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Friday, April 03, 2020

Hands-on with the iPad Pro's first trackpad keyboard case

Hands-on with the iPad Pro's first trackpad keyboard case

The Brydge Pro Plus for the new iPad Pro makes a strong case for the laptop/iPad crossover era... but...


Not a iPad Pro with a Brydge Pro Plus attached.

Scott Stein/CNET

I'd love nothing more than to say the iPad is truly a laptop. It's so close now, I can taste it. The latest version of iPadOS supports trackpads and mice now, and that means you just need a killer trackpad/keyboard case to add on. The problem is, there aren't a lot of options. Apple's version for the newest iPad Pro is expected in May. Third-party keyboard/trackpad cases will also start to arrive, and Brydge's new Pro Plus is the first I've gotten to try. Mostly, however, it's proven to me that if you're interested in a trackpad-enabled iPad keyboard case, you may want to wait just a bit longer.

I tested it on the iPad Pro 2020, but the Brydge cases will work on 2018 iPad Pros, too. Brydge made previous iPad keyboard covers, and the Pro Plus looks basically the same, but adds a trackpad. It totally seems like a MacBook bottom half, and with the iPad attached, you'd never really know I wasn't on a MacBook at first or second -- or even third glance.

I used Brydge's trackpad-enabled keyboard case with the Google Pixel Slate years ago, which was an excellent laptop-like accessory (to a not-great tablet). This iPad Pro keyboard is very similar to that, but made to work with iOS, and with an improved keyboard, according to Brydge.

There's good and bad news about Brydge's case, so far. The best may be that it arrives a month ahead of Apple's Magic Keyboard case, which is coming in May. I'll tell you what I've been noticing so far, and some of it is surprising.


The Brydge Pro Plus (left) compared to the 13-inch MacBook Pro (right).

Scott Stein/CNET

The good news

It's less expensive. At $200 or $230 for the 11-inch or 12.9-inch version, respectively, the Brydge Pro Plus is hardly cheap -- but it's a lot less than what Apple will charge for its Magic Keyboard ($300 and $350).

The keyboard is fantastic. So far, the raised keys have great travel, are backlit, and feel excellent and responsive at high speeds. I'm typing on this as well as on my 2015 MacBook Pro. I love typing on it.


Comparing Brydge's keyboard, and its extra function keys (right) to Apple's existing Smart Keyboard (left).

Scott Stein/CNET

There's a whole row of extra function keys, which Apple's Smart Keyboard case completely lacks. There's volume, play/pause, a keyboard switcher for emoji access, brightness and a totally useful home button that brings up the home screen grid of apps, or that can be double-pressed to bring up currently open apps. It works like an Escape key. There's a Siri button on the bottom left, too. This keyboard is aces.

It feels sturdy. The metal construction is great, and it feels like a laptop.


It can open up like a normal laptop, and even stay anchored in my lap (imagine!).

Scott Stein/CNET

It's totally lap-friendly. Apple's flexy Smart Keyboard Case (the one that's already available, not the Magic Keyboard case coming in May) is hard to balance on my lap, and the keyboard base wobbles. The Brydge case is solid and weighted well, and the 12.9-inch version opens and stays on my lap normally. Microsoft could take a lesson from this for its Surface Pro line. 

The bad news

The trackpad support works... but it's not as smooth as when I tried Apple's Magic Trackpad. The Brydge Pro Plus pairs via Bluetooth, and it seems that right now iOS 13.4 doesn't play as nicely with all trackpads, as I expected. Apple's own standalone Magic Trackpad (previously used largely with iMacs and Mac Mini desktops) scrolls through apps buttery-smooth and has two- and three-finger gesture support for accessing and switching apps. 


I.. .wish this trackpad worked better. (Apple's Magic Trackpad is a lot more refined right now on iPadOS 13.4.)

Scott Stein/CNET

The Brydge trackpad works for single-finger things, and also does some two-finger scrolling, but the scrolling ends up looking juddery. It lacks three-finger gestures, too, which are something the case can technically do, but iOS 13.4 doesn't allow for in the case yet. Whether that's Apple working with accessory makers to enable better support for peripherals, we'll see -- I hope Apple and Brydge end up working that part out. I'm using an early version of the case, and Apple just released iOS 13.4 recently, but it's a disappointment for now. 


These clamp-like feet make me nervous.

Scott Stein/CNET

I'm not wild about how the Brydge case connects to the iPad. Unlike Apple's magnet-based cases that snap into place, the Brydge Pro Plus has rubberized clamplike grips on either side of the keyboard that the iPad has to be gently pushed into. The grips hold the iPad, but it's not easy to pull out again, and I'm worried about possibilities of damage. The Brydge case has a back cover that magnetically attaches for a bit of protection, but the preproduction version I tried didn't have the right camera cut-out for the new iPad Pro's camera array. (Brydge promises that anyone who orders one now won't have a problem and will get the right back cover.)


The keyboard comes with a back cover for the iPad, too, but I just wanted to show you this without because it looks cool.

Scott Stein/CNET

If the trackpad worked as well as Apple's Magic Trackpad works with iOS 13.4, this would be my easy go-to. But right now, you might consider waiting things out to see how options like Logitech's trackpad cases and Apple's expensive Magic Keyboardpan out.

I've settled for using the Brydge case with Apple's Magic Trackpad sitting by the side as a solution for now -- which isn't ideal, but it's more than I had a month ago. But again, considering how early out of the gate Brydge's iPad keyboard solution is, odds are that future trackpad/keyboard solutions (including Brydge's) will be more polished. 

Apple Magic Keyboard : They still haven't shown us everything it can do