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Fellowes PDA Pocket Keyboard Review
By Robert Zach
You may recall an early news announcement Ed posted some time back on a Cirque keyboard for the Palm...well here it is! Cirque and Fellowes partnered to bring what they claim is the smallest and lightest Palm keyboard to the market.
This little device uses the same "glidepoint" touch technology you may have in your laptop computer as a glide point mouse. Installation and use are very simple. The keyboard comes with a small adapter (for your type of Palm) that snaps into the top of the keyboard then slides into the Palm serial port. After installing and enabling a 14K driver, you're ready to type. I just wish the driver was on a CD-ROM and not floppy.
At first I wasn't too sure that the touch type would work out too well. Remember this is a touch sensitive device - there are no "keys" in the typical sense. You get no tactile feedback - you do get an audio feedback however (which you can disable once you get the "feel" of the keyboard). There are no physical keys to press; it's the pressure of your finger that the device interprets as a key press - in even appears the amount (duration) of pressure is also what determines if a key repeats.
I found that making a few tweaks in the driver resulted in some pretty good performance. Adjusting the touch sensitivity from the default "light" to "medium" eliminated the constant double key problems I has initially. And, adjusting the key repeat rate to from the default "medium" to "fast" resulted in more predictable operation.
I did notice some peculiarities about the driver that I feel need attention. The driver is not "plug and play" - that is, it must be enabled / disabled every time you want to attach / detach the keyboard. Every other keyboard I have used has figured this out by now. You'll notice here what happens if you try to initiate a HotSync without remembering to disable it. This just shouldn't be nowadays.
The directions say that the "must be enabled feature" is designed to conserve power in the keyboard. I don't buy it - it's got auto-off, and why would I attach it if I wasn't going to use it - remember portability of these little PDAs is first priority.
The directions also say that the keyboard auto-disables; it does, but only after a timeout period. You can't just yank the keyboard and they stick the PDA in your HotSync cradle for a sync. The time is adjustable down to one minute, but again I don't feel these features would be necessary with some software work to the driver.
Getting over these items, in practice I found the keyboard very usable and light/small as described. The keyboard includes a very nice touch of housing a fold out support to hold the Palm upright while in use with the keyboard. However, this will work well on a flat surface but no where else. One PLUS to this small size arrangement is that UNLIKE many other keyboards you can hold the whole thing in your hand and use the keyboard - cup the palm and keyboard union point and type away!
The keyboard layout is QWERTY with very basic functions - it lacks all the special commands that other keybords have (I liked this simplicity but you may have other needs). It does however have a CTRL key to get to the PalmOS "command" functions. It also has some VERY handy directional arrow keys...these work well!
One crazy thought occurred to me while playing with this "pressure device" - Why not hack something up to turn this into a sketch/drawing/handwriting capture device. It seems to me that the electronics must be there to easily provide a tablet of sorts...might be neat for the Artist that is looking for a portable pseudo WACOM type device. Could be fun for drawings especially where pressure sensitive tablets are a plus - you can't get that on a Palm screen! ;-)
For the record, the keyboard does work on a TRGpro. The manufacturer's materials say "Palm" devices but that is a green TRGpro pictured below. In fact, Fellowes conveniently packages TWO adapters in the box - one for the PalmV and the other for Pilot 1000, 5000, Palm III, Palm VII, and Palm m100. It does not work with the Palm IIIc.
I don't particularly like that this device requires batteries. The materials indicate that two lithium CR2032's are required. It also says that they will provide power for "30 hours of constant keyboard typing with the PDA connected and the software activated." The driver software does provide and indication to the user when the batteries need to be replaced.
The bottom line is that at $40 this would be a good keyboard considering the technology - at $48 I'm not too sure. In reality the keyboard should available for less than MSRP anyway since it can be had at stores like Staples, CompUSA, and Circuit City.
Given the current driver problems, and the power requirement, you may want to look at other alternatives before making your selection.
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