Other tools: the long-winded case of the four keyboards

For the past year and a half I've been on a quest for the perfect iPad keyboard. I've written before on how iOS has essentially become my main platform, eclipsing macOS for almost all but photography-related tasks. But what should've been a fairly simple purchase turned out to be quite the adventure. A rather expensive adventure in fact. Welcome to The Long-Winded Case of the Four Keyboards.

Chapter One: Apple Wireless Keyboard

Lots of miles with this guy...

One fine day I thought to myself "hey, how much nicer would it be to write on the couch or the deck with my iPad, instead of sitting in front of an iMac ?". I remembered my Powerbook era and the freedom that came with it. So I did. Well, I tried. I love the power of an on-screen keyboard that can morph itself to the task at hand but the truth is, I was never able to type on any iPad reliably. Not long-form anyway. So to further test the waters, I paired it with the iMac's Bluetooth wireless keyboard and—after much fiddling and conflicts (always fun to play the Bluetooth whack-a-mole game)—I was hooked. But it quickly became very clear that 1) this combo needed a flat, steady surface to function properly and 2) it was a half-hearted solution: the keyboard was too wide, too heavy, it had no iPad-centric function keys. The setup was right but the gear was wrong. I needed a dedicated keyboard.

Chapter Two: Logitech Keys-To-Go

The Keys-To-Go is an extremely thin and light keyboard, made from what Logitech calls Fabric Skin—a sort of tissue-like material that (they claim) is durable and spill-resistant. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the typing experience despite keys that offered almost no travel at all. I immediately took to it and was even able to easily keep up my usual speed. The problem came with that aforementioned durability: within a few months the fabric began to warp. Not a huge deal...until keys stopped working. I was away on assignment when the R stopped registering, then the S. Within a few days it became a full-on cascading effect. To their credit Logitech eventually honoured their warranty and sent me a brand new unit. But it took a little too much time and when they finally came through I had already moved on. That replacement still works btw. But the fabric is now just as warped as the original unit, even though it's basically been sitting unused. Time bomb? I'll never know.

Chapter Three: Typo—what's in a name?

Ryan. Seacrest.
I almost passed just because of that. Petty? Sure. Except it turns out my instincts were spot on.

The original Typo keyboard was cast into the limelight when the eponymous Seacrest-backed company was sued by Blackberry (!) for copyright infringement. They were selling an accessory that added a physical Blackberry-ish keyboard to the iPhone. And they lost, big time. So they pivoted and re-invented their Typo, this time as a keyboard case for the iPad.

After my experience with the lower-priced Logitech I figured I needed to invest in something more serious. I did a lot of research and eventually settled on two possibilities: the Brydge and the Typo. Both had pros and cons, good and less good reviews, as most products do these days. The Typo was more expensive but it allowed the iPad to be used vertically (which I thought would be nice) and in the end, it came down to laziness: my local Apple store had it in stock.

The keyboard's standout feature when it was released was built-in auto-correct, at a time when external keyboards couldn't access the feature. A few short months later however, Apple released iOS 9—taking away the Typo's big advantage. But the keyboard was never updated and its built-in auto-correct remained, hardwired and impossible to turn off. This may just seem like a minor annoyance but here's where it got interesting: this American-made keyboard (sold internationally) would not type certain non-english letter combinations. And by combinations I mean what writers call W.O.R.D.S. I'm NOT kidding. The Typo would replace certain words with err...typos. For instance, the pronoun he is il in french. Anytime I would type il the Typo would "correct" it to ilfs. Which as far as I know isn't English OR French. I tried everything from disabling iOS auto-correct to trying text substitution...no go. The keyboard would override anything I tried. I emailed support who replied a month later (bra.vo) with a boilerplate non-answer. Again: this $200 keyboard refused to type words I needed to write. Points for originality I guess. When I did manage to type, I usually endedupwithsentencesthatlookedlikethis. Because you see, the space bar was also a very precious little beast that needed a lot of attention. Another "special feature" of the Typo were the two function buttons on the top row (replacing f2 and f3) dedicated to the company's contact and calendar apps. Never mind the design choice of forcing this on users ...those apps NEVER saw the light of day. Not a peep, not even a screenshot. Do we sense a pattern here?

Apps? Who said anything about apps?

Still, I toughed it out, hoping the company would eventually own up to their one and only product with a firmware update, perhaps even release those promised apps. Well, Typo's website is gone and Apple no longer sells the keyboard (they should never have sold it in the first place). A Google search yields very few results (most are about the Blackberry mess) but I've seen it on sale here and there, obviously old inventory certain stores are trying to get rid of. Do not buy this at ANY price. I can't believe no one has taken Seacrest to task on this disaster. If I lived in the US I'd look into suing their ass. Again.

Chapter four: Brydge or How I found Sanity at last

Which brings us to the here and now. I've typed this entire post on a Brydge 9.7—the model for the iPad Air 2 (or 1 or Pro). The same one I almost bought instead of the Typo, so many months ago. Lesson learned.

As soon as I opened the box I knew I was finally home: no fabric, no weird sticky plastic. the Brydge is made of aluminum and feels like an actual Macbook keyboard. The keys travel the way they should and I can finally type at full speed, comfortably. It isn't a case: the Brydge is simply a keyboard with two hinges into which you insert the iPad. The result is very slick and light—more so than I had expected. I'm also quite impressed by how closely the Brydge's Space Gray metal matches the iPad when they're snapped together. It genuinely feels like a single unit.

The screen is backlit—very useful for this night owl—and the iPad can easily be removed and inserted into the Brydge's hinges, for either notebook or tablet use. The weight distribution also makes sense: the keyboard is heavier than the screen (iPad) which makes laptop use —i.e on an actual lap—a perfectly comfortable option. I do have a few gripes: the lack of a Caps Lock light is hard to understand; the fact that Control Center becomes difficult if not impossible to activate (the iPad sits very low on the hinges*); and the dedicated Siri key that sits next to CTRL on the left side of the keyboard, that I keep hitting by mistake. But that I can train myself to avoid (it's happening less and less already) and none of the others are deal breakers—notes for a 2.0 version however.

I've been all in with the iPad and iOS for a while but this keyboard feels like the missing link I'd been hoping for all along. After such a long and painful road it does feel rather good. If I eventually add a bigger iPad model I'll probably even choose the corresponding Brydge keyboard over Apple's own solution, despite the lack of a Smart Connector.

The Brydge is not inexpensive: we're talking $149.99 US. But if you happen to be reading this in november 2016, they're having a pre-holidays sale that shaves off $20 on this particular model. I signed up for an account and got an additional $10 off on my first purchase.

I know it's geeky as hell but I'm actually giddy right now: I'm in Ulysses, using my preferred Dark Mode theme, typing on those backlit keys as the sun sets in the background. 1,487 words in and I can count the typos on a single hand.

Case closed.**


* Making the hinges a little bit shallower would solve this entirely—without affecting the overall balance.
 ** Fingers crossed.
P.S All images shot with the X-T1, the XF 18-55mm and XF 60mm.