Brydge, the Kickstarter iPad Keyboard Case, Is Here

Some first impressions of the long-awaited aluminum keyboard which turns Apple's tablet into a clamshell computing device.

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Back in April, I read a story by my colleague Jared Newman about a Kickstarter project called Brydge. It was an anodized aluminum-cased rechargaable Bluetooth keyboard with a clamshell hinger which could be clamped securely to an iPad, turning Apple‘s tablet into a stylish, MacBook Air-like mini-laptop. My iPad was already my main computer, so I got excited and pledged $170, joining 3265 other backers and entitling me to the base-model Brydge. (A $210 model has built-in wireless speakers.)

As is normal with Kickstarter-funded gadgets, Brydge showed up later than planned, in somewhat different form than shown in the initial pitch. Its designers decided to ditch their original plastic hinge in favor of dual finger-like clamps, with shims which allow the keyboard to be used with the second-, third- and fourth-generation iPads. They also used a different keyboard layout than shown in their original video. And they missed their target of shipping in October.

But only by a few weeks — my Brydge arrived today. Before I had a chance to try it, though, I read a review over at Gdgt by my friend and fellow Brydge backer Peter Rojas and panicked a little bit. Peter gave it a score of 2.0 on a scale from 1 to 10 and said his was unusable — when he pressed the keys, they squeaked, stuck, or simply got jammed inside the case. Had I invested my $170 in a lemon?

Apparently not. I’ve set up my Brydge — I’m typing this post on it — and haven’t encountered any of the gremlins which Peter did. I’m hopeful that his unit was simply defective, and that when a Brydge functions properly, it…functions properly.

So far, I’m pretty happy with mine. I’ve tried most of the major iPad keyboards and lately have been using Logitech’s Solar Keyboard Folio. But the Brydge is the most laptop-like one I’ve seen, since it turns the iPad into a clamshell device rather than having you prop the tablet up in one way or another. You can adjust the screen angle to your liking, and as far as I can tell, there’s no risk of the set-up falling apart, either when closed or open. (Other designs can get a tad wobbly at times, especially if you rest them on your lap while you type.)

The keyboard is wide enough to be comfy, with keys that actually travel; the only issue I have with it is that the right-hand Shift key is too dinky. Curiously, it was roomier in the prototype video: In the finished product, it got smaller to make room for the arrow keys.

Assuming that Peter Rojas’s Brydge is abnormal — I’m curious to see what other backers say — this keyboard’s biggest gotcha may be its pricetag. You have to be awfully serious about turning an iPad into a notebook to plunk down $170 to $210 for a Brydge. Or even to pay $150, which is what the Brydge folks are charging for a new polycarbonate model with speakers.

Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover and Zagg’s ZaggFolio are only a hundred bucks apiece. They’re plastic, not aluminum, but I’ve typed many thousands of words on them and recommend both. I want to use the Brydge a bit longer before I decide whether I recommend it, too.