MobileInfocenter
Contact Info:
TAPSPRING Co., Ltd.
URL: www.tapspring.com

PalmInfoCenter.com Bottom Line:

The Price:
  • MSRP $50
The Pros:
  • Low Price
  • Design nicely compliments the V series
  • Allows use of a full-sized keyboard
  • Infrared and serial ports still available
  • Eventually can be used as a TV remote

The Cons:
  • Requires a Hack
  • Takes up both channel slots

PalmInfoCenter.com Ratings*:
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*Maximum Rating is FIVE (5) InfoPalms



HATcker 101 Review
By Ed Hardy (ed@palminfocenter.com)
2/15/2001


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.

  1. Power on/off switch
  2. PS2 keyboard connector
  3. Infrared pass through window frame
  4. Stylus holder
  5. LED status indicator
  6. Battery cap
  7. Battery cap lock switch
  8. Hook spring
This means the channel slots can't be used for the cover or stylus. However, the HATcker does have a slot underneath that the stylus can be put in crossways. Naturally, the original stylus is too long for this to work very well but TapSpring includes a small rod that replaces the center part of the stylus, making it short enough.

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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Serial Port... Still Usable? I dunno...

I.M. Anonymous @ 2/16/2001 1:37:27 PM #
Did the reviewer test the claims that the serial port was still functional with this device attached? I have my doubts - the serial and IR ports share the same electronics and should be mutually exclusive.

RE: Serial Port... Still Usable? I dunno...
I.M. Anonymous @ 2/16/2001 2:18:35 PM #
Perhaps they are making a distiction between the device being attached, and the device actually functionsing.

Use with OmniSky

I.M. Anonymous @ 2/16/2001 2:01:43 PM #

I wrote to TapSpring a few weeks ago (info@TapSpring.com) regarding how large the HATcker was,
and if they thought it would work with the Omni Sky modem. They responded that it would be in
the way. We didn't get as far as figuring out if the serial port would work at the same time as the
IR port. But I think that you right, there are some problems with using the IR and the serial at the
same time.

-Mike

Some words from TapSpring ......

I.M. Anonymous @ 2/16/2001 3:01:50 PM #
Yes, the serial port and IR occupy the same electrical ckt in Palm.
Maybe rephase as " physically available" is more appropriate, that means you can sit on the cradle without taking off the "HAT", also, you can BEAM to another Palm without taking off this module.
BUT, electrically, you must temporary DISABLE the HATcker101's keyboard function when you want to do a HotSync or BEAM. The default HotSync/BEAM function do not allow other application to occupy the serial port.

Harry
TapSpring

What about the SD

Nate @ 2/16/2001 8:52:12 PM #
When pictures of this first appeared a few months ago, I remember that it had an expansion slot for SD cards. What happened to that idea? I guess it's less important now that we know a little more about the next generation of Palms, but it would still be cool for people who want to keep their current V.

Syncplicity. Redefining Simple. www.cognitiveroot.com
RE: What about the SD
Ed @ 2/16/2001 10:10:09 PM #
Sorry, you'll have to settle for an MMC slot in the next version of the HATcker, coming out before the middle of the year for just $80.

---
Plenipotentiary
Palm Infocenter

Infrared Send/Receive and power consumption?

I.M. Anonymous @ 2/17/2001 5:27:43 PM #
Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but if:

"The Palm is sending data to the HATcker but it isn't trying to recieve any so 'power loss can be merely ignored.'"

How does the Palm get the keystrokes from the keyboard?

RE: Infrared Send/Receive and power consumption?
I.M. Anonymous @ 2/18/2001 5:43:48 AM #
some points,

1. HATcker provide the power for Keyboard.
2. Palm send only 1-2 commands to ENABLE keyboard function.
3. After that, Palm merely in receive state, and decode the data transmitted from HATcker with keyboard.

Normally IrDA take more power when Tx data out, but less power when it just in Rx mode.
The same case is when you turn the BEAM function ON of Palm, the IrDA is in Rx mode, too.

Harry
TapSpring



RE: Infrared Send/Receive and power consumption?
I.M. Anonymous @ 2/19/2001 11:06:51 AM #
You read it wrong. Read it again. The palm doesn't send data, it only receives.


"The Palm is receiving data from the HATcker but it isn't trying to any send any so "power loss can be merely ignored."



RE: Infrared Send/Receive and power consumption?
Ed @ 2/19/2001 11:36:13 AM #
Sorry, I may have created some confusion and I wanted to clear it up. The original poster was correct; I apparently had a touch of dyslexia and wrote "sending" when what I meant was "receiving". I corrected the article based on their comments.

---
Plenipotentiary
Palm Infocenter

Network Connection?

Rob Cheek @ 2/20/2001 6:58:26 AM #
Are there any plans for a similar device, but with a NIC instead of a keyboard adapter? I would love to have direct LAN access from my Palm, but $250 for the Clarinet is just too much $$$.
RE: Network Connection?
I.M. Anonymous @ 2/21/2001 3:13:56 AM #
LAN chip cost too much power!
We have the same idea before, basically, there is no tech. barrier to put a LAN chip inside HATcker, but there is big trouble to deal with power consumption.
But, there is a device already on the market - IrDA-LAN, this should be the right answer for Palm to enter the NET.

Harry
TapSpring

HATcker 101 Available

Ed @ 2/28/2001 9:06:49 AM #
HATcker 101 is now for sale on the TapSpring site:
http://www.tapspring.com/Order.htm

---
Plenipotentiary
Palm Infocenter

Sad - Just Buy a Visor

I.M. Anonymous @ 3/1/2001 1:14:54 AM #
Sad to see Palm admitting they didn't get it right and Handspring did. Just buy a Visor. Why accept the limitations of the IR port (and deprive yourself of its use for its intended purpose).

RE: Sad - Just Buy a Visor
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/7/2002 2:02:06 AM #
Only problem is that visor is discontinuing their visor-port.
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