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Palm Portable Keyboard for m500 Series Review
By Ed Hardy
The PPK starts as a small package about the size of a IIIx. But after pushing the button on one side it pops open to be a full-sized keyboard. Getting a keyboard this large out of that small a package is almost cartoony. It reminds me of the old site gag from the Jetsons where George's car folds up into a briefcase. Only this is real.
At first glance, the interior of the the PPK seems almost too complicated to be efficient. It reminds me of one of Rube Goldberg's ridiculously complicated machines. But once you get familiar with it, you'll see that every moving part is necessary and the whole thing is actually a model of efficiency.
One of the few drawbacks of the PPK is that it absolutely requires a flat surface to use. It simply isn't possible to use it in your lap.
There is no question of the keys being cramped. They are as far apart as the ones on my PC keyboard. However, the keys do move less up and down when pressed than on a regular one. This is known as travel and a standard keyboard has about 6 mm and the PPK has 3 mm. However, many notebook computers have keyboards with just 3 mm of travel. I don't think this will bother anyone who isn't super picky, though it does take a little bit of getting used to. I tend to press the keys harder than necessary.
The PPK weighs only 7.9 ounces so it is easily portable. But it still isn't something you can carry in your shirt pocket. It dwarfs the m505 and is even larger than a III series. Still, it is a lot of keyboard squeezed into a small space.
The Palm plugs into the keyboard at the top left. A small holder slides out of the PPK and pops up with a serial port connector on it. It is pretty easy to make this connection but it is important to be sure the Palm is lined up right when inserting it. If it goes in at an angle and the connectors don't line up right, the Palm will get confused and begin trying to HotSync. This isn't a crisis; you can just hit cancel and try again.
The Palm is held firmly in place. A casual bump isn't going to knock it loose. The PPK holds on with just a couple of small hooks on either side of the serial port. The large tabs in the middle of the back of the Palm aren't used.
You remove the Palm by tilting it forward. This doesn't make the loud snapping sound the cradle does but does pop it loose.
This connector uses the new Universal Connector so all Palm models for at least the next two years are guaranteed to work with the PPK.
It runs off power from the Palm itself so no battery is necessary. I can't give you any accurate figures on how large the battery drain is from the PPK but it seems pretty low. I never noticed any significant changes in how long a battery charge lasted by using the keyboard a lot.
As I said earlier, the PPK seems almost overly complicated and I was worried about how durable it would turn out to be. However, in this site's Forums I asked if anyone with Stowaway keyboards for previous Palm models had problems with them wearing out and several people assured me they had ones that were quite a few months old and they were still going strong.
A sad fact is that Think Outside no longer includes a case with this model. The version that worked with the V series came with a light fabric case that protected the outside from scratches and also prevented the keyboard from coming open inside a bag or purse.
I wish I could compare this model to previous ones but this is the first PPK I've had. People who have had both say this model has been made a bit more rugged than previous ones.
The Keyboard app is where you set things like how quickly holding down a key begins repeating or whether you want a small sound whenever you tap a key.
The PPK integrates itself quite nicely with the Palm OS. It has four buttons that work like the silkscreen buttons. It also has a function key that lets lots of other buttons on the keyboard perform multiple tasks. This helps reduce the number of times you need to take your fingers off the keys and pick up the stylus.
For example, if you are in an application that has a "New" button, holding down the Function key and hitting the key labeled "New" on the PPK will work the same as if you had taken the stylus and touched the screen.
If there is a button on the screen that doesn't have a pre-made button on the keyboard, you can still hold the Ctrl and Cmd buttons down and type the first letter of the on-screen button's name and it will be pressed.
There are several apps that have been designed to work especially well with the PPK and WordSmith is one these. I actually wrote this review with my m505, PPK, and WordSmith. I also used this combination to write most of the HandEra 330 review.
One thing many of us would like to do is both be connected to the Internet and typing on a keyboard. This is possible with both Handspring and HandEra models but not with any model from Palm itself. This is a limitation of the handheld, not the PPK.
I don't know the technical details but Palm models use many of the same components to drive the serial port and the IR port so both can't be active at the same time doing different things.
I'm not sure if it would be possible for a combination keyboard/modem to do both through the serial port simultaneously but it would be nice. The other option is to wait for an SD modem to come out because it won't have this limitation.
But if you are like me and you use your Palm like most people use a laptop, it is a great help. The fact that we are pretty much assured that it will continue to be useful for several future generations of Palm handhelds makes this an even better purchase.
Rachel A. Wild, Think Outside's Marketing Communications Manager, said that a version for the Sony PEG-N710C should be available in the U.S. in late June.
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