The market for iPad add-on keyboards is so competitive that in order to be successful each new model must really stand out from the crowd. The Brydge 9.7 does this by including a built-in pair of speakers, a chassis that’s been machined from a single block of aluminum, and hinges that can be rotated through a 180º arc.
Update: This accessory was designed for the original iPad Air, but has since been updated to work with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the iPad Air 2 right out of the box. At that time, it’s name was changed from BrydgeAir to Brydge 9.7.
Build and Design
Brydge didn’t cut any corners when designing this keyboard. The aluminum chassis makes the Brydge 9.7 feel very solid and look utterly professional. It’s available in silver, grey, and gold to match the iPad’s own color scheme.
On one edge are a pair of clamps that the iPad slides into. These then become the hinges that turn the tablet and keyboard into a clamshell. The tablet is held securely in the clamps, so there’s no concern of it accidentally sliding out, but not so tightly that removing the computer is a problem.
The hinges have exactly the right amount of firmness. While opening and closing the clamshell isn’t difficult, there’s no hint of movement when interacting with the touchscreen.
Some add-on keyboards offer little or no choice in the angle at which the screen is held. The Brydge 9.7, on the other hand, offers more than many laptops: a full 180º. And this keyboard is solid enough that there are no problems with the device rocking backward when it is being used in the lap.
But there is a small price to pay to get all that solidness: The whole thing weighs 1.2 pounds. But the fact that it outweighs the iPad is what makes it a stable platform when being used in the lap.
The hinges are designed to hold the tablet with the screen facing the keyboard, but our tests showed that the device can be reversed, turning the Brydge 9.7 into a stand for drawing or watching videos. The only drawback is that the clamps cover the lower left and right corners of the display.
The power button is located on the front edge of this device. Next to it are a pair of buttons, one that turns the speakers on and off and another used to pair the keyboard with the tablet. The look of these mirror the power button and volume buttons on the iPad Air, another sign that Brydge put a tremendous amount of thought into the design.
There are four rubber “feet” on the bottom. Otherwise, it’s all-aluminum exterior would be so slick the device would slide easily in use.
Many people like to listen to music on their laptop or tablet. The speakers that are part of the iPad Air aren’t particularly loud, so the BrydgeAir includes a pair that offer more volume. However, these can’t match the audio quality provided by Apple – in a blind test, people always preferred the built-in speakers to the ones in this accessory — so their only advantage is that they are louder
Our recommendation is that they primarily be used to provide sound when using the iPad as a video player with the screen reversed so that the speakers face the audience. This doesn’t noticeably improve the quality, but will allow several people to more easily hear the audio.
Update: This still holds true for the iPad Air 2. However, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro includes four speakers and is capable of putting out about as much sound as the Brydge 9.7.
The Brydge 9.7’s keyboard is the same size as the ones in small laptops, which means it’s suitable for touch typing. The keys are nearly full size and there’s good key separation, but travel could be better.
The layout is the usual QWERTY with a full 5 rows of keys, but with some of the ones on the edges reduced a bit in size. Brydge even found room for a set of directional keys.
There’s also a set of iOS function keys in a sixth row across the top. These control the volume of music playing in the background, or start and stop it. They can also be used to raise or lower the backlight, and there’s one that takes the place of the iPad’s Home Button, and another that functions as a power button.
Typing without sufficient lighting can be a struggle, so Brydge built a backlight into this keyboard. There are four levels, so users can balance the need for additional light against battery drain.
One of the nice little touches of this device is that the hinges that hold up the iPad display also hold the keyboard up at a slight angle, making typing just a bit easier.
Brydge says this accessory can last for up to two months on a single charge of its built-in battery. It’s likely to last for much longer than that if only the keyboard is used while the backlight and speakers are kept mostly inactive.
The keyboard will automatically shut down its connection to the iPad if not used for a few minutes to reduce the drain on the batteries in this accessory and in the tablet. The keyboard backlight will also shut itself off if no one is typing.
Speaking of saving on battery life, closing the clamshell will automatically shut off the iPad’s display, and opening it will reactivate it. Closing the clamshell doesn’t turn off the speakers – these need to be manually shut down with the buttons on the edge of the Brydge 9.7.
Charging this accessory simply requires plugging the included micro-USB cable into any USB port.
There are dozens of add-on keyboards for the iPad Air that try to turn this tablet into a ultralight laptop, but none that we have tested comes closer than the Brydge 9.7. The built-in speakers are an important part of this, but the whole design of this device contributes as well.
It’s certainly heavy, and at $149.99 is among the most expensive tablet keyboard cases on the market, but this item is somewhat like buying a Cadillac: there are smaller, cheaper options, but those won’t be as high quality.
Those looking for a premium add-on keyboard for the iPad Air should give the Brydge 9.7 serious consideration.
Update: Over a year after its initial release, the Brydge 9.7 is still one of the best add-on keyboards available, and is well suited to turn the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, or an iPad Air 2, into a 2-in-1 tablet/laptop.