Brydge 12.3 Review: Turn a Surface Pro into a Surface Book

by Reads (949)
  • Pros

    • Well designed and built
    • Compact
    • Can bring additional storage
  • Cons

    • Relatively heavy
    • Uses Bluetooth, not the Surface Connector
    • A bit pricey

The Microsoft Surface Pro makes a great 2-in-1 when paired with a add-on keyboard. Microsoft’s own Surface Pro Type Cover is the most popular choice for this, but the Brydge 12.3 is here to challenge that dominance.

These two use quite different designs, with the Brydge 12.3 choosing to convert the tablet into a more traditional clamshell laptop shape. In addition, one version adds 128 GB of storage.

The Brydge 12.3 is compatible with the new Surface Pro (2017), Surface Pro 4, and Surface Pro 3, and can be purchased now for $149.99.

Brydge 12.3 Build & Design

The kickstand has been a hallmark of the Surface Pro line since its inception, and it makes these tablets very stable. But it also requires a lot of space, to the point where using a Surface Pro with attached keyboard in one’s lap isn’t always easy. That’s why the Brydge 12.3 eschews the kickstand completely, to the point where this stand can’t be used at all with this keyboard.

Brydge 12.3

Brydge 12.3 with Surface Pro

Instead, this accessory is attached with a pair of clips that also function as hinges. This essentially transforms the Surface Pro into a Surface Book, and makes it much easier to use in cramped spaces. It also makes setting up the computer a bit quicker: just open the clamshell and you’re ready to go.

The hinges can rotate over 160 degrees, so the tablet can lay back almost flat. Naturally, the farther back it’s rotated, the more likely it is the combination will tumble over. That’s where the kickstand/Type Cover has it’s main advantage: the tablet is always supported from underneath.

And to prevent the Surface Pro from falling backward too easily, the Brydge 12.3 has to have some heft to it. It weighs in at 1.63 pounds, compared to the Type Cover which weighs 0.6 lbs.

This accessory is also thicker than its rival, coming in at 0.3 inches. The other dimensions are set by Microsoft’s tablet: 12 in x 8.75 in.

The hinges are firm enough to hold the Surface Pro steady, to the point where our test unit doesn’t rock when we tap on the touchscreen. A downside is that opening the clamshell can’t be done with just one finger.

The tablet is firmly held by the clamps, so that our test unit was never in danger of slipping out. And if there was such a problem, the clamps can be tightened. That said, the computer isn’t held so tightly that it can’t be removed with a tug or two, so the switch to the Surface Pro functioning as a regular tablet is quick.

The engineers of the Brydge 12.3 apparently couldn’t find a way to connect their keyboard to the Surface Connector Microsoft added specifically for this type of peripheral. The keyboard needs to pivot 160 degrees around the Connector, so it’s possible that using this port just isn’t possible. Whatever the case, a wireless, Bluetooth connection is employed instead.

Brydge 12.3

Type Cover vs. Brydge 12.3

Unlike the Type Cover, the Brydge 12.3 can be typed on when it’s not touching the Surface Pro. For example, when working at a desk, it’s often convenient to have one’s keyboard and screen at different levels.

This accessory covers the front of the tablet, so it provides some protection for the screen. It does little for the sides and nothing for the back, though. Brydge has announced plans to release a protective shell to fit over the rest of the device, but this isn’t available at the time of this writing.

This product feels solid, strongly resisting our attempts to bend or twist it. The majority of the exterior is aluminum, but the keys are plastic. The clamps use a rubberized insert to prevent scratching the surface of the Surface.

Keyboard

The Brydge 12.3 fits over the front of the Surface Pro, and the generous screen in Microsoft’s tablet gives plenty of room for a keyboard. The key area is 10.75 inches wide, and 4.12 inches tall; the size of many laptop keyboards, and close to a desktop one.

Brydge 12.3

Brydge 12.3 Keyboard

There are 78 keys, and the U.S. version has them arranged in a standard Windows QWERTY layout. There are also QWERTZ and AZERTY versions. Most keys are 0.6 by 0.6 in. with 0.1 in. of key separation. Travel is 1.5 mm, which is fairly typical.

Above the letter, number, and symbol keys is a row of half-size function keys. These can be used to more easily control the display’s backlight, change the volume of music and video, and more.

White backlights enable this peripheral to be used in all kinds of conditions. This offers dim, brighter, and brightest settings, and the lighting is even in our test unit, without any keys being left out.

During extensive use, we found this keyboard to be quite easy to touchtype on. The experience is similar to a typical laptop.

Touchpad

The Brydge 12.3’s touchpad is 3.12 by 1.75 inches, which isn’t overly generous. Nevertheless, we found it quite usable. The touchpad’s surface is smooth, adding to the ease of use.

Although they aren’t marked, the lower right corner is the right mouse button, just as the lower left corner is the left mouse button.

Additional Storage

The Brydge 12.3 Pro 128 includes a built-in 128 GB SSD hard drive that can be used as additional storage or for backups. This connects to the tablet via USB cable.

Brydge 12.3

Brydge 12.3 Front and Side Views

We were unable to test this feature, as our loaner review unit is the standard model.

Brydge 12.3 Performance

Microsoft built support for Bluetooth keyboards like this one into Windows, but driver software will be installed when the Brydge 12.3 is first paired with a tablet. After that, the accessory performs exactly as expected.

To save power, this device will turn itself off if not used for 20 minutes. This is only logical, but is means this keyboard isn’t always running whenever the Surface Pro is. The need to wait a second or so while this accessory activates is probably the biggest drawback of Bluetooth keyboards.

Battery Life

The developers of the Brydge 12.3 promise that it will last for up to 3 months on a single charge. Naturally, we were unable to fully test this claim, but we can say that the accessory still has a charge above 75% after several days of heavy use,. We can’t be more specific because the Brydge 12.3 uses a simple blinking LED to indicate remaining charge level.

This item is recharged through a micro-USB port on the right edge. The necessary cable is included, but this will need to be plugged into the USB port on the Surface Pro’s own charger.

Brydge 12.3 Final Thoughts

The developer of this accessory points out that a Surface Pro with a Brydge 12.3 is lighter, significantly thinner, and much cheaper than a Surface Book, while the two devices have the same basic design.

Brydge 12.3

Brydge 12.3 in Laptop Mode

On the other side of the coin, the Brydge 12.3 is thicker, heavier, and more expensive than the Microsoft Surface Pro Type Cover.

The standard version of this product is $149.99, and the Brydge 12.3 Pro 128 is $299.99. The rival Type Cover is $129.99.

But the decision between this product and Microsoft’s add-on keyboard really comes down to preference: Do you prefer a traditional laptop shape, or do you like Microsoft’s kickstand? Fans of the former should consider the Brydge 12.3.

Pros:

  • Well designed and built
  • Compact
  • Can bring additional storage

Cons:

  • Relatively heavy
  • Uses Bluetooth, not the Surface Connector
  • A bit pricey