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Happy Hacking Cradle Review
By Ed Hardy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For all the amazing convenience of the Palm organizer, most people would agree that entering large amounts of text is a bit of a pain. One possible solution to this is the Happy Hacking Cradle, a handy little device that allows you to use almost any PS/2 keyboard with your Palm or WorkPad. You simply place your Palm into the HH Cradle, plug a keyboard into it, start the driver, and start typing.
"The biggest difference between us and the other Palm keyboard makers is that we don't supply a keyboard," says Ted Abe, director of business development at PFU America, the maker of the HH Cradle. "People already have keyboards for their PCs that they are used to."
The Happy Hacking Cradle is about the size of a Palm (3.5 " x 4.6 " x 1 ") and weighs 3.7 ozs. While that doesn't seem big, the thing is just too big for what it does. If it is going to compete successfully against the Palm folding keyboard, PFU needs to redesign the HH Cradle so it is about half its current size. Even after a redesign, typing in your lap doesn't seem possible.
It uses its own AA batteries so powering a keyboard doesn't run down your handheld's batteries. A single set of can last for up to 80 hours of typing. The HH Cradle has a built-in backrest for your Palm so it is held up at about a 60-degree angle, which makes the screen easy to read. Physically the device seems solid and well constructed. It does lack an easy place to hold a stylus, though.
On the back of the HH Cradle is one of its best features, a serial port to connect a modem to. This allows you to type an e-mail, flip a switch, and send it without having to move your Palm at all.
On the top is a small green light that flashes to indicate that the HH Cradle is on. This light is in a very poor spot. If your handeld is in the cradle, it is between you and the light. Most of the time, it is actually easier to see the small on/off switch than it is to see the indicator light.
On the front of the HH Cradle is a HotSync button. If you have programmed your Palm Modem's button then the HH Cradle's button will perform the same action.
One of the best parts of the HH Cradle isn't part of the HH Cradle at all. It's your keyboard. All portable keyboards have some drawbacks. Either they are cramped, or the keys don't work very well, or they have an unfamiliar layout, or something. But the HH Cradle lets you use the exact keyboard you use all the time. If you like using it with your PC, you will like using it with your handheld.
Before you can type using the HH Cradle, you need to manually enable the HHC Driver (27k). The driver can't detect that your handheld is in a ready-to-use cradle and activate itself. You must launch the HH application and start it every time. This is a real hassle. It can at least tell when the HH Cradle is not present and the driver will turn itself off. But even this is poorly handled. The HH application launches every time the keyboard is turned off so if you are typing an e-mail and you want to send it, when you switch off the keyboard the HH application opens for no real reason, and you have to switch back to your e-mail application before you can send. The fact that the HH application doesn't launch when you want it to but does launch when you don't gets old very quickly. If the developers at PFU can solve this problem the HH Cradle will be significantly easier to use. The challenge can't be insurmountable; the GoType keyboard driver can detect if its keyboard is present.
After it has been started, the HH Driver does a pretty good job of making your keyboard work just like you would want it to. You can hold down the shift key and hit one of the cursor keys to select text. The Page Up and Page Down keys work. You can even use Forward Delete.
There are numerous handy functions performed with the Alt key. Alt+n is the same as hitting the New button, for example. And Alt+b switches on or off the backlight.
The HH application lets you manually configure several things about the way your keyboard works.
It can be set to make a sound whenever a key is pressed. This is handy if you are having problems with your keyboard and pressing a key frequently fails to result in a letter appearing on your handheld. However, the HH Cradle works so well this seems like a pointless irritation.
You can also activate a setting in the HH application that allows you to use the standard Windows key bindings. For example, you can use Control+x to cut or Control+v to paste. Naturally, this only works in applications that support these functions.
There are a very few PS/2 keyboards that the HH Cradle simply can't detect. If you have one of these, you must turn off the keyboard checking function. This will allow you to still use your keyboard but you will have to manually disable the driver before using your serial port for anything else, like HotSyncing.
Naturally, you can control at what point holding down a key begins to result in that character being typed repeatedly and how quickly those repeated characters appear.
As if all this weren't enough, the HH application allows you to program the function keys. You can set a function to launch an application or desk accessory, insert a phrase, perform an editing command, or simulate pressing a button, like the New or Done buttons that appear on your screen.
There are so many possible key combinations that remembering which does what can be a bit of a challenge but like everything except Beginners Luck, it gets easier with practice.
The HH application is quite powerful but it isn't perfect. Aside from its failure to start itself automatically, it is subject to occasional crashes requiring a soft reset, usually after shutting off the Palm with the keyboard connected then turning it on again with it disconnected.
The HH Cradle works with the Palm III series, the Palm VII, and WorkPad 8602 series. If you have a Palm V, you can purchase the Palmdock V ($34) which will allow your Palm V to work with most gadgets designed for the Palm III. As for keyboards, PFU says you can use almost any 104-key or 101-key PS/2 keyboard. This is the type used by almost all Windows PCs. Unfortunately, you can not use keyboards designed for the Macintosh as their wiring is just too different.
If you do most of your text input in one spot, like your office, then the HH Cradle is perfect for you. Why spend a lot of money for a portable keyboard that you really only use at your desk?
If you do a lot of traveling to places that keyboards already are, the HH Cradle could be right for you. There are PS/2 keyboards in almost every office in the world. Why bring water to the ocean?
If you are on a really tight budget and already own a keyboard, this might be a good deal for you. At $49, the HH Cradle is roughly half the cost of the Palm's folding keyboard and about $10 less than a GoType.
If you find yourself writing a lot of two sentence e-mails because you don't have 10 minutes to put a couple of paragraphs in with Graffiti, you need a keyboard of some kind. The Happy Hacking Cradle is a decent, low-cost solution.
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