One of the toughest assignments for an iPad keyboard manufacturer to face is trying to make a keyboard for the iPad mini. The tiny tablet usually forces designers to cram keys too close together, move seldom-used keys to unfamiliar locations, or even make the keyboard case larger than the mini in order to accommodate the keys. When Brydge asked if I'd like to review the new Brydge for iPad mini 1, 2 & 3 (US$129.99, affiliate link), I jumped at the chance since I was impressed with their BrydgeAir Keyboard for iPad Air 1 & 2. Let's take a look and see how the smaller sibling of that 5-star keyboard case fares.
The basic design of the Brydge for iPad mini — AKA BrydgeMini —is quite similar to that of the BrydgeAir in that the keyboard acts as a cover for the screen of the device, held on with two small silicone-lined tabs that are attached to 180-degree hinges. That gives the tablet a remarkable range of motion when it is installed, from fully-closed to laying flat next to the iPad mini.
On the front edge of the BrydgeMini are a sliding on/off switch and a pairing button. A single micro-USB port is used for charging, with a charge expected to last for up to three months of usage. It takes about an hour to fully charge the BrydgeMini.
The BrydgeMini lacks the speakers that are built into the BrydgeAir, but there’s a reason for that; there’s simply not enough room in the diminutive keyboard. Four large rubber feet ensure that the keyboard won’t slide on surfaces, a small pair of rubber “bumpers” near the bottom row of keys keeps the keyboard from contacting the mini’s screen.
A lot of other keyboard cases and covers for the mini share a common problem — the opening around the Lightning port is small, meaning that the case blocks special cables like the Lightning to VGA Adapter. Not so with the BrydgeMini, which gives unfettered access to all of the switches and ports on the iPad mini.
You might expect a keyboard this small to lack the backlighting that is built into the BrydgeAir, but that’s not the case. With a press of a “lightbulb” key on the top row of the keyboard, the white backlighting turns on, and successive presses bring it through two higher levels of brightness. This is intelligent backlighting, too — if you don’t touch a key for a while, the backlighting turns off to conserve battery power. Tap a key, and it comes right back up.
To get all of the keys into a small space, they’re a bit smaller than on the BrydgeAir or Apple’s Magic Keyboard. The spacing is good on the keys so an off-center keypress won’t result in a misspelling.
There are six rows of keys, featuring all of the regular keys you’d expect plus some mini-specific keys for Home, Lock, backlight, brightness up/down, on-screen keyboard, Spotlight search, reverse/play/pause/fast-forward, and volume up/down. The 2 and 3 number keys are set up to type the Euro € and British Pound £ keys through a function key combo.
The keyboard matches the current colors of the iPad mini line; silver, space gray, and gold.
Installation of the BrydgeMini is a snap. You basically flip the hinges up, line up the iPad mini with the keyboard, and then push the mini down into the silicone pads in the "jaws" that are on the hinges. There's no need to push the mini into a case of any sort, and I know from experience with the BrydgeAir that should I need to separate the mini from the keyboard, I can do that easily as well.
The "jaws" on the hinges are aligned perfectly with the sides of the mini screen so that none of your view is obstructed. Likewise, if the user needs to tap anything on the iPad mini's screen, there are no obstructions keeping him or her from doing so.
The backlighting on the keys is bright enough to allow work in total darkness. All of the other special iPad function keys work very well.
The test of any keyboard, whether for a full-sized iPad, iPad Pro, or iPad mini, is how it feels and natural it is to type quickly on it. I found it very easy to adjust to the smaller size of the BrydgeMini, and the entire "Function" section of this review was typed at top speed on the mini.
Several keys on the keyboard do double duty out of necessity. The Q key, for example, shares space with the grave accent and the tilde. To type a tilde, you press the function key, shift key and Q key. Typing a vertical bar or "pipe symbol" is done by typing function-shift-].
The good thing is that the most important keys -- the letters, numbers, and punctuation -- are all in the proper locations for speedy typing. While the Return and Shift keys are the size of a regular key instead of elongated, they're still exactly where you'd expect them to be, making use of those keys simple.
Hats off to the designers of the BrydgeMini, as they put a bright green LED below the caps lock key to indicate when the keyboard is in caps lock mode. I don't know how many times on other iPad and iPad mini keyboards I have accidentally tapped the caps lock key before typing in a website password and not known since there was no caps lock indicator.
As you'd expect, the BrydgeMini has magnets built into the front end of the keyboard so that when the keyboard is closed, the mini shuts off. The inverse is true as well, with the screen turning on when the iPad is lifted into typing mode.
Like its big brother, the BrydgeMini has a solid feel thanks to its all aluminum construction. The ability to tilt the iPad to almost any angle between 0 and 180 degrees makes it possible to adjust it to whatever is the most comfortable for you.
To be honest with you, I've always considered the iPad mini to be the least productive unit of all of the iPad line simply due to the lack of decent keyboards for it. The BrydgeMini is hands-down the best keyboard for the iPad mini, turning the little tablet into a workhorse of productivity. Sure, there are a lot of cheaper Bluetooth keyboards for the iPad mini -- there seems to be a fire sale on Amazon right now of $19.99 mini keyboards -- but in the case of the BrydgeMini the old saying that "You get what you pay for" is definitely true.
At press time it’s unknown if the keyboard will work with the upcoming iPad mini 4. It might take just a slightly thicker silicon pad, and since Brydge already includes two pads (black and white) with the BrydgeMini, including another one in the box wouldn’t be an issue.
I have absolutely no complaints or qualms about this keyboard, and I look forward to using it with the iPad mini as a very portable writing workstation. Due to the excellent construction, solid design, smooth typing feel with good feedback, backlighting, and a number of other factors, the BrydgeMini is an Apple World Today Top Pick as the Best iPad mini keyboard of 2015.