The Microsoft Surface Pro tablets are powerful, but using them in your lap is not easy. Enter the Brydge 12.3, a Bluetooth keyboard designed specifically for the Surface Pro 3 and 4, which MacGyvers the slate into a full-on laptop that opens and closes on a hinge and balances comfortably on your laptop, no kickstand required. However, chintzy build quality and tight clamps that make it difficult to pull the tablet in and out make this a rickety Brydge to cross.
The Brydge is pretty utilitarian. It is, in essence, the bottom half of a laptop measuring 12 x 8.8 x 0.3 inches, consisting of a slab of dark gray aluminum with a black, plastic keyboard and a small touchpad. There are two rubber spacers on the palm rest that are a bit of an eyesore, distracting from an otherwise-clean aluminum slate. But they're functional, providing some room between the aluminum and the screen of the Surface Pro that you'll inevitably connect to the keyboard when you close it like a laptop With the Surface Pro 4 connected, the whole thing weighs 3.2 pounds, compared to just 2.4 pounds with Microsoft Type Cover.
The connection to the Surface Pro (3 or 4, your choice) is by far the worst part of the design. The Brydge has two brackets that you slide the Surface into, but it's a real pain to get the tablet in there. The keyboard comes with "shims" (rubbery spacers) meant to fit the Surface Pro 4, so if you have the Surface Pro 3, you'll have to replace those with different ones that come in the box.
But even with a trusty Pro 4 at the ready, I really had to force the tablet in. On my first attempt, the left shim ripped slightly, jamming the bracket. It took several attempts to squeeze it in perfectly, but it was ultimately a snug fit; I could pick up the tablet without dislodging the keyboard. It's too bad Brydge didn't just make separate products for the SP3 and SP4, which might prevent the necessity for rubbery shims. The execution just makes the thing feel cheap.
I wish the Brydge were the exact same color as the Surface. Instead of being matte and light gray, the keyboard is shiny and dark, which, again, makes it seem cut-rate. This comes across as a lack of attention to detail. The back of the hinges stands out against the top of the Surface when the tablet is closed like a laptop, and while this setup is not jarring, it sure ain't pretty.
As a laptop keyboard, the Brydge has some distinct advantages over the Type Cover. It's certainly easier to use on your lap as a normal laptop than by pulling out the Surface's kickstand and adjusting the Type Cover. It really just works. Simply lift the top of the Surface like a laptop lid, and boom, you're typing away. While it's a little top-heavy, this is easy to get used to.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Brydge nails its primary function: Its keyboard is superior to what you get on the Type Cover. The keys offer 1.6 millimeters of travel (the SP4 Type Cover has 1.4mm) and require 78 grams of force to press. They're nice and clicky, and, as one colleague pointed out, they eliminated the unnecessary right-click button. On the 10fastfinger.com typing test, I reached 103 words per minute with a 3 percent error rate. That's not as good as I usually do (107 wpm, 2 percent), but not bad for a third-party accessory.
I found that the 3.1 x 1.7-inch touchpad was too small and stiff. I had some colleagues who appreciated the actuation, but I found that it required way too much pressure. Because this touchpad is so small, I ran into the edges often (the SP4 Type Cover has a larger, 4 x 2-inch touchpad). However, the touchpad is very accurate, and it handily supported Windows 10 gestures, like showing the desktop by swiping three fingers down and zooming in with a pinch. The caveat? Four-finger gestures, like tapping for the Action center, aren't supported (not that there's a lot of room for them).
Bluetooth and Battery Life
Microsoft doesn't let third-party vendors use its Surface Connect port, so the Brydge uses Bluetooth 3.0 to connect to the tablet. Because this keyboard doesn't use the Connect port, you have to charge the peripheral separately from the tablet via the mini USB port.
Brydge claims that its keyboard lasts three months on a charge, which means you need to worry about juicing it up only four times per year. We didn't test it for that long, but if the claim holds true, it's pretty solid. The keyboard came nowhere close to draining over the few days I used it. There's a dedicated battery button on F11 that activates a light on the delete button to show how much battery you have left (it goes green, yellow, red -- like a stoplight).
Warranty and Configurations
Brydge sells its keyboard with a one-year warranty. The base model, which we reviewed, costs $149.99 (the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover is $129.99).
Another version, the ridiculously named Brydge 12.3 Pro 128, costs $300 and also serves as an external 128GB SSD.
The Brydge 12.3 is a fine idea with mixed execution. It pairs well with your Surface tablet to create the laptop replacement you always wanted, with a solid typing experience. I can even live with the small, stiff mouse pad.
But you can tell that Brydge didn't take the time to make sure the keyboard felt like a premium product that truly matches the high-end design of the Surface Pro. Getting the tablet to fit into the system is an unnecessarily unwieldy experience -- especially since the Brydge is more expensive than Microsoft's Type Cover, which is lighter and far easier to set up.
I'd recommend the Brydge to only a very specific audience: people who often find themselves typing on their laps or cramped spaces, like airplane tray tables. For them, this execution will work fantastically, even if it feels a bit chintzy. For everyone else, the Type Cover and the kickstand are fine, especially on desks, and it feels like a more premium experience. Unless you're in that limited demographic, it's an accessory you can skip.
Image Credit: Shaun Lucas/ Tom's Guide