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HATcker 101 Review
By Ed Hardy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
There was a tremendous buzz a few months ago when hints about a new hardware add-on for the V series started to leak out. Well, the wait is almost over and the first of the HATcker line of products will be available by the end of this month.
The HATcker is a whole new concept in Palm peripheral design. Rather than clipping to the bottom or back and communicating with the Palm through its serial port, the HATcker line clips onto the top of the device and communicates through the infrared port.
HATcher 101 allows users to connect a full-sized PS2 keyboard to their Palm and type directly into it. This saves the money of buying a small single-purpose keyboard that connects to the serial port and the hassle of carrying it around with the Palm. Almost any keyboard from a recent PC can be used, which are available in just about every home and office. Unfortunately for you Mac users, this probably doesn't apply to you.
Using the HATcker is straightforward. Just put a battery in the module, clip it onto the top of the Palm V, load the software, hook up a keyboard and it is ready to be used.
There are two parts to the software: a Hack to do the actual work and an application that activates the module. This means there must be another application on the Palm to let the Hack run, like HackMaster or one of several alternatives. This probably made programming easier but many people don't like Hacks because they think they make their Palms less stable.
Don't be fooled by the part about barcode scanning in the application; this function isn't enabled yet. More about this later.
I tried the HATcker in just about every application on my Palm and it worked in all of them. I've only been able to work with it for a couple of days but I haven't had any crashes or problems in that time.
There are also a convenient set of keybaord shortcuts built into the software. You can use key combinations to push any of the hardware or silkscreen buttons and put in special symbols like Copyright and Yen.
From a design standpoint, it is a nice looking little device. It is just about as small as it can be and still perform its functions. It fits well on the top of the Palm and looks good there, too. It holds itself on with two small rods that slide down the channel slots and a wire clip that fits into the slot on the back of the V.
Despite taking up the Palm's infrared port, it is still possible to communicate via infrared; The HATcker has an infrared pass-through port.
TapSpring claims that the AAA battery in the HATcker can run a keyboard for 30 hours. It has an automatic power-down mode; if the keyboard isn't used for a minute the device goes into a stand-by mode to ease the drain on the battery. When in sleep mode, the first key touch will be lost but turn HATcker back to active mode.
I spoke with Harry Chou from TapSpring about drain on the batteries from constantly using the infrared port to type and he assured me that the drain is minimal. The Palm is receiving data from the HATcker but it isn't trying to any send any so "power loss can be merely ignored."
It has the ability to be a TV remote control but the software to do that isn't written yet. TapSpring has included detailed instructions on their site for how to write a TV Remote application that uses the device.
With some additional hardware, it will also have the ability to do barcode scanning. Mr. Chou said, "Actually we will release 2 cheap solutions for barcode scanning. One is HATcker 101+ PS2 type Barcode scanner, the other one is purely a software (HACK) + RS232 type barcode scanner. This will be on our website soon."
If an external RF transmission module (300-400Mhz) is added on the PS2 connector, the HATcker can even unlock a car. Again, the software to do this isn't written yet but TapSpring gives an explanation on how to write your own.
It comes with a nice little add-on: two small rods that can fit in the remaining space in the channel slots and let you feed a cord through them to make a handle for the Palm.
Before June of this year, TapSpring will release HATcker 201, which will have all of these functions plus a MMC (Multimedia Card) slot. It will sell for $80.
Update: In response to some people's comments, I thought I had better made a clarification. While the HATcker doesn't physically block the serial port, both the infrared port and the serial port can't be active simultaneously. For example, this means while you can type using the HATcker with the Palm in its cradle, you couldn't do a HotSync without turning the HATcker driver off.
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