The iPad may not be a proper laptop computer, but with a keyboard case, it can get bloody close, and Brydge’s take doesn’t just make it act like one, but look like a MacBook, too.
Is this the best iPad computer case, or just a near approximation to a computer?
Features and performance
Owners of the iPad know all too well just how versatile their tablet actually is.
Sure, it’s a content consumption device made for the taking in of videos, of audio, of video games and the like, but it can be so much more, and thanks to the processing technology inside and the creativity and ingenuity of app developers, you can make an iPad Air and Air 2 do so much.
With the help of a keyboard case, though, it can actually be a replacement for a laptop, and since the iPad first came out, case makers have been dabbling in this category. You find them in plastic variations and metal variations, but they all come generally try to make them based off the same formula: throw the iPad into a case and connect the keyboard to that.
Australian-owned Brydge has a different idea of how a keyboard case should work and is attaching the keyboard directly to the iPad without any need for a plastic bumper or wraparound case, and that’s part of what makes this gadget stand out from the plethora of keyboard cases out on the market today.
One other thing that makes the Brydge stand out from its cousins over at Logitech, Incipio, and Belkin is the inclusion of a speaker, something keyboard cases aren’t usually equipped with.
We’ll hazard a guess that Brydge has done this to make the keyboard feel more like a proper computer, because that’s the general impression you get about the aluminium keyboard section: it is basically a splitting image of a MacBook Pro bottom, except with the stylisation of the iPad Air 2.
Still, this inclusion of an extra element means your microUSB charge port is essentially charging two things, with the speaker and a small sound system also part of the package alongside that keyboard.
So you get two things for the price of one. Is it worth it, or are there better options out there?
First things first, there’s the keyboard, and for a keyboard case, this is a pretty important aspect to deal with, so let’s take a gander at that.
Brydge hasn’t just slapped a bunch of keys together and hoped for the best, but has looked at what makes an Apple computer good and more or less crafted something with that attention to detail.
So forget about the plastic and look to metal, because that’s what Brydge has built here, with a unibody aluminium block serving as the main body for the keyboard, with individual island-keys sitting inside that metal block.
There’s a little more in this, mind you, but we’ll get to that shortly, but the keyboard is where it’s at, offering a decent amount of travel with a solid click to each letter. In fact, the keys appear to be raised at a similar height to what we see on Apple’s own keyboards, giving people something familiar if they’re coming from an Apple keyboard already.
Bluetooth will connect this keyboard to the iPad, but that’s only to send data, and you need a way of connecting the tablet physically to the keyboard.
To make this happen, Brydge has built in two little metal claw pieces decked in rubber that allow you to slide the tablet into place and hold it there when you’re typing.
There’s no external case or wraparound plastic body here, and you merely push the tablet into place and then align the screen to sit in between the edges of these joints, which also act as the hinge for the case.
It’s definitely an interesting case design, though aligning is very much a manual thing, and one that you’ll need to do on a regular basis.
Interestingly, the keyboard even offers a modicum of backlighting, with three brightness options, though they’re all fairly dim, truth be told, something we think comes from the lights not really pushing up past keys and creating much of an outline.
In many ways it can come off feeling like an after thought, like the Caps Lock key which lacks a light to tell you when it’s activated and offers no on-screen hint that it might actually be on.
The other function keys are all pretty much as you’d expect them, though, from the brightness controlling to the on-screen keyboard, while the media and volume controls do exactly what you’d think, controlling pause and playback and sending the volume up and down.
Our one quibble with the Brydge keyboard comes from the Bluetooth, which doesn’t always feel on-target.
We think we’re on the money with this one, because while the woes of Bluetooth could be something occurring for either the tablet maker (Apple) or the keyboard maker (Brydge), we think after trying and frequently using enough keyboard cases, Brydge is the focus on this one, with delays from Bluetooth coming from this keyboard case.
They’re not bad delays, mind you, with one or two letters lost in translation from the connection, but it is something you may notice over extended use. We certainly did.
So the keyboard is good, and outside of a few lost characters, the typing experience offers much the same hard click you’ll get from a full-size keyboard.
It is a fairly hard keyboard, that said, but Apple customers are probably used to this style of keyboard, so it’s not far off with the sort of travel and click you get out of an Apple desktop keyboard, either.
But the speaker system is so far off the mark, you’d do yourself a favour not to even consider it.
It needs to be said that the speakers in the Apple iPad Air 2 aren’t bad as they are. Granted, they’re on the bottom and not facing your skull, so the audio is never really doing at you, but at least the sound quality is good.
Unfortunately, the Brydge Air doesn’t really do anything to rectify this issue, as its speakers are on its rear edge, and they’re not even that good.
To even use them, you need to pair the iPad with the keyboard’s speaker system. You might already have the Bluetooth keyboard paired, but that’s merely one part of the package, and for the speakers to work, you’ll need them too.
We need to note that this sound system isn’t designed by Apple, nor is it designed by any manufacturer we know about, and the result is pretty clear: shallow, tinny, mediocre sound that appears to be more the sort you’d find on a cheap Bluetooth speaker for a phone than anything you’d intentionally replace the decent audio on the iPad with.
The speakers aren’t even aimed in the right location, bouncing off the glass of the iPad almost immediately.
If the speakers were at least good, they should be either aimed at you or sitting facing up near the keyboard, but none of this is true. Instead, they just fall flat.
And occasionally, depending on how you hold the Brydge Air, the same might be true of your iPad.
That is possibly the ultimate worst case scenario for an owner of the iPad, and yet the Brydge occasionally makes it happen, something we think falls into place because of the way the Brydge connects to the iPad Air and Air 2.
Most keyboard cases tend to rely on a casing of some sort, possibly a wraparound bit of plastic which keeps the tablet in place, but Brydge believes its rubberised claw on each side is a better option, allowing you to slip the tablet in and out for when you don’t want to use it, while holding tightly when used as a keyboard.
You can even collapse the keyboard case and carry it around connected, which is probably what Brydge wants you to do, since the buttons on the edge of its case (for switching on the keyboard and controlling that Bluetooth speaker volume).
But be warned: the grip of the tablet between the keyboard case and the iPad Air 2 isn’t as grippy as you might think.
In fact, you really just need to hold the iPad by the keyboard section to see just how loose the grip is, watching the tablet gradually slip away and fall out from the keyboard section. Even if you grip it properly with your hand holding both sections, if you push a little with your thumb and move the tablet from the claw grip, it will lose the hold and slide along.
And that leads you to the biggest problem with the Brydge: the grip just isn’t a great way of holding the iPad.
We’ve touched upon it briefly when we explained how the grips connect to the tablet, but this constant alignment is something you’ll be doing on a regular basis, and while you can just slide the tablet in, it probably won’t always be perfectly aligned.
This makes the Brydge Air a fairly manual accessory, one pushed on by your hands, with the iPad seemingly going out of alignment when you close the tablet case up.
What Brydge has made isn’t without merit, that said, because a totally different interpretation of an iPad being turned into a makeshift computer is welcome, though it’s one that we’d like to see a second generation of.
There is certainly no shortage of keyboard cases for the iPad Air and iPad Air 2, and Brydge’s case just adds to this pile, providing more keys for what would otherwise be a content consumption tablet.
The question of if Brydge brings anything new to the table is a bit of a complicated one, because outside of mediocre speakers, the answer is probably “no”.
What Brydge has done, however, is make things a little differently, and make them for people who don’t necessarily want to commit to leaving their tablet in a keyboard case.
Do you use the keyboard only sparingly and prefer to watch movies, sliding the tablet out when you need it? And do you prefer metal to plastic?
If you answered either of those with a glowing “yes”, you’ll want to find Brydge’s keyboard case, because it feels made for you more than anyone else.