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Brydge 12.9 Max Plus review: The best Apple Magic Keyboard alternative that may even beat Apple

The iPad Pro 12.9 is a beast of a tablet and one that people commonly use as a productivity workhorse. A keyboard can be an important accessory, and Apple may not make the best one for this large tablet.
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Written by Matthew Miller, Contributor on

After moving from my Z Fold 3 to an iPhone 13 Pro Max at the start of the year, I've been further exploring the Apple ecosystem with Apple Watch Series 7 and iPad Pro 12.9 purchases. The iPad is the largest iPad I have ever owned and is proving to be a fantastic device for work, entertainment, reading, and so much more. ZDNet's Jason Cipriani is a diehard iPad Pro user, and I'm learning how to optimize my experience with his articles.

For the past month, I've been testing the Brydge 12.9 Max Plus wireless keyboard case with trackpad and people that see me working away on the combo think I have a slick new laptop under my fingers. The keyboard takes full advantage of the size of the iPad Pro 12.9 and has the largest trackpad I've ever used on any type of computer. The hinge and connection design has evolved over the years, and this new keyboard offers an elegant solution for iPad users.

Like
  • Elegant aluminum design
  • Well-spaced keys with good travel
  • Multi-finger gesture support
  • Solid battery life
  • Three levels of backlighting
  • Full function row of keys
  • Quick and easy iPad removal
Don't Like
  • Top of the trackpad doesn't click
  • 2.1 pounds for keyboard alone
  • Can be a bit top heavy

The Brydge 12.9 Max Plus is available for $249.99 in Space Gray, Silver, and White. It is compatible with 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation iPad Pro 12.9-inch models. Brydge also makes the same keyboard in an 11-inch size for iPad Pro 11 and the newest iPad Air models, available for $199.99.

Hardware

To use the keyboard, simply set down the bottom into the opening above the long hinge and then set the back of the iPad against the thick plastic back panel of the keyboard. Brydge calls this new design its SnapFit Case, where strong magnets secure your iPad Pro in place on the upper panel. There are small "wings" on either side up near the top of the iPad, so you can quickly and easily grab your iPad and then press back the wings while lifting your iPad out for tablet use.

Unlike Brydge keyboards I used in the past where secure hefty hinges were built to cradle your tablet, the back panel holds the iPad in place while a long hinge, extending about nine inches, serves to support the iPad from something like 0 to 135 degrees for an optimal viewing experience. The hinge is well built and keeps your iPad secure and positioned throughout the range.

There is no Smart Connector on board like you find with official Apple keyboards. Still, Brydge has incorporated Bluetooth 5.0 with its intelligent Instant-On technology to create an experience that matches the Smart Connector performance for instant connectivity for up to four hours. You can watch the side-by-side video on the Brydge website and see the same performance with both technologies.

Brydge 12.9 Max Plus keyboard review: in pictures

Brydge advertises up to three months of battery life with two hours of use without backlighting per day. The thing is, this keyboard turns your iPad into a MacBook Pro alternative, and you will likely find yourself using it for much more than two hours a day. Even if you use it for six hours a day, you should still get about a month of use out of it. In addition, both the iPad Pro and the Brydge 12.9 Max Plus have USB-C ports for charging, so it is convenient to charge up both with the same cable and charger. Both USB-C ports are found on the right side when the iPad is in landscape orientation.

The keyboard is constructed of brushed aluminum with a weight of 970g (2.1lbs). The Space Gray one is exactly the same color as my Space Gray iPad Pro 12.9, so they were clearly built for each other. The keys are black with white lettering.

There are four rubber feet on the bottom to keep the keyboard and your iPad from moving around a flat surface. There are also two small rubber pads just below the keyboard so that the iPad display rests on this without touching the trackpad in the closed position.

Also: Best iPad 2022: iPad Air, Pro, and Mini models compared

The keys are set down into the keyboard bottom, so when your iPad is closed in the cover, the keys are not pressing against the iPad display. There is ample spacing of the keys and a solid tactile feel as you press down on each key. Six rows of keys are found on the keyboard, including a top row of shorter keys for various functions, including keyboard backlighting (three levels are available), display brightness controls, playback controls, volume controls, and more.

Using the keyboard

The enormous trackpad (5.5 inches by 3.3 inches) is one of the most obvious features of the keyboard, and you should spend some time trying them out and incorporating them into your regular usage. After using them for a while, you will come to find the keyboard indispensable for getting work done on your iPad Pro 12.9.

The following multi-touch gestures are supported:

  • Two-finger swipe right: Opens Today view
  • In an open app, three fingers swipe left or right: Switches between open apps
  • Two fingers pinch: Zooms in and out
  • Swipe up with three fingers: Opens the app switcher
  • Swipe two fingers up or down: Scrolls up and down the screen
  • Move the pointer to the bottom of the display: Opens up the launch bar
  • Move the pointer down off the display: Takes you to the Home screen
  • Swipe the pointer to the top right corner: Opens the Control Center
  • Swipe down with two fingers: Opens Search

With most of these gestures, performing the gesture a second time reverses the action. For example, a three-finger swipe up opens the app switcher and another three-finger swipe up while it is open closes the app switcher.

Brydge also provides the Brydge Connect utility for your iPad so that you can keep the keyboard updated with the latest firmware. I've seen one update since I've been testing the keyboard but am unaware of exactly what changes were made with the update.

Also: Apple iPad Pro (2021) review: Impressively powerful, but the hardware is only part of the story

Usage experiences and conclusions

The Brydge 12.9 Max Plus keyboard is designed to improve the productivity of your iPad experience in laptop configuration. It also has a new hinge SnapFit Case design that lets you quickly and easily remove the iPad for tablet use and then return it to keyboard use in seconds. The Bluetooth performance has been flawless, and if I hadn't been the one that made the initial connection with my iPad, I would have thought that Brydge was using the Apple Smart Connector technology.

The Brydge remains stable in regular use, but if you press the top back to the full 135-degree angle, you may see the keyboard lift up a bit. If you spend a lot of time tapping away on the display with the iPad in the keyboard, then you may see some tipping. When using the keyboard, you should try to spend most of the time using the keyboard and the trackpad to navigate on the iPad.

The large trackpad is very nice to use with multiple finger gestures, but it is interesting to see that press in clicks don't really work on the top third of the trackpad. Given that I use tend to use my thumb to press down click, it has not been an issue in daily usage but is something to be aware of on the trackpad.

The natural comparison that will be made here is between the Apple Magic Keyboard case and the Brydge 12.9 Max Plus. The Apple keyboard is $100 more expensive, half a pound lighter uses the Apple Smart Connector, has a more limited range of viewing angles, and has less keyboard travel. The Brydge keyboard also has a full row of function keys to control common settings and a trackpad that looks to be three times the size of the Apple Magic Keyboard. The performance and responsiveness of the keyboards is the same, despite the different connection technologies. While Apple's keyboard has a cool floating design and is lighter, the Brydge keyboard offers more and is $100 less expensive.

Some people quickly jump to a conclusion of the Brydge keyboard due to the use of Bluetooth, but the company had worked to create a significantly improved experience to keep the iPad and keyboard connected for up to four hours without any large measurable drain on the battery of the devices. When you return to the keyboard within that four hour period, a simple tap on the trackpad wakes up the iPad, and off you go. Don't let the use of Bluetooth deter you from considering the Brydge keyboard, but look at the size, weight, key travel, build quality, and other aspects as you make your choice of a keyboard for your iPad.

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