Computers / Hands-on Review

A (Bluetooth Keyboard) Brydge Between Worlds

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I love my Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I love everything about it. I love that it is the perfect combination of laptop and tablet, that I can just as easily watch movies or slough through spreadsheets. I love its big glossy screen, I love its form factor, I love its light weight, I love its speedy processor.

I hate the keyboard.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

I also hate that I had to pay extra for the keyboard, but that’s a whole different gripe. Sure, I could have bought a third-party Bluetooth keyboard, but there weren’t really a lot of options that caught my eye. Like most computer buyers, I bought it because I trusted that Microsoft wouldn’t disappoint me by selling me a terrific tablet and a sub-terrific keyboard.

When I was field-testing my Surface Pro 4, I disliked a few things about the keyboard right off the bat. I didn’t like the faux-cloth covering of the keyboard. It felt like my tablet was wearing corduroys. I didn’t like how thin and flimsy the keys felt—I’m a ham-fisted typist, and I pound keys harder than a cheesy ’80s hair band keyboardist. Additionally, I was a little uncomfortable with how much the keyboard flexed when I was typing out stories during my commute. I also absolutely loathed that the keyboard’s flimsy kickstand never seemed to sit well on my lap—and I have ample lap space. Enough lap space to fit the Brandenburg Orchestra, including the woodwind section. But there was little you could do about it when the Surface Pro 4 was launched, since there were so few keyboard options available.

Until now.

A third-party company called Brydge has come along and found the sweet spot for Surface Pro 4 owners. Brydge has developed a sleek, aluminum Bluetooth keyboard that solves two challenges with the Surface Pro line: it gives the slate portion of the Surface some much needed stability, and it does a better job of turning the Surface Pro 4 into a real clamshell laptop—and it also works for the new Surface Pro (2017), and the Surface Pro 3. There is even a version for the Surface Pro line that contains an additional 128GB SSD card (boasting speeds up to 600 MB/s, although your experience may vary) for those users who have exhausted their memory options. Although a great bonus, most Surface owners will find the standard Brydge 12.3" keyboard sufficient. Apple users, take heart—Brydge also makes the same keyboard for iPad Pro 12.9", along with a separate keyboard for the 5th Gen 9.7" iPad Pro, iPad Air 2 and original iPad Air and even the iPad Mini. But this review will focus on the 12.3" Surface Pro version.

Brydge 12.3 Bluetooth Keyboard for Microsoft Surface Pro / Pro 4 / Pro 3

The keyboard attaches via two hinges on the upper right and left and side of the keyboard. These silicon-rubber lined hinges grip the tablet and hold it firmly, and protect the tablet edges from scratches. Once the tablet is slotted into the hinges, the grip is sturdy enough that you can lift the entire unit by the tablet, and not once have the keyboard slip out. Once attached, you pair it up via Bluetooth 3.0 and you’re ready to rock. Or type.

The keyboard experience is comparable to that of a solid clamshell laptop. The travel on the keys is 1.5mm, the same as the Surface Book, and you can literally go to town on the keys and be rewarded with satisfying and responsive clicks—not quite a full-fledged mechanical keyboard, but still “click-y” enough to satisfy hard-core typists. The board has zero flex, so you won’t feel like you’re bending the keyboard even when your fingers are flying across the keys.

Additionally, the keyboard is backlit, with three levels of brightness, and the solidly constructed aluminum frame affords better protection for the screen of the tablet when folded shut (which seems inconsequential, but if you’re like me and you put your Surface Pro 4 through the paces, traveling and jostling it around all the time, you’ll appreciate any help in keeping laptop-bag crumbs and errant paper clips away from the screen).

So, what’s not to love in a backlit Bluetooth keyboard that retails for almost the same price as the standard Microsoft Surface Type Cover keyboard? The three challenges to loving this keyboard completely are subjective—some may find them challenges, where others may dismiss them in favor of a solid keyboard.

Those three factors include weight, thickness, and ease of use. The tradeoff for the solidity of the keyboard is an uptick in weight. The keyboard weighs 1.48 lb, which may not seem like a lot, but given the 1.73 lb of the Surface Pro 4, brings the total weight of the unit to around 3.25 lb, as opposed to the 2.37 lb total weight of the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Type Cover. This seems small, but one of the best features of the Surface with Type Cover is how lightweight it is, which adds up over the long run. Is it still convenient enough to haul to class every day? Maybe. Is it worth it on a long road trip or commute where you don’t have to struggle with the Surface kickstand? Absolutely.

The other factor is thickness. With a Type Cover, a Surface Pro 4 measures 0.43 inches when closed. The Brydge keyboard and a Surface Pro 4 measures 0.64 inches when closed—still slight enough to fit conveniently in most laptop cases, but bulky enough that one-handed operations (like flipping it open) are a little harder. Again, individual experiences may vary, and this added sliver of thickness may not bother some.

The third factor is the most problematic for Surface Pro 4 owners who bought the tablet for the convenience of having a 2-in-1. The Brydge keyboard does not allow you to convert from tablet to laptop in one simple motion. With the Brydge attached, the Surface becomes a de facto laptop—it’s ease of use as a tablet is gone. You must detach the keyboard from the tablet manually, which is not easy. The same form factor that gives it its stability also hampers its convenience—detaching the tablet from the keyboard requires some slight force and maneuvering, and may hamper its usefulness.

Microsoft Surface Type Cover keyboard (left) and Brydge Bluetooth Keyboard (right)

An added quirk is that the responsiveness of the keyboard exhibited some glitches, especially when waking from sleep or hibernation modes. For those of you who have your Surface Pro lock down after non-use and require a password to re-enter, you’ll notice that the keys don’t always immediately register when first typing them in. During regular use, however, you won’t find any slowdown in typing.

But these may be problems you’re willing to overlook. In the end, what you get is a keyboard alternative to the Surface Type Cover that’s sturdy, dependable, and turns your Surface Pro 4 into a real laptop, with some small sacrifices. It’s worth its weight (pun intended) in the productivity it will bring to the tablet (additional pun intended).

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