Palm recently began offering a new keyboard for its handhelds. Unlike earlier ones from Palm, this keyboard doesn’t connect to the handheld through the HotSync port. Instead, it communicates with infrared. This allows it to work with almost every Palm OS model. Even better, it folds up into an easily-carried package.
The Palm Wireless Keyboard was actually designed by Think Outside, the same company that makes the Stowaway line of folding keyboards. Think Outside’s expertise really shows, as this device manages to pack an almost full-sized keyboard into a relatively small package.
When closed, the keyboard is 5.45 by 3.6 by 0.7 inches. While small for a keyboard, this gadget is still too large for most pockets. I keep mine in a cargo pocket or, if I’m nicely dressed, in a briefcase or bag.
However, when opened, the actual area of the keys is 9.4 inches wide and 2.6 inches high. This is large enough that I can quite easily touch type with it, certainly not something I’ve been able to do with any keyboard built into a handheld.
Still, the designers made one compromise to increase this keyboard’s portability that I’m not fond of: they left off a row of dedicated number keys. While this reduced the size of the keyboard by about three-quarters of an inch, it forces you to push a combination of buttons in order to type a number. Most of the time this is just a minor irritation, but if you are trying to frequently enter combinations of letters and numbers, like in a spreadsheet, using this keyboard is terribly cumbersome, to the point where Graffiti is faster and easier.
And there’s one place this keyboard doesn’t go, at least not very well: your lap. The center hinge doesn’t lock down, so if you try to put it across your two legs, it tends to fold up.
While Wi-Fi and Bluetooth get all the press, there’s one wireless networking standard that has become so ubiquitous that no one notices it any more. I’m referring, of course, to infrared, which has been a part of almost every handheld from the beginning.
Because the Palm Wireless Keyboard uses infrared, it can be used with almost every Palm OS handheld. And really, I’m just saying almost every handheld because I obviously haven’t been able to test it with every type of handheld. Still, it has worked fine with every device I have tested it with, including the Palm Tungsten T3, Zire 21, and m505, plus the Sony UX50, NX80V, and SJ35.
This flexibility makes the Palm Wireless Keyboard perfect for the Tungsten T3. You can use it with the handheld in both portrait and landscape modes, which isn’t possible with keyboards that connect to the HotSync port.
Speaking of versatility, I hope someone is out there right now developing a driver to allow this device to work with Pocket PCs.
While there are obvious advantages to infrared keyboards, there are some potential drawbacks, as well. I’ve heard some complain about the difficulties of setting other infrared keyboards up so you can get the handheld’s infrared port pointed at the keyboard’s port. There certainly aren’t any problems doing this with the Palm Wireless Keyboard. The infrared port is on the end of a movable boom that allows it to interoperate with a wide variety of handhelds. And your aim doesn’t have to be particularly exact. As long as the two ports are basically lined up, you’ll be fine.
I’ve also heard some people say some other infrared keyboards experience a delay between when a key is pressed and when the letter appears on the screen. This certainly isn’t the case with this one. No matter how fast I type, it can keep up with me.
On of the more irritating parts of using a keyboard is you frequently have to pick up the stylus, tap somewhere on the screen, and then put the stylus down again before you can resume typing. Fortunately, this keyboard allows you to perform many tasks without having to resort to the stylus. You can launch applications, select text, open menus, close pop-up windows, search, and lots more with combinations of keys. However, the OS 5 version of the driver doesn’t have a pointer like the OS 4 version does.
Incidentally, some people may remember the days when old Palm OS models had limitations on using some of their ports simultaneously. This is no longer the case with handhelds running Palm OS 5. I’ve used this keyboard while connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on various models with no problems. Obviously, the infrared port is in use. However, the HotSync port isn’t, so you can use this device while recharging some handheld models.
Because this keyboard doesn’t plug into the HotSync port, there is no way for the handheld to power the keyboard. Instead, it runs on a pair of AAA batteries. But don’t worry that you’ll have to frequently change these. I’ve been putting this device to fairly heavy use for five or six weeks now and I’m still on the first set of batteries.
Even though the handheld doesn’t directly power the keyboard, using the infrared port in this way is still a big power drain. This is acceptable when you are actually using the keyboard but you have to be careful that you don’t leave the driver enabled all the time, or it will continue to run your handheld’s battery down. Fortunately, there is a way to have the driver turn itself off if you haven’t used the keyboard in a while. I highly recommend you use this, unless you just like having a very short battery life.
The Palm Wireless Keyboard is $70, which is a pretty good price for an external keyboard of this quality. It compares quite well with the Palm Ultra-Thin Keyboard, which is just a bit smaller, much less versatile, and sells for $99.
The Palm Wireless Keyboard has all the advantages of other infrared keyboards and none of the disadvantages. It is a great device for anyone who has more than one Palm OS Handheld and would like to be able share a keyboard. And while it isn’t guaranteed, there is a very good possibility you’ll be able to use this keyboard with your next handheld, no matter who makes it.