Price (RRP): $249
For all its many virtues, there is one practical problem with the Microsoft Surface Pro: it’s pretty useless as a “laptop”. It’s great as a portable computer. With the optional Type Cover it’s okay to type on. It has a great screen. It has plenty of performance for my purposes, and for your purposes too since you can choose a model with a power enough processor to meet your needs.
But it’s not much of a “laptop” because it won’t fit on my lap. Or barely, if I sit just so and am very careful. So when I read about the Brydge 12.3 Bluetooth keyboard, and how it attaches to a Microsoft Surface Pro, I had to give it a go.
So why won’t my Surface Pro 4 fit on my lap? Well, when you have the Surface Pro Type Cover attached, it has a kind of soft hinge designed only to hold the cover in place. Unlike the hinge between a notebook computer and its screen, it applies no friction. What stops the screen of the Surface Pro – its whole body – from falling over is the built in kick stand. This is a flap of metal on the back, hinged at its top which is half way up the back of the device. You swing out the base, and it holds up the screen as the stand on a photo holder keeps the picture frame upright.
A basketball player wouldn’t have this problem, but the thighs of my stumpy legs are too short for the kick stand to reach back, securely holding up the screen, while the regular type cover is attached. If it won’t sit on your lap, it’s ineffective as a laptop.
Occasionally duty requires me to sit on my couch, Surface Pro open in word processing program, while I type in my impressions of a musical system that is playing. For a while I tried using a wooden board I made up, placed on my lap and on which I’d place the Surface Pro. That worked, but was another damn thing to keep around. The better solution I settled upon was to put the Surface Pro 4 on my coffee table and plug a Logitech keyboard dongle into its USB socket, then use a Logitech K830 Illuminated Living-Room keyboard to type. Good enough, I suppose.
But the Brydge 12.3 turned out to be a far better solution.
Most devices don’t attract support for model-specific peripheral devices. The main exception is anything made by Apple. The limited number of models and the huge numbers of owners make the building of peripheral devices physically tailored for such things as the iPad a viable business. Microsoft’s Surface Pro seems to be one of the rare non-Apple computing device attracting similar support.
In fact, Brydge produces keyboards for iPads too – the Mini, the 9.7 inch models and the 12.9 inch iPad Pro (I imagine it’s working on one for the new 10.5 inch iPad Pro as well) . The keyboard for the Surface Pro 4 also works with the Surface Pro 3, and the forthcoming unnumbered Surface Pro, thanks to their physical similarities.
In essence, it’s a slab of metal the same size and shape as the Surface Pro with two hinges on one edge and a keyboard and touchpad on one of its faces. The hinges are metal and split, with the split section lined with a plastic or nylon bush. You seat the edge of the Surface Pro within that, pushing it firmly to the bottom. Placed properly, the Surface Pro is held solidly, yet without any of its display obscured.
The keyboard communicates with the Surface Pro via Bluetooth, not through the keyboard connector on its edge. So it draws no power from the Surface Pro. Instead it has its own built in battery which is specified to be good for three months and is charged by means of a Micro-B USB socket.
The whole thing is finished in what looks and feels like identical metal to that used for the body of the Surface Pro, so visually it’s a perfect match. In fact, any regular person would almost certainly not realise that the two units together are anything other than a regular notebook computer.
The key spacing is standard. The function keys also operate as notebook control keys: screen brightness, play pause and so on. There’s a small touchpad – 80mm by 45mm – as well.
There’s a version that has a 128GB solid state drive built in, allowing it to act as a memory expansion $399). But it has to be plugged into the USB port, so it doesn’t possess quite the same design elegance. I’d rather just use the microSD card slot on the Surface Pro 4 for extra memory.