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A large multi-touch trackpad has now made its way to the iPad Air thanks to the Brydge Air Max+. We put it to the test to see if it is worth adding to your setup.
Brydge's Air Max+ is the latest from the keyboard maker. It includes a detachable slim-fit case for the iPad Air as well as a backlit keyboard and expansive trackpad. It comes on the heels of Byrgde's other recent products for the iPad Pro line and its independent glass trackpad.
Who is the Brydge Air Max+ for?
There's a stark difference in Brydge's keyboard offerings, especially between the all-aluminum iPad Pro models and the plastic/rugged iPad and iPad Air options. So before we evaluate how this keyboard holds up, it is worth looking at who the iPad Air is targeted at.
In Apple's lineup, iPad Air sits between the cheaper iPad and the powerful 11-inch iPad Pro. It is almost akin to a Goldilocks situation. The standard iPad loses many features, but the iPad Pro has a few that are very pro-focused. With iPad Air, Apple has the fun factor with several unique colors, USB-C for real productivity and expansion, an excellent edge-to-edge Liquid Retina display, and a beastly processor.
We'd categorize the typical iPad Air user as someone who wants a great tablet that can get stuff done but is still affordable.
We see Brydge target that use case explicitly with the Air Max+. It's affordable to bundle the keyboard and case together, but still just as productive as the more expensive aluminum versions. It also allows users to protect their investment while on the go.
Brydge Air Max+ Build and quality
The device comes in two distinct pieces. There is a thin, protective shell case for iPad Air that covers all the edges, back, and adds a lip on the front. It even has a groove for Apple Pencil.
This case connects magnetically to a sizeable back panel attached to the keyboard. This is different than the original and well-known Brydge hinges. The magnets are excellent and make connecting and removing a breeze.
The buttons on the case are tactile, though they are slightly subdued versus pressing the physical buttons without a case. The case is also antimicrobial, which is especially important these days.
Turning to the keyboard, we have a full keyboard complete with an inverted-T directional pad, adjustable backlight, and a row of iPad-specific function keys. The keyboard sits above a sizable trackpad. It is made of hard plastic, same as the case, with rubberized edges, which should provide additional impact protection.
This is all charged with a USB-C port that resides on the right side, just towards the front.
Brydge Air Max+ Keyboard and trackpad performance
Typing on the keyboard is a fairly typical experience. It feels the same as almost any other Brydge keyboard. There is a slight amount of key wobble, but it is otherwise quite tactile. Each key has s solid click feel as it is depressed.
We love having the function row, which features a lock button, brightness and media controls, volume buttons, and more. Not even Apple's Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro has these function keys.
One nice benefit is that USB-C port. Since the iPad Air has USB-C now, you can connect it directly to the iPad if you have to charge at any time. Your iPad Air can charge the keyboard so you always have power.
Speaking of battery life, it's exceptional. Brydge says you can expect about three months of use without the backlight, assuming two hours of use a day. With the backlight on, you can get about 40 hours of usage. These are great numbers, and as USB-C becomes more ubiquitous, it is easier than ever to charge. You can use the same cable to charge your keyboard as you can your iPad Air.
One thing that used to bother us quite a bit with Brydge keyboards was the delay. We'd stop typing for a few minutes, grab another cup of coffee and come back and have to double-tap the keyboard to reconnect— one to wake it, then the other to connect and wake our iPad.
Brydge has been hard at work on a feature called Instant-On. With this, it puts the keyboard into an ultra-low power state, all while staying connected. It will remain connected to your iPad and instantly turn on for up to four hours. So when you return to your desk, it is always ready to go and doesn't need to wake back up and reconnect. It works very well and feels almost as quick and responsive as a physically connected keyboard.
The other new thing here is the trackpad. It supports full multi-touch, including pinching, rotating, three and four-finger gestures. Brydge has been working on this for a while as well. When we first tried Brydge's trackpads, they were solid, but not great. This feels like a polished experience.
We can traverse the OS with ease, almost as smoothly as when using an Apple trackpad or mouse. It's a joy to use and helps greatly improve productivity.
At times we still see small delays or wiggles in the cursor, but this continues to get better over time. Brydge offers free firmware updates through the Brydge Connect app so you can always expect further refinements.
One thing we didn't love, which is due to the cost, is the style of the trackpad. It is a glass surface, but it is a diving board design. Apple uses a large surface with a motor inside that replicates a "click" feeling. Brydge instead uses the tried and true method of fixing the top of the trackpad and have it click a physical switch when pressed. Unfortunately, this means when you try to push down on the top of the trackpad, it doesn't click.
However, a workaround is to use the "tap to click" feature, which we prefer anyway. This requires you to tap the trackpad rather than physically pressing it down.
Should you buy the Brydge Air Max+?
One of our biggest gripes here is that the whole thing feels... a little boring. Apple drew attention to the iPad Air range with an encompassing array of colors, yet Brydge would like you to hide that away inside a somewhat drab case. Only a few pops of color can be seen sneaking through the tight-fitting shell.
You don't even have an option of not using a case. If you'd like to use the Brydge Air Max+, you have to use the case. We know many users who steadfastly will not use a case. As we mentioned above though, we understand that many iPad Air users do seek out that protection.
Don't get us wrong, we appreciate the idea of the shell and like the functionality of it, we just maybe wish it was a clear frosted white or had a clear back with solid sides. Just something that allows the colors to be highlighted more and us to express some individuality.
All of that should tell you something about our impressions of the keyboard itself. It is so spot-on that we don't have anything to criticize. The keyboard has proven reliable on our iPad Pro units, the full row of function keys is quite useful, and the trackpad is a boon to productivity.
Brydge has its case already made for it with iPadOS 15 as Apple has doubled-down on keyboard productivity. There are more keyboard shortcuts within iPadOS and it is easier than ever to discover those shortcuts.
Since Apple added mouse and trackpad support to the iPad, few accessory makers have embraced this as much as Brydge has. On the iPad Pro, there are several options to choose from, including Apple's Magic Keyboard. For iPad Air, Brydge Air Max+ stands alone as the most thoughtful and polished keyboard/trackpad/case combo.
- Magnetic back panel
- Keyboard is easily removable
- Includes a case
- Great trackpad
- Multi-touch is near-perfect
- Keyboard is tactile and backlit
- Full row of function keys
- Long battery life
- Easy to update through Connect app
- Fast wake
- Can't use your own case or go without a case
- Black is the only color option and it looks a bit utilitarian
- Still some minute lags with trackpad
- Diving board-style trackpad
Rating: 4 out of 5
Where to buy
The Brydge Air Max+ trackpad, keyboard, case combo is available and shipping now from Brydge for $149.