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IrKB101 Wireless Keyboard Module and Emergency Charger Review
By Ed Hardy
The IrKB101 is the next generation of the HATker module for the Palm V series. The HATker is a small adapter that attaches to the top of a Palm V series handheld and allows it to use PS/2 keyboards. It took the interesting solution of being physically attached to the handheld but communicating via the infrared port.
This is fine but is obviously limited to just the Palm V series. Rather than make another model-specific adapter, PDApex created the IrKB101, which works with any PalmOS handheld that has an IR port.
To use it, you hook the IrKB101 up to any PS/2 keyboard, turn on the adapter, enable the software, and start typing.
By the way, in case it's not clear, just about any keyboard from a Windows PC is a PS/2 one. Sorry, this doesn't include Apple Macintoshes, which use a different setup.
As I said, there is no physical connection between the handheld and the keyboard. All communication is handled by infrared so any Palm OS model with an IR port can use it. This makes the IrKB101 a very handy device in a situation where several different types of handhelds need to use a keyboard. I've used the IrKB101 with a Palm m505, a Sony N760C, and a Visor Pro, and it worked great with all of them. There is no other single keyboard that can make that claim.
Also, it lets you use a full-sized keyboard. In fact, you can use the keyboard you are used to typing on now. Why should you buy a portable keyboard when you already have one you are satisfied with?
As handy as it is, the IrKB101 isn't perfect. As long as the adapter is on, it continues to send power to the keyboard, even though you aren't typing anything. This will drain its two AA batteries in a few days. So you have to remember to manually turn off the IrKB101 whenever you are done using it. I really wish they had put in something that would let it shut itself down after a few minutes of not being used.
The IrKB101's IR connection does lead to difficulties in how to arrange the handheld and keyboard so you can easily see the screen. Unlike other keyboards for handhelds, there isn't a way to prop up the handheld when you are connected because the adapter needs to be in a a direct line with the handheld's IR port.
What I ended up doing was putting the handheld on the left side of the keyboard. I could see the screen pretty well but when I needed to tap on the screen, I had to use my left hand. I tried putting the handheld over the number pad on the right side of the keyboard, which worked OK, though of course that meant the number pad couldn't be used.
Allowing access to a keyboard isn't all that the IrKB101 does. On one side is a small plug where a power cord can be plugged in to use the IrKB101 as an emergency charger for the Palm. Unfortunately, I wasn't given a power cord to review so I can't say how well it works but it is a great idea to combine these functions.
Power cables for specific handhelds will be sold separately. APApex has cables for Palm, Handspring, and Sony models.
When you are done typing, you have to go back into the same app and hit the "Disable" button. If you leave the driver enabled, you won't be able to use your serial port for anything else, like HotSyncing.
I wish the company had come up with a way to let the handheld figure out for itself if it is in range of the adapter. Manually enabling/disabling the driver is a bit of a hassle.
The driver application does what it can to help you remember to turn the hardware off so you don't drain its batteries. After you hit the "Disable" button, a window pops up with a reminder.
Running the driver also requires running a hack, so you'll need to run X-master or HackMaster, too. Before you ask, X-master is freeware and a copy comes on the installation CD.
Remember when I said this was the next generation of the HATcker? The IrKB101 even still uses the HATcker's driver.
If English isn't your primary language, APApex is ready for you. There are also versions of the driver in Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Italian, Russian, and Spanish.
Incidentally, there is a version of the driver for WinCE 3.0 so you can even share the same keyboard with an iPaq, Jornada, etc.
Not one to rest on their laurels, the adapter also comes with an application that lets you use the IrKB101's second IR port as a TV remote signal booster. I thought this would be cool and gave it a try. Sadly, I couldn't ever get it to work with my TV. I tried with a couple of different handhelds and no luck. This may be related to my TV so your experience may be different. However, this is a pretty minor part of the whole package so I'm not too disappointed.
This is why I can only give an estimated street price because it will be up to the resellers to set that.
If you want to avoid having to buy multiple keyboards for different handhelds or you do most of your typing at a place that's already well supplied with keyboards, the IrKB101 could be for you. And the fact that it doubles as an emergency charger only sweetens the deal.
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