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PalmInfoCenter.com Bottom Line:

The Price:
  • ESP $55
The Pros:
  • Can be used with any handheld with IR port
  • Small
  • Doubles as a emergency charger

The Cons:
  • Hardware and software must me manually turned on and off at each use

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



IrKB101 Wireless Keyboard Module and Emergency Charger Review
By Ed Hardy
9/28/2001


Overview
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.

Hardware
The IrKB101 is a relatively small module, just 4.6 by 1.9 by .9 inches. On one side is a small receiving IR port and on the other is a large broadcasting IR port. On one edge is the PS/2 keyboard port.

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.

Software
In order to begin typing, you need to manually enable the IrKB101's driver. This means launching an application and pushing an "Enable" button.

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.

Availability
Now that you have read this far into this review, I hope you won't be mad if I tell you the IrKB101 isn't available yet out side of Taiwan. However, the company is looking for distributors. If you are a reseller of handheld-related products and are interested in the IrKB101, please get in contact with PDApex. If you're a consumer and would like one, call up your favorite reseller and ask them to carry it.

This is why I can only give an estimated street price because it will be up to the resellers to set that.

Conclusion
In an odd way, the IrKB101 is both more and less portable than its competition. The adapter is far smaller than any folding keyboard and there will be PS/2 keyboards almost everywhere you go, like your home and your office. On the other hand, if want to type somewhere without a keyboard, like a hotel room, you'll need to tote one along.

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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Not a good solution

I.M. Anonymous @ 9/28/2001 12:34:27 PM #
The Stowaway keyboard is overall the best solution if you need to type massive quantity of text.

It's small, portable, and lightweight without the funky need to learn one-handed keypunch techniques or carrying a PS2 keyboard or using a rubber-Blackberry-style attachment hiding the graffiti area.

RE: Not a good solution
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/28/2001 12:53:37 PM #
Maybe for you but I got a CLIE, my wife has my old Vx, and my son has a m100. Buying 3 Stowaways would be about $300. If this really works, it could save me a ton of money.

RE: Not a good solution
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/28/2001 1:33:19 PM #
What Stowaway needs to do is have separate adapters that can fit different devices. I would pay maybe $10-$15 for each. But I have a feeling they would charge $50 for an adapter.

This is a big problem. I love the PPK but I DO NOT want to spend $100 each time I buy a different PDA. It's a scam and really souring me on Stowaway.

RE: Not a good solution
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/28/2001 3:41:26 PM #
But think. If three people have Palm's, and all need keyboards that could be a hassle. "But Dad, I need the keyboard for school!" "No Son, this is an important meeting for work", etc. You see how having one keyboard could be/is a problem?

RE: Not a good solution
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/29/2001 1:04:53 PM #
...And did you realize that you can buy a keyboard for $10-20 these days? You are going to buy one of these devices and neglect to buy a keyboard ...? Sorry, your argument lacks.

RE: Not a good solution
dagger2k @ 11/2/2001 10:06:41 PM #
The thing is: "Dad, I need the adapter" "no son, you should mannage w/ your keyboard" "but dad, doesnt work wit no adapter" "it's your problem"

I WANT A CLIÉ

Bonehead Move

Moosecat @ 9/28/2001 1:40:55 PM #
What a bonehead move it was to design this thing without any means of propping up the device (and maintaining an IR connection). It forces the user into a terribly uncomfortable position.

On a related note, I would love it if the Stowaway/PPK worked with a separate cradle/prop, connected by a short cable to the keyboard. I'd like to be able to move the keyboard around a little without jeopardizing my access to the narrow angle of view afforded by my m505's screen. I could slid the two units around independently. Also, they could just make it a regular charging/syncing cable, so it would almost be like a docking station for your Palm when you've got it at home or work. (Then, when you go on the road, you should be able to use the keyboard the regular way.)

Come to think of it, all I need is for someone to design a cable or something that would run between my cable and the keyboard, effectively making it so that I could use the keyboard while the Palm is the cradle. Yeah... That's the ticket ...

Great idea, Moosecat!
robrecht @ 9/28/2001 2:15:33 PM #
Let us know if you find something like this.

The other addition to the Stowaway I'd love to see is some type of brace that keeps it flat while sitting in your lap.

Thanks, Robrecht

RE: Bonehead Move
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/29/2001 2:51:13 AM #
What you want almost exists. Unfortunately nobody has gotten it "right" yet.

The Happy Hacking Cradle was close, but was not universal due to it's dependence on the Palm's plug.

The Easytype adapter was more univeral, requiring only that you have a serial port plug _or_ USB plug on your cradle, but you had to build it yourself. That's out of the question for most of us.

This one (IrKB101) is so close that it just kills you they still didn't get it right. How about building on a small "wrap around" tray to create a stand. Maybe have a look at the M100 or Clie covers to get an idea of how to make it wrap around the unit when not in use. Then at a minimum you could prop the handheld up via the IrKb101 with such a built on tray above your keyboard when at a desk or other flat surface. With some "reshaping" this product would be killer. It's quite close already that if they could just implement some of the software and hardware recommendations already listed here, and make it reasonably priced, they would definitely sell a lot of these units. They just need to "fix" it _before_ they try to market it.

If you are like me and already carry a backpack with books and papers, you know that a small laptop sized keyboard wouldn't take up hardly any more room in the internal back pocket of your backpack than the GoType keyboard and you get full size keys.

I'm still waiting.

More about Palm V adapter

I.M. Anonymous @ 9/28/2001 3:30:18 PM #
I went to the PDAPEX site and came across the Palm V adapter and I have some questions about it. It says it can be used as a remote 'extender'. They also have a RF expansion gizmo.

Has anyone seen more info about this?

RE: More about Palm V adapter
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/25/2002 1:28:41 PM #
go to tapspring.com for more info

Huh?

I.M. Anonymous @ 9/28/2001 3:42:31 PM #
>> Why should you buy a portable keyboard when you already have one you are satisfied with?

Have you ever been to a meeting and found PS/2 keyboards just lying around? They are usually connected to computers in use and I think it would be hard to get the owner to give it up so you have something to type with. ;-)

Ever tried dragging one with you? Just a bit too big.

Cool product, but not very useful IMHO. Can't beat a (Palm) Portable Keyboard. Small, easy and PORTABLE.

RE: Huh?
BThomas @ 9/28/2001 5:02:30 PM #
Well - I'm not sure I agree. As a medical student I could the benefits of the hospital installing keyboards like this in key spots around the hospital so that doctors -we all use different PDA's - and the like could type their longer notes. I do see problems with the lack of a prop-up device of some soft but that couldn't be too hard to figure out....

RE: Huh?
GregGaub @ 9/28/2001 7:31:04 PM #
The suggestion of putting keyboard stations in places around a hospital with a lot of people using Palm devices is a GREAT idea. All you need is a keyboard, this new Hatker, and a display prop like they use in stores to show off PDA (or shoes and what not). Then just mount the hatker device to the top of the prop, jerry-rig a power supply so that it can be left on (take the poles of an DC wall wart and wire them to the connections where the batteries would go. ;-). Then, as doctors and interns need a keyboard, they just turn on the driver, set their device on the little easel (sp?) and start typing! Visor users can install FlipHack and rotate the screen while typing, since their IR port is on the side. Heck, I can see a cottage industry of such stations being made and sold. These guys making this device should do that. I bet they'd sell a bunch of them to all sorts of palm-using businesses, not just hospitals.
Anyone got some venture capital to spend on this idea? This would also be great for access kiosks they they're putting all over airports and stuff. Just have it beam the driver if you need it, and use the keyboard while answering e-mail. :)

RE: Huh?
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/28/2001 9:56:04 PM #
> and use the keyboard while answering e-mail. :)

that brings up a question:
i'm not too familiar with how the palm handles IR vs serial connections, but if you can't hotsync while this driver is active, because the serial port is being used by the driver, would you be able to use a modem that uses the serial port? if so, that's great, if not, this may not be as useful as it looks.
oh, and for the guy who said that all the keyboards in your office are in use while you're in a meeting, what about yours? why not just bring it to the meeting with you, then take it back to your office when you're done? seems like the easiest solution to me.
if everybody in your office uses a different handheld, you could simply share a few of these adapters, and it would cost a whole lot less than getting everybody a different stowaway or gotype or whatever for their particular handheld.

RE: Huh?
GregGaub @ 9/28/2001 10:07:03 PM #
Sorry, you're right. You can't use the keyboard WHILE getting and sending mail. But, at a kiosk, you could get your mail via an IR link, then tpye your replies with the keyboard, then send your replies via the IR link (while enabling/disabling the keyboard driver at the appropriate times).
Either way, I get doctors and interns would love a quick way to type out notes on a patient they just finished with, without having to also carry even a PPK/Stowaway and unfolding it for each use. While I don't think the new device is all that great by itself, as lugging around a full size keyboard, even to a meeting in the same office building, would be inconvenient (not to mention silly looking), stations where workers at a location that has a high density of palm users could stop and quickly enter notes and other data would be keen.
-Greg

RE: Huh?
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/29/2001 7:59:42 PM #
>> oh, and for the guy who said that all the keyboards in your office are in use while you're in a meeting, what about yours? why not just bring it to the meeting with you, then take it back to your office when you're done? seems like the easiest solution to me.

You missed my point... (1) Why would you drag such a thing with you, when you can have a PPK at less then 1/4 the size (folded) and *far* less the weight? (2) What if you’re not at your home base? I attend many meetings in offices all over my corp. and across town. The PPK folds to 5.25x3.75x1”, weighs just slightly more than the Palm itself and has a full-size QWERTY layout with all the special keys needed by most Palm apps.

Sorry, but dragging a full-size keyboard to a meeting is not a solution for most, but I’ll admit some will find it of great use. I too think the idea of “stations” setup around a location may be a good fit. I happen to work in I/S at a large hospital system and we will be deploying some type of handheld (Palm OS driven) in the very near future. My biggest concern is how much support time and trouble shooting this will generate with my staff (I refer to the handheld, apps & any option and not this product in particular). KISS (keep it simple stupid) is our motto.


X-Master here

abischof @ 9/28/2001 10:09:06 PM #
Though a link wasn't mentioned in the article, you can get X-Master here: http://linkesoft.com/english/xmaster/

It looks like quite a promising (and free) alternative to Hackmaster.

Alex Bischoff

RE: X-Master here
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/29/2001 12:36:09 AM #
X-Master is da bomb. There is no reason in my opinion to NOT get X-Master. It has Sets wich allows you to set things up like All Active, None, Set A, Set B, Ect. It also has an option to automatically re-enable your Hacks after a reset instead of having to hit a button. The only thing better than X-Master is Tealmaster but it is Shareware.

RE: X-Master here
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/29/2001 12:42:30 AM #

Bye, Bye Batteries

I.M. Anonymous @ 9/29/2001 10:56:36 PM #
I would imagine that the IR connecton would burn through batteries (or a charge). Cool idea, but seems pretty useless. I just don't think it will be possible to beat the PPK.

RE: Bye, Bye Batteries
I.M. Anonymous @ 9/30/2001 8:40:09 AM #
Don't forget, the PPK uses the handheld's batteries too. Not a scientific study but after using it for a couple of hours, I can tell my battery is lower than it would be without it.

RE: Bye, Bye Batteries
I.M. Anonymous @ 10/2/2001 3:44:45 AM #
Please reference the HATcker101 review, there are some message about the power consumption of Palm. Base on my understanding, the handheld only receive the signal came from adapter, no Tx, so it consume very little power.

henry

Ir keyboard standard?

I.M. Anonymous @ 10/1/2001 6:56:07 AM #
Is there a standard for Ir keyboard communication? If so, where's the brilliant person who can write the code to interface with Palm OS? There's a bunch of Ir keyboards out there, some even quite small. Write the program to flip the screen like Fliphack, lay the handheld up-side-down above the keyboard and type away. Please tell me it's possible.

Treo 700W support, Universal IR keyboard?

foster @ 2/17/2009 12:54:43 PM #
"Is there a standard for Ir keyboard communication"

Also, is the Treo IR standard the same as Palm?

Why design to anything but a simple IR version of the UART? Isn't this simplicity what allows different devices to exchange business cards?

Where can we learn more?

Is this keyboard usable with the Treo 700W?

Foster

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