Brydge Max+: The best third-party keyboard for iPad Pro [Review]

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Brydge Max+ for iPad Pro review
A Brydge keyboard greater than any other.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

If you want to use your iPad like a laptop, adding a Brydge keyboard has long been the best way to do it. There are other solutions — a lot of them, in fact — and many are more affordable. But none of them are as good as a Brydge keyboard.

And no Brydge keyboard has been better than the new Max+ for iPad Pro. Like its predecessors, the Max+ is beautifully built from anodized aluminum, with a backlit keyboard that delivers a stellar typing experience. The big difference with the Max+ — which makes it even better than the Pro+ — is a larger, more reliable trackpad and a new, much more seamless magnetic docking system for your iPad.

The Max+ is not only the best Brydge keyboard ever made, but also the best third-party keyboard you can buy for iPad Pro. Here’s our full review.

Brydge Max+ for iPad Pro review

I do a lot of typing on my iPad Pro. A lot more than I do on my Mac. And since picking up the 2020 model last spring, I’ve done most of that on a Magic Keyboard. Prior to that I used a Brydge Pro keyboard, but when Apple brought mouse support to iPadOS, I wanted a trackpad. I used and reviewed the Brydge Pro+ — the company’s first iPad keyboard with a built-in trackpad — last April, and I was more than a little disappointed.

I had been using Brydge keyboards for years up to that point, and I had loved every single one of them. They had always delivered great typing experiences and designs far superior to other iPad keyboards. That’s what made the Pro+ and its built-in trackpad, which simply wasn’t good enough, so disheartening. I encountered all kinds of problems with trackpad stability and reliability, and I wasn’t the only one.

With the new Max+, however, Brydge is back to its best.

Brydge Max+ magnets make things easy

The Max+ sports a familiar design, made almost entirely from aluminum and measuring just 17mm thick. It weighs a hefty 2.1 pounds and feels like it could protect you from a landmine. It’s probably too heavy for those who like to travel light — when coupled with your iPad Pro its weight increases to a whopping 3.6 pounds — but if you want a laptop-like experience for your iPad Pro, there’s nothing better.

Unlike the Pro+ and other predecessors, the Max+ does away with Brydge’s familiar hinges that once held your iPad Pro in place. Instead, it employs a new docking system that takes advantage of the many magnets built into your iPad. Simply place your device into the case and it snaps into place. It’s still secure, but the new system makes it a lot easier to remove your iPad when you want to use it as a tablet.

Brydge Max+ for iPad Pro review
Turning your iPad Pro into a notebook.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

I’m a big fan of this change. Although the hinges work well on previous Brydge keyboards, they’re not ideal for those who like to frequently use their iPad Pro without a keyboard attached. They have to hold onto your iPad tightly to ensure the device doesn’t slip out, which makes removing and then reinserting the iPad a little cumbersome. You also had to worry about alignment, but the magnets now take care of that for you.

The revised design also allows for a more polished finish. Whereas hinged Brydge keyboards shipped with an optional cover that attached to the rear side of your iPad — and became detached far too easily — to make the hinges sit flush against its back, that’s no longer needed. The keyboard’s cover, which sits against your iPad, provides full coverage.

A tip-top typing experience

One thing Brydge didn’t make significant changes to with the Max+ is the typing experience — and that’s a good thing. The keys are ever so slightly firmer now, providing a more responsive feel, but the overall typing experience is just as stellar as we’ve come to expect from Brydge keyboards. It’s a joy to use, even for lengthy typing sessions.

Brydge Max+ for iPad Pro review
A stellar typing experience.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

The keys are a good size and well spaced, so you shouldn’t encounter too many typos once you’re used to them. Although they’re smaller than a MacBook’s keys, which is no surprise due to the smaller footprint of the Max+, I find them just as fast and as comfortable to type on. And, unlike the Magic Keyboard, the Max+ offers handy shortcut keys.

The top row of the keyboard allows you to control media playback, adjust your iPad’s volume and display brightness, cycle input languages, and return to your Home screen without touching your iPad’s screen. There’s also a power button to turn the keyboard off, and a Bluetooth button for pairing. On the bottom-left side, there you would finally find the function key on a MacBook’s keyboard, there’s a dictation button.

Backlighting and battery life

The entire keyboard is backlit, which makes it easy to see in dimly lit rooms, and you can adjust its brightness or turn it off completely if you wish. Doing so will have a rather substantial impact on battery life; Brydge says that, with the backlight disabled, you’ll get up to three months of use (based on two hours of typing per day) from a single charge. But that is reduced to just 40 hours when the backlight is left on.

Brydge Max+ for iPad Pro review
Backlit keys are great for late-night work.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

I’ve been typing on the Max+ all day (at least eight hours most days), five days a week in the several weeks that I’ve had it. I keep the backlight disabled as much as possible, though I do turn it on in the evening if I need it. I’m having to charge the Max+ roughly twice a week. Luckily, it uses the same USB-C connection as iPad Pro itself, so that’s simple.

In fact, in a pinch, you can charge the Brydge Max+ from your iPad if you need to. This will obviously drain your iPad’s battery faster, so you won’t want to be doing it regularly, but it’s handy if the Max+ dies when you’re on the move and you need it to get things done.

No sign of a Smart Connector

You’ve probably worked out by now that the Max+ does not use a Smart Connector. Unlike Apple’s own Magic Keyboard, which attaches directly to your device so that you never need to charge it or worry about pairing, the Max+ relies on Bluetooth, like its predecessors. There are advantages and disadvantages to that, so don’t be too disappointed.

Yes, it means you need to charge the keyboard every so often. But it also means that the Max+ isn’t draining your iPad Pro’s battery (unless you’re charging it from your iPad) while you use it. And with Brydge’s newest keyboards, Bluetooth connectivity is better than ever. It’s instant-on, so your iPad lights up as soon as you hit a key — no matter how long you’ve left it doing nothing — and it works surprisingly brilliantly.

Brydge Max+ for iPad Pro review
No Smart Connector, but better Bluetooth.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

The Max+ uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology, so it’s efficient, and it has been incredibly reliable for me. I’m yet to experience a dropped connection or any noticeable lag. Even when I have allowed the keyboard’s battery to get so low that the device turns off, it instantly reconnects as soon as it has been charged enough to power up again.

I have to admit that I would prefer a Smart Connector if I had the choice, and I hope Brydge goes down this route in the future. Having said that, the improvements to Bluetooth connectivity are great, and aside from having to charge the Max+, I’ve noticed no real difference in keyboard responsiveness or reliability compared to the Magic Keyboard.

A trackpad that actually tracks

In my review of the Pro+ last year, I detailed a number of issues with its trackpad that made it near impossible to use at the time. Many of those things have since been fixed with updates, but I’m pleased to say that they’re all nonexistent with the Max+, thanks to new trackpad hardware and improved firmware. What’s more, it’s now significantly bigger, so it’s much more comfortable to use.

I’ve found the Max+ trackpad to be smooth and accurate almost all of the time. It is perhaps not quite as perfect as the Magic Keyboard’s trackpad, but it’s certainly a lot closer — and a lot bigger. The stuttering and inconsistent behavior that once plagued the Pro+ has been eliminated with this upgrade, and it’s now a joy to use, however you use it. Scrolling, another problem for the Pro+, is also greatly improved.

Brydge Max+ for iPad Pro review
Look at the size of that trackpad!
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

The larger trackpad design makes the Brydge Max+, when paired with your iPad Pro, look even more like a MacBook. That will certainly be pleasing to some. But I do have two minor complaints. One is that the trackpad is rather noisy when you click it. And another is that you can’t eliminate that problem by enabling tap-to-click in iPadOS because the trackpad is so big that you accidentally touch it while typing.

I have raised this issue with Brydge and I’ve been told they’re looking into it.

A note on iPadOS 15 and compatibility

While we’re on the subject of iPadOS 15, it should be noted that Apple’s beta software should not be used with the Max+ keyboard just yet — especially if you have an M1 iPad Pro. Early versions of Apple’s software are causing problems with trackpad input, which will be fixed before iPadOS 15 makes its debut this fall. But steer clear for now.

As for compatibility, the Max+ works perfectly with all models of iPad Pro released in 2018 or later. I’ve been reviewing the 12.9-inch version, but an 11-inch version, which also works with the latest iPad Air, is also now available to preorder from the Brydge website.

The verdict

It pained me to so harshly criticize the Brydge Pro+ after it launched last year because, until then, I had only good things to say about Brydge products. So I’m delighted that the Max+ has turned out so well. It combines the terrific typing experience Brydge keyboards are known for with a larger trackpad that is now well worth using.

Brydge Max+ for iPad Pro review
Without Brydge’s trademark hinges, the Max+ is just simpler.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

And all that is packaged into a design that brings big improvements without straying too far from Brydge’s winning formula. It’s still made from high-grade aluminum. It still looks spectacular. And now it does an even better job of holding onto and protecting your iPad Pro without making the device difficult to remove when you want to use it as a tablet.

The best bit? Despite its aluminum design, its more useful keyboard (thanks to those function keys), and its larger trackpad, the Max+ for 12.9-inch iPad Pro is priced at just $249.99 — a full $100 cheaper than Apple’s Magic Keyboard, and only $20 more than the Smart Keyboard Folio. The 11-inch model is even more affordable at $199.

I appreciate that’s still not cheap, and more affordable alternatives are available. But if you have the cash to spend and you want the best third-party keyboard you can get for iPad Pro, get the Brydge Max+.