Review – Pocketop IrDA Keyboard For Virtually All PDAs

by Reads (11,382)

The Pocketop Wireless Keyboard is an infrared keyboard compatible with all PocketPC and PalmOS handheld devices that feature an infrared port.

Since the dawn of handheld computers, keyboards have been one of the most sought-after addons made. Coupled with the frequent changing of docking connectors, this meant that every device needed it’s own special keyboard, and every time a person upgraded they would have to sell or discard their trusty keyboard and buy a new one–assuming that a keyboard existed for the new device. Now, however, universal keyboards are coming to market, bearing infrared and Bluetooth, and promising to eliminate the classic upgrade issues. The Pocketop is one of these.

The Pocketop is not compatible with most PocketPC handhelds out of the box. Only iPaq and Jornada PocketPC 2000 and 2002 devices are supported in the software included on the CD. To get the PT to work with other PPC devices, you’ll have to go on their site to get drivers. Fortunately, the drivers available there support effectively any PocketPC you can name, and a few WinCE devices to boot. All PalmOS devices are supported with the included drivers.

If your device is already supported, the Pocketop box contains everything you’ll need to get started. In the box, you’ll find the following:

Pocketop main keyboard. The PT is a folding keyboard, measuring 4 9/16″ long by 3 1/4″ wide by 1/2″ thick when shut. When open, it measures 9 2/16″ long by 3 1/4″ wide by 1/2″ thick. With the stand attached for easy carrying, the thickness increases to 3/4″. It’s important to note that the Pocketop is not a full size keyboard–that is to say, it does not conform to the ISO standard that defines a ‘full size’ keyboard’s key size, spacing, and key travel. The Pocketop’s keys are somewhat smaller than those on a full-size keyboard, and some are narrower or wider than others. This may be a problem for touch- typists, but the PT can be adapted to with relatively little difficulty for text. A larger hardship is getting used to the need for special function keys to type numbers and symbols. This is a minor worry though, it just takes practice. The keyboard has a metal exterior and hinge, with rubber ‘feet’ at the outer corners. Two translucent white buttons on the side opposite the hinge control the latch, allowing the keyboard to open. The overall quality feels excellent–the outer shell is solid, and there is very little flexing.The stand is similarly well built.

The keyboard also includes myriad special functions. Some depend on the OS you use. Hotkeys to launch certain applications (Both), two-key commands to type repeated phrases (PPC), and two-key backlight control (Palm) are a few examples, of which there are many more. You can even lay two handhelds side by side and type the same message into both of them simultaneously.

Battery. A single standard AAA alkaline battery, Duracell brand. The Pocketop is rated at 15 milliamps of current, bringing approximate battery life to 63 hours continuous use on one AAA.

Stand. The stand is designed to hold your handheld upright while typing. It has a fold-out easel-style prop on the rear, a fold-out wire support to hold the handheld, and a slide-out adjustable mirror to reflect the Pocketop’s signal to devices that use a top-mounted IR port. Fully collapsed, the stand measures approximately 4 6/16″ long by 3 1/4″ wide by 1/4″ thick. It’s made of durable black plastic.

Rails. The rails allow you to attach the stand to the keyboard for convenience in carrying. It also looks very cool when you deftly disassemble the folded up package into a useful workstation. You can also use the rails to lock the keyboard into an unfolded position. Users of the Palm V and m500 series are in for a special treat–included are silo rails fitted for both series, allowing you to connect your Palm directly to the Pocketop keyboard or stand, as well as a very nice aluminum barrel m500 stylus replacement. When attached to the Palm, the stand doubles as a side-flip cover, and has rubber grips to keep it from sliding against the Palm. These same grips prevent it from rubbing against the keyboard itself.

Drivers CD. As previously mentioned, the included drivers support all PalmOS and limited PocketPC devices. As I do not have an iPaq or Jornada with which to test, I could not examine the included PocketPC drivers. Both PPC and Palm driver packages include the ability to rotate the display 90, 180, or 270 degrees from normal. This is done seamlessly on a Palm (except most Clie models), however a PocketPC will require a soft-reset to rotate the screen 90 or 270 degrees from it’s current attitude. Flipping is not affected. The PPC drivers add the Pocketop as an option on the input selection menu in the bottom right corner of the screen. The Palm drivers can be activated from any application by swiping the stylus across the Grafitti area.

Infrared range is below what is standard for IrDA devices, but more than adequate for normal use. Using the stand’s attached mirror, I could type on my Palm m505 at 28″. My Dell Axim scored 21″. Unless you have a pressing need to type from across the room, this should be plenty. The IR connection is quite reliable, and I have experienced very few ‘dropped letters’, none of which I could directly attribute to IR failure. Line-of-sight issues are negligible–it takes a little effort to get it positioned the first time, but once you have the device aligned it becomes second nature, and you would have to move it alot to break the connection.

The only frustration I experienced while reviewing the Pocketop is that trying to use it on anything but a table or desk is a total failure. Since the stand must be seperate from the keyboard to properly hold the handheld, the PT’s design is not good for setting up on furniture, a lap, or other uneven spots. I freely admit, this may be the case for every folding keyboard ever made–I don’t know, since this is the first one I’ve used. Maybe I’m the exception to the rule in wanting to type sitting on my porch swing rather than at my table. But the fact remains that the Pocketop is definitely not suited to a ‘set-up anywhere’ philosophy.

The Pocketop will really be a godsend to some people. IT departments would no longer have to buy 10 different brands of keyboards and provide support for same, frequent upgraders would be able to keep the same keyboard, and multi- device households could share a keyboard. It’s not perfect, but considering the amount of functionality it has, it can be forgiven a few minor nitpicks. Though my laptop’s in no danger, the Pocketop is a great option for combining mobility and flexibility.

Pros:
Works with all devicesLots of special featuresBonus features for Palm V/m5XX users

Cons:
Must use on a flat surface

Pick one up from Pocketop for $99 with free shipping.

TheWraith

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