So I've been playing with an iPad accessory called The Brydge. This is an amazingly engineered aluminum keyboard that essentially turns your iPad into a laptop. What this really means is that I now have an apple Laptop with builtin cellular broadband and a touchscreen (a product I've been clamoring for for years).
Like my previous entry about iCache's "Geode" product, this product has suffered from some of the Kickstarter issues, and because of the nature in which they've chosen to make their updates available, I can't be sure to know the whole story, but I'll share my own experiences.
I wasn't a kickstarter backer (I didn't have an iPad when this product was in its kickstarter phase).
While others have complained about shipping speeds, I got noticably faster shipping than normal probably because Brydge is literally one town over from me, in nearby Menlo Park.
I bought the speakerless model because a) it was in stock at the time I needed it and b) Media Playback isn't a major use-case for me, so I can't speak to any audio features.
If you go to their site and watch the video, you'll notice that their original concept had a single-piece hinge, in the center of the unit. They've since switched over to two separate hinges, one at either side, and rather than "clamping" onto your ipad, they rely on a friction grip, accomplished by a couple of silicon inserts that fit into the aluminum hinges. Mine came with the inserts for the ipad 2 preinstalled, and swapping them out for the inserts for the 3/4 was annoying because of the residual adhesive left behind when I pulled the 2-series inserts off.
I've read some reports of missing keys or keys not working (on the various twitter and kickstarter forums). I have experienced nothing like this, the typing is solid as heck on this thing, and the action is very similar to my other apple keybaords.
Brydge made some decisions in keyboard layout that I can't agree with. Noticably missing is an "Escape" key. Some people complain about the size of the right-shift key (it's slightly narrower than most other keys, definitely not a "bar" like on most full-sized keyboards, but as I've been a netbook user for a while, this is nothing new to me, and I adapted quickly. (I also don't have a "standard" typing style, I'm not a home-row typist, so perhaps this means I'm better off with slight differences like this). Where you'd normally find an "escape" key, there's an ipad-specific "home screen" key. Near as I can tell, there's also not a key combo (like FN-homekey) that will cause the Brydge to send "ESC".
Like most keyboards, this one has a hotkey (ctrl-k) that causes it to go into "pairing mode", and this was just plain careless engineering.
They made the hotkey non-changeable, at least as far as I can tell.
They made it a standard keystroke, one that's used in unix programs, and one that other applications might want to accept. Given, most apps won't be looking for it on the ipad, but one of the conceivable uses of a full-sized keyboard is to use the ipad to run SSH, VNC, Remote Desktop, etc.
Considering this keyboard has an "FN" key, they could have utilized that for the pairing keystroke, but they didn't.
They made the hotkey work all the time, not simply at poweron (or within say, ten seconds of poweron). They made it instant, in that even a tap of it works, and doesn't require a hold-down.
They made the hotkey initiate "pairing mode" even if the keyboard is already paired and active.
Hilarity ensues when I mention that in my editor of choice, the alternate keystroke for "ctrl-k" is "esc esc k". Neither of which I can type.
When I wrote to firstname.lastname@example.org, I found that Brydge wasn't answering email, had no customer service phone number, hadn't updated twitter in several days, and other folks on the Kickstarter forums and/or twitter were also complaining, some going so far as to assume that they had taken the money and run. Since then, they've gotten back to me basically saying "we've passed your feedback on to our engineers", but I'd still like an answer: is the firmware baked-in, or can it be upgraded (considering that bluetooth supports file exchange and push, as well as the fact that the charger is also a USB port).
To wit, that answer comes down to "do I recompile software to use alternate keystrokes, or do I just sit tight and wait for a fix?"
I'm finding that while this works as a general text-entry device, the navigation around the iPad itself isn't so great. For example, I'm sure I'd love it if there was some kind of alt-tab like keystroke, or the ability from the home screen to choose an app, without using Voiceover as a workaround, so there is a weird combination of typing and pawing at the screen that goes on. For example, the facebook app doesn't have a press-enter-to-send option. Skype occasionally does send-on-enter, other times not. Facebook Messenger (normally an iphone-only app) simply seems to refuse to work with this keyboard.
Note that this isn't a crack against the Brydge, but against iOS. There are some useful blog posts like this one or even better this one that go into how navigation can be made to work, but Apple could have made this more than an afterthought.
- The battery life on this thing is phenominal. I used it (from the factory with no charge) for about two weeks before I thought to even plug it in. And when I did, it went to fully-charged in about a half hour.
The pairing keystroke is by far the single most frustrating item. The fix will come in one of three forms:
We won't fix it, find a workaround.
There'll be a firmware fix, hold on.
It'll be fixed in Brydge 2.0, at which point I give this one to my girlfriend for her ipad (or chuck it on ebay).
Brydge LLC needs to invest in a ticketing system for their support requests, refund requests, and the like. This hard-and-loose startup stuff is damaging their reputation.
A hotfix for the escape key issue is also appreciated, but most SSH apps have an "escape" option on-screen.
Otherwise, it's an incredibly solid product, an outright pleasure to use, and, much like my car (the Smart ForTwo) and my iphone keyboard, it starts conversations. It impresses people, makes other people want one. It sells itself, and the annoyances are mostly an edge-case for the sysadmin, which are unlikely to affect people who want to write stories or send IMs.