Review: Brydge Pro Keyboard

I’ve tried both Logitech and Zagg’s versions of the iPad keyboard/case combo before, and neither of them worked out for me. The Logitech version was rugged and had a good keyboard, but it was too hard to get the iPad out of the case when I wanted to use it as a tablet. The Zagg folio felt cheap, and wasn’t comfortable to type on.

I’m currently using the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio, and it’s…fine. The angle that it sets the screen at is too steep to be comfortable, and it doesn’t sit very stably on my lap, but it works, and I can type on it fast enough.

But I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Brydge keyboards, especially the “it makes it work just like a laptop” line. Comfortable to type on. Holds the screen at any angle you want. Easy to pull it out to become a tablet again.

So when they recently went on sale — because the new version, with a built-in trackpad, is coming — I snapped one up.

First Impressions

First off, this thing is absolutely gorgeous in the box. Like, I didn’t want to take it out, it was so pretty.

And the box itself is pretty impressive; it’s got a cheatsheet of what all the different function keys do printed right on the inside cover. There’s almost no need to refer to the included QuickStart instructions.

Getting the iPad in the clips isn’t too bad. They’re stiff, but moveable. Ditto taking it out again. You need a firm grip, and a willingness to pull hard on something you might have paid $1,000 for, but it can be done.

Typing

The typing experience on this keyboard is, in a word, miserable.

My accuracy immediately plunged when I tried typing anything at all on it. The keys are both small and very close together, making the whole thing feel cramped. I felt like I was typing with my hands basically overlapping, it’s that small.

On top of that, the keys sometimes stutter, or miss keystrokes. I had to strike each one much harder than I’m used to, which makes their small size and tight spacing even worse.

And the keyboard itself has a noticeable lag between when you open it to use it, and when it manages to pair with the iPad. It’s a small thing, to be sure, but when you’re used to the instantly-on nature of everything else on the iPad, it’s a drag to have to wait on your keyboard to catch up.

Oh, and did I mention the whole thing — keyboard, screen hinge, everything — lifts off the table as you tilt the screen back? So the further back the screen goes, the more the keys tilt away from the plane of the desk. Yes, that means you have to adjust your typing to the angle of the screen, which is…not normal?

Still, a proper Inverted-T for the arrow keys is nice to have back.

And controlling screen brightness from the keyboard is cool. Not worth losing all that space that could have been put into larger keys or better key gaps (or just better keys, period), but here we are.

Portability

Jesus, this thing is heavy. I mean, it feels as heavy as my 16″ work laptop. Definitely not feeling footloose and fancy-free while the iPad is locked into it.

As a bonus, it’s really slippery when closed, making it both heavy and hard to hold onto. Just an accidental drop waiting to happen.

And I don’t see how the tiny rubber things sticking up from the case are going to protect my screen when it’s closed, especially as the thing ages and those rubber nubs become…nubbier.

Using it as a Laptop

The clips holding the iPad in place are really stiff, except when they’re not. That is, anytime you forget it’s not a real laptop and pick it up by the ipad.

There’s also no way to open it when closed without knocking any Apple Pencil you have attached out of place.

It’s fairly stable on my lap, so long as I don’t tilt the screen back too far. There’s a point where the whole thing just starts to wobble.

While the iPad’s in it, it’s kind of hard to hit the bottom of the screen to dismiss the current application and get the home screen back. Thankfully, they included a dedicated Home button on the keyboard, a nice touch.

However, the “On-Screen Keyboard” key doesn’t work. At all.

Comparison with the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio

Using this made me realize things I want in an iPad keyboard that I never noticed before:

  • I don’t want to have to worry about plugging my keyboard in.
  • I don’t want to worry about having it come on and re-pair it with my iPad every time.
  • I don’t want to have to jerk on my iPad every time I want to convert it back to a tablet.

And the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio checks all of those boxes.

It’s also lighter, and the keys are spaced further apart, making it less cramped. They also don’t need as much pressure to activate.

Final Thoughts

So, yeah…I’ve returned the Brydge, and gone back to using the Smart Keyboard Folio.

I always thought of Apple’s version as the “default,” and that third-party keyboards would naturally be better. But it turns out weight, portability, and ease-of-use (no charging, always on) matters a lot more to me than I thought.

More on the iPad Pro

In fact, the iPad Pro hardware, engineering, and silicon teams are probably the most impressive units at Apple of recent years. The problem is, almost none of the usability or productivity issues with iPads are hardware issues.

Found Craig Mod’s essay about the iPad Pro from two years ago. It’s an excellent essay, and perfectly relevant today.

It reminded me why I bought an iPad Pro to begin with: The sheer possibilities inherent in such an ultra-portable, powerful device.

But he also hits on everything that makes the iPad so frustrating to actually use. The way it wants to keep everything sequestered and hidden, when to really get some work done on it I need to have access to everything, instantly, and sometimes all at once.

I can get that on a Mac. I can’t on an iPad.

Which is why I disagree with him that the iPad is good for writing. So much of my writing time is actually spent editing, not drafting, and editing is exactly the kind of thing — lots of context switching, needing to see multiple views of the same document at once — iPad’s are terrible at.

I sincerely hope that renaming the operating system “iPadOS” means Apple will start fixing some of these glaring problems with the iPad’s software. It’s just so tragic that the hardware is being held back from its full potential by the OS.

iPad Pro: 10 Years Later, and One Year In

Looking Back

The iPad’s 10 years old this month, and so there’s a lot of retrospectives going around.

Most of them express a disappointment with it, a sense that an opportunity has been missed.

And they’re right. From UI design flaws to bad pricing, the story of the iPad is one of exciting possibilities constantly frustrated.

For my part, I’ve owned three different iPads over the past few years. I’ve ended up returning or selling them all, and going back to the Mac.

My current iPad Pro is the one I’ve had the longest. It’s made it a full year as my primary computing device, for writing, reading, and gaming.

But here I am, back typing on my 2014 Mac Mini instead of writing this on the iPad.

So what’s making me switch back?

It’s All About the Text

For a machine that should be awesome to use as a writer — it’s super-portable, it’s always connected to the internet via cell service, it lets me actually touch the words on the screen — the iPad is very, very frustrating in practice.

Most of that is due to the sheer incompetence of the UI when it comes to manipulating text.

Want to move a paragraph around? Good luck:

  • You’ll need to tap the screen once, to activate “entering text” mode on whatever application you’re in.
  • Then you’ll need to double-tap, to indicate you want to select some text.
  • Then you’ll need to move two tiny targets around to select the text you want. Tap anywhere else than exactly on those targets, and you’ll leave select-text mode entirely, and have to start over.
  • If you should accidentally need to select text that’s slightly off-screen, more fool you: once your dragging finger hits the screen edge, it’ll start scrolling like crazy, selecting all the text you find. And getting back to the start means lifting your finger off the select area and scrolling, which will kick you out of select-text mode. You’ve got to start over now.
  • Even if all your desired text is on one screen, those tiny endpoints you’re moving can start to stutter and skip around at the end of a paragraph or section of text. You know, exactly where you’d probably want to place them.
  • If you should somehow succeed in getting just the text you want selected, you need to move it. Press on the text, but not too firmly, to watch it lift off the screen. Then drag it to where you need it. Try not to need to drag it off the edge of the screen, or you’ll get the same coked-out scrolling from before. And don’t bother looking for a prompt or anything to indicate where this text is going to end up. Apple expects you to use the Force, young padawan.

That’s right. A process that is click-drag-Cmd-c-Cmd-v on a Mac is a multi-step game of Operation that you’ll always lose on an iPad.

So I’ve gotten in the habit of writing first drafts on the iPad, and editing them on the Mac.

But that assumes iCloud is working.

iCloud: Still Crazy After All These Years

Most of the writing apps on the iPad have switched to using iCloud to sync preferences, folder structure, tags, and the documents themselves.

Makes sense, right? Use the syncing service underlying the OS.

Except it doesn’t always work.

I’ve had docs vanish. I’ve popped into my iPhone to type a few notes in an existing doc, then waited days for those same notes to show up in the document on my iPad.

iOS 13 made all this worse, by crippling background refresh. So instead of being able to look down and see how many Todos I have left to do, or Slack messages waiting for me, I have to open all these applications, one by one, to get them to refresh. It’s like the smartphone dark ages.

Since my calendars, email, etc aren’t getting refreshed correctly, my writing doesn’t either. I tell you, nothing makes me want to throw my iPad across the room more than knowing a freaking block of text is there in a doc because I can see it on my iPhone but it hasn’t shown up in the iPad yet. Because not only do I not have those words there to work with, but if I make the assumption that I can continue editing the thing before sync completes, I’m going to lose the other words entirely.

But there’s Dropbox, you say. Yes, Dropbox works. But Dropbox is slow, the interface is clunky, and their stance on privacy is…not great.

You Still Can’t Code On It

I’m a multi-class programmer/writer. I write words and code. I need a machine that does both.

The iPad has been deliberately crippled, though, so no matter how fast they make the chip inside, it’ll never be able to do the most basic task of computing: Allow the user to customize it.

You can’t write iOS software on an iPad. You can’t write a little python script and watch it execute. You can’t learn a new programming language on an iPad by writing code and seeing what it does to the machine.

You can’t even get a proper terminal on it.

You’re locked out of it, forever.

And that’s the ultimate tragedy of the iPad. Not that the UI was broken, or the original Apple pricing for its software was wrong.

It’s that its users aren’t allowed to take it to its full potential.

Because that’s what it needs. Users have to be able to fix the things that are broken, in whatever creative way they see fit, for a piece of technology to become revolutionary.

And they have to be able to do it right there, on the device, without having to invest thousands of dollars in a different machine that can run the bloated thing XCode has become.

It’s that barrier, that huge NO painted across the operating system, that ultimately frustrates me about the iPad. Because it doesn’t have to be there. It was designed and built deliberately, to keep us out.

Apple Watch Series 4.0: They Finally Got It Right

I’ve come to resent having to carry my phone with me wherever I go.

It’s this large, bulky thing sitting in my front pocket that takes great pictures, it’s true, but most of the time just sits there, unused. I don’t even like to make calls with it anymore, the quality is so bad. If I want to read, or write, or watch a movie, I reach for my iPad.

So when Apple first announced the Watch, I was excited. Here was a chance to finally let it go, to be free of the phone.

And then they started describing the new Watch’s limitations. No cell service. No Siri without being near the phone. No text messaging without the phone. No…anything, really, without being near a phone.

Wasn’t till the Watch 3 that they made one that seemed to finally be an independent product. One that I could use to drop my phone habit.

But it was too bulky, the UI was too weird, and the watch interface itself wasn’t very responsive. I shelved the idea of getting one, and told myself to be patient.

That patience has finally paid off. Three weeks ago, I took the plunge, and bought a Series 4 Watch.

What Works

Fitness Tracking

It’s exactly what I wanted from a mobile workout device. Finally, I can slip out the door in the morning and head out, unencumbered by any keys (we have an electronic deadbolt) or phone, and yet I’m never out of touch (I bought the Watch with cell service), and I always know exactly how far I’ve got left to go in my workout.

I don’t have to guess if I’ve been out at least 30 min. I don’t have to speculate about how long my route is. I can change my route on the fly, and still get the right amount of exercise. I’ve even been able to do some interval training — 3 min on, 2 min off — thanks to being able to time myself with the Watch.

Phone Calls

I stopped taking calls on my phone. I just take them on my Watch, now, and no one seems to have noticed a difference.

Except me. Every time I take a call on my wrist, I feel like Batman.

Time-Keeping

You know, it’s just nice to be able to look at my wrist and know the date and time. No more fumbling to fish my phone out of my pocket.

Apple Pay

Holy crap, this works so well. If I know I’m going somewhere that takes Apple Pay, I don’t need my phone or my wallet. It’s surprisingly liberating, to have such empty pockets.

Texting with Handwriting

Took a little getting used to writing with my fingertip, but now I don’t hesitate to write out a response to a text. Nothing near as fast as typing on the iPad, mind you, but the handwriting recognition is pretty good, and improves over time. And again, it’s so much more convenient than having to pull out my phone.

What Doesn’t Work

Siri

I know, I know, everyone likes to complain about Siri. But while the speech recognition seems better on the Watch than on my iPhone (which, huh?), it’s just so frustrating to have it fail to do some (to me) basic things.

For example, you can’t add a reminder to anything but the default list. So if, like me, you keep track of your Groceries as a separate reminders list, you can’t add to it with Siri. Which means you can’t add to it with the Watch.

Siri also can’t take notes. Nevermind that Apple’s own Notes app is pretty well integrated into all their other OSes. It’s not even present on the Watch, let alone something you can tell Siri to just “take a note real quick” for you.

Siri can set a timer for you, though. I mean, that’s 2018 for you: robots that can set timers for you via your voice. Well done, Apple.

Lyft/Uber

There’s no Lyft app. If you want to get a ride, you’re going to need your phone.

And the Uber app, while it exists, is broken. I made the mistake of going downtown without my phone, and had to have a friend call a Lyft for me to get home (like a barbarian!), because the Uber app insisted I needed to “setup a payment method” before I could use it (nevermind that I called an Uber to get down there, which presumably was paid for somehow).

So what seems like a natural fit for the watch (damn, I lost my phone somewhere, let me call a cab home) isn’t something Uber or Lyft cares about.

Final Judgement

I’m keeping the Watch. It’s still not perfect, but it is ideal for most of the things I need it for: tracking exercise, staying in touch when I’m away from my desk, and leaving my phone at home.

It’s still frustrating that I have to manage the Watch itself (settings, notifications, etc) with my phone. And it’s weird that Siri can lookup the location of a random city in Norway, but can’t add “Apples” to a grocery list. But these are quibbles, and fixable ones at that.

Now I just need to get one of those new Mac Minis so I can start writing my own Watch apps…

Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli

Revelatory. Deliberately covers all of Jobs’ flaws from his early days at Apple, to show how he learned and grew during his years away to become the kind of leader that could save the company.

Along the way, builds a strong case for the importance of mentors, and for the very capable hands Jobs left the company in when he died.

Three things I learned:
– NeXT once had a deal with IBM to license their operating system to Big Blue, but it fell through because Steve couldn’t handle playing second fiddle
– All of the original five “Apple Renegades” that founded NeXT with Steve quit
– Toy Story spent four years in development before its premiere. Went through at least twelve different versions, including a “last minute” rewrite that delayed its release by a year.

Apple Woes

For me, the real sign that Apple might be in trouble was when my wife upgraded her phone, and decided against getting a new iPhone.

Understand, my wife’s the reason we’re an Apple family. She convinced me to try out a Mac way back in 1999, in the days of Bondi Blue iMacs and OS 9. The experience hooked me, but the seed planted was hers.

16 years later, everything about Apple frustrates her. She couldn’t organize her photos on her iPhone, couldn’t even access them all without third-party software. Her last iPad update wiped out all the iMovie videos she’d created over the last six months. Apple Maps always led her astray, and Siri never helped.

So she went Android for her last phone. That’s the Apple warning bell for me: my wife is Apple’s target market – smart but non-technical, creative and needing things to just work – and she doesn’t want what they’re selling anymore.

Cranky Old Man talks about the new Apple Watch

“It tracks your exercise!”
“I don’t need a watch to tell me when I’ve gotten exercise. I’m well aware when it’s happening, because I’m the one doing it!”

“It keeps accurate time!”
“So does my alarm clock, my computer, my phone, and my car. When do I not have a clock staring me in the face, counting down my final hours?”

“Friends lets you send a message with a single touch!”
“All my friends are dead.”

“It gets your attention with a tap! Isn’t that cute?”
“A tap? From that whopper? It’d break my wrist!”

“You can dictate messages to it!”
“Sure, if you enunciate like a British MP. That’s all I need, to spend my day, sitting on a park bench, cursing at my wrist.”

“You can read email on it!”
“Maybe YOU can. With the fonts I use, it’d only display one word at a time!”

“You can send sketches to people!”
“Right. Just what the world needs, more shaky doodles from my arthritic hands.”

“It can record your heartbeat!”
“Now that might be useful. Can it send it to a doctor, or – no? Baldurdash.”

“You can use it to pay for things!”
“Like I couldn’t do it before? Listen, sonny, cash is still accepted everywhere.”