Onscreen keyboards are convenient but at the price of speed and precision when it comes to typing words. So iPad users who want to word process on their tablet can either give up typing at their normal pace, or put up with some keyboard add-on that makes the iPad look less like a laptop and more like some cobbled together device.
That’s what I thought, before I got hold of the Byrdge+ iPad Keyboard. I’m writing on this as we speak, enjoying the appearance of its silver aluminum sheen that is making my iPad seem more of a laptop — specifically a MacBook Air — than a tablet attached to a keyboard. There’s a lot more going on than just the plain fact that it is connecting to the iPad via Bluetooth; the keys are about the size of the Air’s and if you place the two side–by-side, as I did with my wife’s Air, my iPad looks pretty much similar to the more expensive laptop. But the important thing is that it is works in a similar fashion, in both how I am hitting the keys and in how the iPad is being held as the screen. The keys may not light up as they do on the Air, but they have the same resilient “bounce” to them and, as a touch typist who can attain a fairly good speed per minute, I wasn’t being held back as has been the case with using other iPad keyboard add-ons. Also, unlike the Air, I had touch screen capabilities too. This came in handy when doing cut and paste and other editing procedures and the lack of a mouse was no hindrance at all.
Besides there being all the keys expected for working on OS X, there are also a series of iPad-specific keys along the top row. These can put the iPad to sleep, return the screen to “Home”, control video playback and volume and go to the Photo library.
There are two metal hinges at the far end of the Brydge+, each covered with silicone and holding a shim inside designed to be used with an iPad 3 or 4 (a replacement shim for an iPad 2 is included). After having put my iPad 3 into the two hinges horizontally, with the Home button to the left, the tablet was now being held securely through friction. That this was sufficient was borne out over time as the iPad never came loose or fell out — regardless of whether I was using it seated at a desk or angled when using it on my lap in bed. And when I was done working, all I had to do was shut the “screen” of my “laptop” onto the keyboard to protect the front of the iPad.
There is a grill at the far end of the Brydge+ that contains a pair of stereo speakers. The output is easily 50% louder than that of the iPad’s built-in mono speaker, but the lack of separation makes the stereo effect a bit puny. Sensibly, the Brydge+ does not automatically pair with the speakers automatically as they do with the keyboard — this avoids unnecessary battery drain. The procedure is dissimilar to that of pairing the keyboard, in that you first must turn the speakers on (holding down Control/B till a 4 tone sounds, followed going to the Bluetooth setting on the iPad and repeating this keystroke combo until the pairing occurs (a 2 tone sound). You can then turn the speakers on/off during the time the Brydge+ is being used.
Charging the Byrdge+ is done in the now-conventional manner of attaching a USB cable to a power supply and waiting for the red LED to go out. Typically a full charge will last a couple of weeks or more of moderate use, and I found this a reasonable expectation. But the drain on the battery increases quickly with a lot of speaker use.
However, just like any laptop the Byrdge+ should be protected, especially when mated with the iPad (which precludes fitting it into a sleeve). I found the booq Viper courier laptop bag (13”/$99 retail) a good fit, due to its cushioned inner sleeve and water repelling semi-rigid construction (tons of storage room inside and out as well). There’s even an outer pocket that will accommodate quick access to an iPhone and yes, it does have a stylish appeal.
Bottom line: The Brydge+ iPad Keyboard has the right idea of making a keyboard for the iPad not just functional but a match for Apple’s keyboard design as found on their laptops. $199 buys you what’s needed to turn a tablet into a functional “laptop” that’s as good to use as look at.
Solid aluminum construction, Hinge rotates up to 180 degrees
Keys do not light up
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.