Recently, I have been investigating the possibilities of investing in either an external keyboard or an application to provide a better way to use the Dynamic Input Area on my Tungsten T3. I first went for the software track since I was pretty convinced this would be the least expensive road.
I found a couple of applications, but the one I first looked at and immediately caught my attention was MyKbd from Alexander Pruss (also author of, among others, FontSmoother and NVBackup).
MyKbd was designed to provide an alternative for the Dynamic Input Area keyboard present on Palm OS devices having a 320 by 480 screen, including Tungsten T3, Tungsten T5, LifeDrive, and TX).
The default on-screen keyboard provided by Palm OS has rectangular keys, and requires a user to ‘shift’ for accessing punctuation keys. MyKbd uses hexagonal keys which allows for more keys to be displayed (all letters, digits, and most of the punctuation ) yet making it easier to tap the keys. It also acts as a full replacement of MySkin, a program from the same author, to change the default skin on your device.
MyKbd requires Palm OS 5 and a High-res+ screen resolution (320 x 480) since those devices have a DIA (Dynamic Input Area). It does not require any hackmanager to run.
I installed this program on my T3, and installation went flawlessly. I just had to sync the .PRC file and one of the keyboard skin. and that was it.
It is worthwhile to mention that the file will not appear on your device as ‘MyKbd’ or alike. For compatibility reasons with earlier versions of MySkin it shows up as ‘SkinDIA!’.
As I said, together with the MyKbd application you need to install a keyboard skin. A number of predefined sets are included in the download package, among which is the standard QWERTY layout, now with all digits and most of the punctuation, but also some alternative versions like ATOMIK and Metropolis. Both of these were designed by IBM to substantially improve input speed on mobile devices.
Using Graffiti is still possible, as this application has a toggle which allows you to switch between keyboard and the normal Graffiti input area.
I selected the ATOMIK layout, and decided after a short period to customize it slightly by replacing the, for me, useless cursor keys by additional macro keys, grouping the macro keys together, and putting in two Graffiti-toggle buttons colored red making them stand out from the rest of the keys. Why I did something for those toggles I still don’t know; I haven’t used Graffiti anymore since I started using MyKbd.
I also changed the color of the vowels (including the letter ‘Y’) since I observed other layout versions around the Web using this as a method to attract more attention to these keys. In addition, I decided to move some of the punctuation keys around since I found this more comfortable for my situation. The final result can be seen in the screenshot
To get access to other characters, you use the cycle button. (the almost closed circle with the little arrow). E.g. when entering ‘e’ and then subsequently pressing the cycle button you get ‘e’, ‘ ‘, ‘ ‘, ‘ ‘ and ‘ ‘. This can be quite handy when writing in languages other than English. If needed, you can even sacrifice some of the punctuation characters to make room for those accented characters in a custom-made layout.
MyKbd can launch a macro in three different ways:
- Dedicated macro keys on the keyboard (circled numbers)
- A normal key linked to a macro key (the macro gets launched once the ‘cycle’ button is tapped).
- One of the 4 hard keys, short or long press
Each macro can be as simple as just entering a string of text, or can be very complex, like running a program, then selecting a menu item, waiting for a window to appear, and then do something there.
It also has the ability to display a recent/favorites list, much better then the built-in one provided in Palm OS.
Especially for TX users, MyKbd also provides the ability to bring back the Home button (replacing Search). I was unable to test this, though.
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Let me show you how useful macros can be. I used to have a funny problem with Shortcut5 sometimes ceasing all function, a situation which can be corrected by opening Prefs, selecting Shortcut5, opening one shortcut in Edit mode, and closing again. That is a lot of taps to go through when writing an email and needing those shortcuts. So I created a macro for this using MyKbd’s advanced features and attached it to (5). Now whenever I realize ShortCut5 is not behaving anymore, I tap (5), I see the screen flashing, and less than a second later I am back where I was with the shortcuts working again.
MyKbd allows you to modify the colors of all DIA related components: Graffiti area, status bar elements, Graffiti icons, etc. On one of the screenshots above you can see I changed the color of my statusbar to red, while simply changing the color theme in the standard Palm OS Preferences panel leaves the statusbar blue.
In addition, the main color of the keyboard can be changed without having to rebuild the complete keyboard file on your desktop. Even the different grades of shading can be taken over if you wish so.
You can also select any of the available skins on the Web to use on you device.
One cool feature is you can show/hide the statusbar by tapping the bottom part of the screen, close to the edge of the case. Hiding the statusbar also hides the complete DIA or keyboard.
I’ve always wondered why the Palm OS only allows the top 320-by-320-pixel area to be calibrated on devices having 320-by-480-pixel displays. I understand this has its origin in earlier days when devices only had 320 x 320, but still … this should have been updated to accommodate for the new hardware.
MyKbd takes this into account and utilizes the FULL 320-by-480-pixel area resulting in a much better calibration for the lower 320-by-160-pixel area, something which is omitted by most other applications. I have not noticed any significant improvement from doing this calibration on my device, but it makes me feel comfortable knowing this is now covered.
While the speed of data entry is not the same as when using an external keyboard, MyKbd combined with a text completion program surely comes very close to it (I already have TextPlus, so that’s a benefit for me). It also saves me from dragging around yet another gadget with batteries that are usually empty when you most need them.
I also noticed that the learning curve, while present, is not THAT steep. I observed significant improvement in text entry only after a bit more than a week and I also find that further improvement is possible. I still catch myself upon tapping for certain adjacent key combinations, whereas stroking would be faster).
Personally, I have registered this one and will keep this as my default input method.
As usual, try before you buy. MyKbd has a fully functional trial period of 15 days.
- tapping the on-screen keyboard becomes a lot easier
- macro feature allows for complex procedures
- Graffiti remains possible
- multiple letters can be selected with a single stroke, forming whole words
- customizing own keyboard layouts is possible (toolchain provided)
- replacement/upgrade for MySkin
- statusbar can be hidden
- learning curve for a new input method. But this might depend very much from person to person.
- input is not as fast as with a real keyboard, but it comes close when combined with a word completion application (30 to 40 words per minute after only a short learning period)
MyKbd is available from www.zlthemes.com. It sells for $14.95.