So Apple came out with a Smart Keyboard with a trackpad, and we know that Brydge has one coming already. My big question is, does the trackpad really work well with iPadOS? Is the premium price of the Apple keyboard at $449 CDN or the Brydge keyboard at $300 CDN truly going to provide $200 - 300 (Canadian) more value than something cheaper from Amazon?
That's what this post is about. I grabbed a $99USD (about $130 CDN) keyboard for my iPad Pro that had a trackpad from Amazon and we're going to see how that budget option performs.
I'm sure some people are going to fault the construction of this iPad keyboard case because it's made of plastic where the Brydge is made of aluminum. To me the real question is, do I think it will last for the life of the iPad? I'll call the life of this iPad 3 - 5 years, and I'd say that it will probably last just fine. The biggest point of failure may come for those users that are going to take their iPad in/out of the case a lot. I could certainly see the plastic frame breaking with repeated removal and replacement of the iPad.
By the same token, I could see the rubber inserts in the Brydge keyboard coming unglued and failing in the same service life. For this Brydge does provide replacement rubber shims for a reasonable $17.99. I don't see any reasonable way a user could swap out the top case of this with a replacement, nor do I see a replacement purchasable anywhere.
Outside of that caveat, I find the construction to be fine. There is very little flex in the keyboard when I try to twist it, and certainly nothing I feel when I'm typing. It also has a huge plus of being USB-C based for charging which I love. I also love the hardware on/off switch. I can't count the times I thought my Brydge was off in a drawer only to realize it was still paired draining down. Maybe I left it on, but it's also highly possible something pressed the switch long enough to turn the keyboard on while in my iPad case stack.
It really doesn't matter, because it's much less likely this cheaper case will have that issues because of the hardware on/off switch.
One knock on the construction is the lack of weight. Yes the Brydge keyboard doubles the weight of your iPad, and this is much lighter. That also means that when I'm using it on my lap it falls backward if I don't have my palms on the case. It balances fine on a couch or hard surface, but that lap issue is annoying.
On the battery life front, the Amazon listing only said "long lasting", but the manual puts a number on that of 2.5 hours. I can only assume that this number is with backlighting on because I've seen far better battery life than 2.5 hours and I never use backlighting. During testing I've used this for 3 weeks between charges and it's always had battery when I want to use it. Put it on the charger every few weeks and you too should have enough battery life to get through many long working sessions. Fortunately on the charging front, it also uses USB-C so you don't have to carry so many cables around1(https://youtu.be/L_vMk_2Pbzw)]. If you haven't used the keyboard in a few months they recommend you charge it before use.
The manual says it's going to take 3 hours to charge, which feels like a long time if the claim of 2.5 hours working time is also true. I simply designate a charging day for cases and charge them without much thought about the time it takes because I'm in the office doing other things. If you do care, then the LED flashes when it's plugged in and charging, and stays solid when it's fully charged.
My big gripe with the battery is that it doesn't report it's status to iPadOS, which feels like it should be table stakes for any bluetooth device. I don't see a way to tell what charge level the battery is at. The only thing the manual tells you is that the red light above the battery icon will flash red when it's low on battery. No idea how long you have to charge it after it starts flashing, but that's what will happen.
With iPadOS 13.4 I had hopes that the trackpad on this device would get better. Specifically I hoped that the palm rejection would improve because it's not great. Unfortunately that didn't happen, and while the overall trackpad experience is possibly better when using iPadOS 13.4, it's not what you would call great.
Because of the latest released of iPadOS, you get more gestures you can use with the trackpad. You can now get to the dock and home screen by pulling your device to the bottom of the screen. You can activate SlideOver by pressing your mouse to the right side and you can get to notifications and Control Center from the top of your iPad screen.
I feel like the scrolling is actually worse now that there is official trackpad support in iPadOS. See this keyboard, and any trackpad that worked with iPadOS prior to 13.4, was emulating a mouse to trick the system into letting it work. I'm not sure what confluence of events happened between the software and the mouse emulation, but scrolling is more jumpy at times and less responsive. It seems to take multiple swipes to get scrolling to happen now, where it happened right away prior to 13.4
We did see an improvement in dynamic pull to refresh gestures though. They simply didn't work prior to 13.4, and they do now. It wasn't a deal breaker previously, but pull to refresh is nice to have now. You can also execute a few other pull gestures by tapping once then a second time while holding. That simulates your finger pressed on the screen interacting with the interface. Again, it's not wonderful, but it works.
The trackpad comes with a bunch of built in gestures. These worked prior to 13.4, but all the fancy ones stopped with the update.
I miss the three finger tap to return to the home screen, but any other three finger gesture was simply way to hard to do on this small trackpad that I almost never had them work. If you've customized the Accessibility menu you'd miss the two finger tap as well to bring it up. I never did customize that menu so it wasn't something I used though.
One big failing in the trackpad department is that I can't find a way to have a long press gesture. When I'm using a mouse I tie that to right click, because it usually does what you'd expect a right click to do on macOS.
I miss my long press.
The final issue with the trackpad is that it has bad palm rejection. I grabbed an 2010 MacBook Pro I had around to test typing on that and when typing I simply couldn't get the cursor to respond to my palm on the trackpad. Not so with this case. Make sure you never touch the trackpad with your palm because it's going to pull the cursor to some other spot you don't want it to be.
Now to mitigate this problem you can turn the trackpad off with
fn+T. That is what I do when I'm typing lots so that I simply don't have the possibility of hitting the trackpad by accident. Then when I'm using the trackpad to navigate the interface I turn it back on with a quick keyboard command.
The keys feel about as you'd expect from a case like this. Bit soft, and they're fairly quiet. Some people would find them mushy, and not like them. I'm okay with their feel, though the Brydge has a much more crisp feel when you're typing.
For the most part the layout of the keyboard is fine. It's got a function row and a dedicated home key in the same place you see many keyboards have an escape key. One quirk is that the key they designate for locking your device doesn't work with a single press, you actually have to hold the 'fn' key and then press lock in the upper right side of the keyboard. This means it's not a one handed activity for anyone I can think of. The benefit to this two handed action is that you don't accidentally lock the device if you overreach the delete key and press the lock key.
An annoyance on this keyboard, but it's not alone here, is that it crams some extra keys around the 1/2 heigh arrow keys. I can deal with 1/2 height arrows, but the Page Up/Down keys added over the left/right arrows means I get errant key strokes fairly regularly.
For you RGB and backlight people, it has RGB back lighting. It's got a few brightness levels and you can change the configuration of the lighting. If you're so inclined you can even make it "breath" by using fn+Q and fn+W which will activate it and then change the breathing frequency. As I've said with every keyboard I've reviewed with backlighting, I never use it so...
I was all set to say yes you should purchase this keyboard because it's so much cheaper than the Brydge Pro+ and I couldn't imagine that it would be hundreds of dollars better. Now though, I want to see a revised version of the case that takes iPadO 13.4 into account. If it could improve scrolling and reduce errant palm presses, then this is a decent inexpensive keyboard.
If you hover 100% of the time you type and never hit the trackpad, then you won't be bothered by the issues with palm rejection.
If you don't worry about the trackpad and simply assume it's a laptop style keyboard case for an iPadPro, then this is a valid contender. Sure, I have a Brydge keyboard and it's a bit nicer, but it's not hundreds of dollars nicer. Grabbing my Brydge out as I wrote this review...I miss the trackpad. I wish it was better supported in the case, but I certainly want a good case with a trackpad.
I'm still interested in the new Apple Magic Keyboard for iPadPro despite it's crazy high price.