My love affair with Smart Connector keyboards for my 10.5-inch iPad Pro ended the morning of the WWDC keynote. After months of not being particularly happy with the options, it took literally having to use my MacBook Pro as a stand for my iPad during Apple's presentation for me to look for an alternative option.
I'm happy to say I've found it in Brydge's $129.99 10.5-inch iPad Pro keyboard, the latest hinge-based Bluetooth option from the keyboard company. While Brydge has in the past (and continues to have) reliability issues with its keyboards, the company's new lifetime warranty allows me to feel comfortable recommending them to anyone who wants a superior typing experience on their 10.5-inch Pro. (I docked our official review score from a 4.5/5 must-buy to a 4/5 highly consider in part because of the small risk of a manufacturing defect, but I consider this a 4.5-star keyboard — its company just has a few kinks to work out.)
Form and function
Like Apple's Smart Keyboard, the Brydge has the same footprint as the 10.5-inch iPad Pro screen. But where the Smart Keyboard is fabric, Brydge's 1.1-pound aluminum base has the weight, feel, and rigidity of a MacBook bottom case. The keys are deeply set and comfortable to press; while they're not completely full-size, they should still be easy to type on for all but the largest-fingered customers.
As someone who frequently switches from the MacBook Pro keyboard to my iPad when writing, the different key sizes and typing feel does put me off-balance a little bit, but not enough to introduce massive typos or slow my typing speed excessively. It feels very similar to typing on a MacBook in many ways, just with more key travel (and properly-set arrow keys).
In addition to a full standard keyboard set, Brydge provides a dedicated Siri button (where the function button sits on a MacBook Pro keyboard) along with a full function row of keys. It may not have an escape key, but it more than makes up for it with access to the Home button, auto-lock functionality, and buttons for keyboard brightness, screen brightness, the software keyboard, music controls, volume controls, and power/Bluetooth toggling for the Brydge itself.
It is, in short, everything I like in a portable keyboard. And, most importantly: It offers the lap stability and multi-angle viewing that no other stand (not even my beloved 9.7-inch Logitech Create) can provide. After using it for a few weeks, I have noticed that the hinge struggles to hold its position a little when at the 145°-160° angle, but I think that's more the physics of balancing the iPad's weight than anything — I haven't had a single sag or drop between 0° and 145°.
That multi-angle stand — achieved by grasping onto the iPad's base with two cushioned feet and hooking them up to 180° hinges — is one of the best things about this keyboard model. Many iPad keyboards have good key feel, but few have a solid base for lap-writing and even fewer do so in a way that provides multiple viewing angles without a gigantic case or extra hardware. Brydge does offer a top case (which hides the back of the hinge grip) but it's a minimalist hard silicone, and not necessary for anything more than fancy looks and base-level protection.
It's also extremely easy to remove when you want to go tablet: The Brydge's silicone grips slide on or off an iPad with little difficulty, but they're still grippy enough that you won't see your tablet ever slide out of its keyboard while in a bag.
Pairing, Typing, & Battery Life
Pairing with the Brydge was surprisingly simple given my sometimes-tumultuous history with Bluetooth keyboards. Turn the keyboard on when your iPad is on and unlocked, press the Bluetooth key, and you'll get a quick pair request; subsequent uses need only a quick press of the keyboard's power button.
The key-press-to-software responsivity is also excellent: When tested alongside my current Logitech Slim Combo Smart Connector keyboard, I saw little difference in software response. The Smart Connector keyboards are faster — but only barely.
One area where I have struggled a bit is with the iPad's multitasking gestures: The one-finger Dock flick is impeded slightly by the Brydge's metal base, which aligns right at the bottom edge of the iPad's screen. In iOS 11, this isn't a huge issue because of the touch target, but with iOS 12 introducing the single-swipe-to-close gesture to the iPad, accessing the dock has been significantly more challenging.
It's made me add a new iOS feature to my wish-list: a keyboard shortcut to pull up the Dock (the same way that Command-Tab pulls up the quick-switch interface).
The keyboard is rated for a year of battery life on a full charge; while I obviously haven't been able to test that claim with only a few weeks' use, its battery still sports a respectable 76% straight out of the box. Charging (when you do need to do it) needs only a micro-USB cable and a charging solution.
Brydge & Reliability
I'm not the first person to write about Brydge's QA issues, but I'm hoping that I'll be one of the last. The issue in question is a connectivity problem that causes the keyboard to miss keystrokes while typing; it's shown up in random Brydge units since late 2016/early 2017, and now it's come to the company's latest 10.5-inch iPad Pro keyboard, too. It's worth noting that this problem does seem to affect only a small portion of the company's keyboards, and appears to be an immediate manufacturing defect — you either have a faulty keyboard, or you don't.
While I would have hoped that Brydge had learned from its manufacturing issues with the 12.9-inch model, I do recognize that building keyboards isn't an easy process. And the company does seem committed to eradicating this problem from its production line once and for all. A spokesperson for the company told iMore:
This issue with the 10.5 has been incredibly disappointing for us. Our reputation has been built on high-quality keyboards that have an exceptional typing experience. The unfortunate reality of the current situation is that a small batch of 10.5s made it through QC and into market. While this is only a small number, we have still made it well known that if any customer has a poor experience, they are to notify our Customer Service team immediately for a replacement.
In response to this issue, we have now made significant changes in our processes to ensure these issues are mitigated in the future.
Brydge also offers a lifetime warranty against defects in its keyboards — an acknowledgement that even if the company cannot permanently remove this problem from its production line, it wants to minimize that effect on its users as much as possible.
Note on the warranty: If you buy a keyboard from Brydge, you're automatically enrolled; if you buy the keyboard from another source like Amazon, make sure to visit Brydge's warranty page and register your keyboard in the first 60 days of purchase.
And I was one of those affected users: My first review sample had the same key-dropping issues; Brydge was quick to issue me a replacement (which I'm typing this review on now) that works perfectly. I just hope the company is as expedient with its non-press customers who have this problem.
After all, no company wants to have to field returns from unhappy customers (at least, no company that wants to stay in business). And Brydge's build quality is otherwise so good that this key-dropping problem is a frustrating black mark on an otherwise stellar 10.5-inch iPad Pro keyboard.
The company makes the best lap-based typing solution out there for 10.5-inch models, even with the defect out there in certain models. If you don't mind the risk of having to return your first keyboard, I'd recommend picking one up right now. Otherwise, you can always wait a few months for Brydge's QA process to hopefully catch the bad models hiding in the remainder of this production batch.