brydge/iPad combo.
    4: Without multi window support, iOS can never replace OS X for my writing tasks (and I love iOS and use my iPad more than any other computing device, typing this on it now).

    Does anyone have any idea f the design of the iPad Pro?
  • Reply 16 of 42
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    I'd love to type in portrait mode--that's something I'd want from any keyboard. Also super-EASY removal because more than half the time I wouldn't want a keyboard at all. I'm skeptical of anything that grips tightly.

    But I'm sure there's a niche for this--glad to see it served.
  • Reply 17 of 42
    Yeah, too bad there is no Portrait Mode orientation with the Brydge (because Instagram.)

    Logitech makes a pretty decent [URL=http://www.amazon.com/Logitech-Ultrathin-Keyboard-Cover-Space/dp/B00EZ9XGE4/ref=pd_ybh_2]Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad Air[/URL]. Not all the bells and whistles as the Brydge but does support Portrait and just over $50 after shipping.
  • Reply 18 of 42
    I must say, when I tried to use a Microsoft Surface in a shop, my impression was that Microsoft had designed a laptop you can%u2019t use on your lap. The keyboard connection was fragile, and you had to put it on a rigid surface to type. So I totally get the point that this keyboard is more usable -- maybe I will look into something like this at some stage. For me though the iPad is not that usable for content creation because touch doesn%u2019t work as well as the mouse for more complicated things like selecting multiple objects or editing a single item in a group. Fix these things, and getting a nice keyboard would be a good addition. Otherwise you might as well get a superlight notebook like a Macbook Air.
  • Reply 19 of 42
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,517member
    It depends on the circumstances. My wife travels a lot to visit our new granddaughter from here in FL to NE and she has a MBP and an iPad and iPhone However, she carries as little as possible as she has to fly the last leg; Boston to Martha's Vineyard on a puddle jumper. As a realtor she has to stay in touch even if away for only a long weekend. Last trip she tried just taking the iPad Air and iPhone to save weight and it was fine except a pain typing a lot. Corrections are especially difficult in text using fingers with 'ladies finger nails' on an iPad. I have just ordered this for her Christmas present as I suspect it will be the perfect solution for her when sans MBP. I ordered the nice case too. My only regret is that this is not a real Apple product, it so easily could be.

    I was this close to getting her a MBA for the weight issue but she loved her MBP with its SSD (I added) and 16 GIGs or RAM (I added) and yet another MB would be overkill.
    I am sure your wife will be super happy. This looks like a great product but I can't help but think the better solution would have been to ditch the mbp and iPad and buy a mba. (And ideally pair that with a iPhone 6+.) but either way will be good.
  • Reply 20 of 42
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 3,661member
    The good thing about tablets is keyboardless. Who wants this shit anyway? Tablet owners often don't need keyboard. Otherwise, they would have gotten Macbooks. $169 for a keyboard without a touchpad? Hell no!
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