Palm Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard ReviewBy: Kris Keilhack
June 5, 2007
A few days prior to the big announcement of the Foleo, Palm trotted out brief a press release announcing the availability of the latest in a long line of Palm-branded accessory keyboards. Despite bearing a generic mouthful of a title: the Palm Wireless Keyboard with Bluetooth Wireless Technology, this new keyboard is a surprisingly strong entry into a field that’s far less crowded than it was a few years ago.
Overview, Pricing, & Availability
These sorts of keyboards (from Palm and other manufacturers) were quite popular during the PDA heyday, especially among heavy note-takers, writers and the poor souls who could never get the hang of Graffiti. I’ve almost always had some version of Palm keyboard ever since my Palm Vx days, either from Palm, ThinkOutside, or the classic Landware GoType travel keyboard. However, ever since Palm began phasing out the Universal Connector and the plugged-in keyboards, my interest in such things has waned. I figured that the time was right to see what improvements Palm had brought to the table for a rather staid product category like portable wireless keyboards.
The keyboard is currently available from Palm.com for $99.95.
Palm lists the keyboard as being compatible with the Treo 680, 650, 700, and 750 smartphones. Drivers for both Palm OS-based Treos as well as the Windows Mobile Treos are included on the bundled software CD or downloadable from Palm. The recently released Treo 755p, Palm’s latest Palm OS-based Treo for CDMA networks, is strangely not on the supported device list. My limited testing with the Treo 755p revealed no problems.
Palm curiously lists just two handhelds as compatible with this keyboard, the Tungsten E2 and the Palm TX. Relatively recent Bluetooth-enabled Palm handhelds such as the LifeDrive, T5, T3, and Zire 72 are not mentioned as compatible devices. I was unfortunately unable to acquire any older Bluetooth-equipped Palm devices for the testing period.
The keyboard comes in Palm’s usual electric orange blister packaging. It’s eye-catching and perfectly suited for display at retail. I did find myself hard-pressed to distinguish this particular keyboard revision from the slew of earlier devices all bearing similar but slightly different names, packaging, and capabilities. I again risked life and limb opening the package to extract the keyboard and the rest of the package contents. Tip: The Black and Decker Powered Scissor is the finest household gadget I’ve bought in years. Anyone who frequents membership warehouses like Sam’s or Costco owes it to themselves to buy one of these suckers to slice through all manner of tamper-proof packaging.
Thanks to my handy power scissors, I didn’t slice off a finger and impair my ability to review the Palm keyboard. Aside from the actual keyboard, the box’s contents are pretty sparse: the usual multi-language Palm instruction booklet and warranty information and two Duracell AAA batteries.
Design & Construction
I was very pleased to find that the high standard set by most of the recent Palm-branded accessories continues here. Palm has really ramped up their standards when picking accessory and peripheral manufacturers (see my Palm GPS Navigator Smartphone Edition review) and their new keyboard continues this fine trend. This keyboard is not built like a tank as my old Palm V keyboard was but it’s much lighter and still appears quite well-constructed. The exterior black plastic is sleek and nicely textured. The little embossed “Palm” and “Bluetooth” made for nice, understated branding. No bling here, folks!
The good news continued after I pressed the black button on the side to open the keyboard. I was pleased to see the preferred layout of five rows of keys with a dedicated numeric line across the top. Small but tough rubber feet adorn each side of the keyboard when it is open, so as long as you are typing on a flat desk or tabletop, the keyboard refrains from wobbling or rattling.I tested it skid-free on a high-glass wooden office desk, a glass coffee table, and several kitchen countertops. Two AAA batteries reside in the upper right-hand side of the keyboard hinge, concealed under a small removable panel.
I typed a quick half-page e-mail and immediately knew I could get used to keeping this thing around the house or the office. It would certainly make for a solid travel companion!
The one thing I can caution prospective Palm keyboard purchasers about is the somewhat precarious positioning of the device on the easel. With no side arms or fingers to hold the device in place, a slight bump or rattled tabletop can cause your pricey Palm device to go scattering off of its easel and across the table or onto the floor. Palm fortunately did see fit to include some thin rubber strips on the bottom panel and top rail of the easel. Still, I’d really have liked to have seen some sort of mechanism to prevent sudden, potentially dangerous lateral movements by the PDA or smartphone (see my additional thoughts on this in the section below). Palm should definitely address this in future product revisions. Since the keyboard’s easel is an entirely separate piece that can be removed completely from the keyboard it would not be a difficult item to retrofit or replace should circumstances necessitate this.
Testing Methodology and Results
The handful of wireless IR and Bluetooth keyboards I’ve owned over the past few years have generally been plagued with sluggishness, battery hassles and general driver or connectivity aggravation. This keyboard thankfully exhibited none of this behavior and was a delight to use in every way. Despite my 700p’s perpetual lag, I never was able to out-type the keyboard. Its Bluetooth signal’s range allowed comfort placement of the easel + Palm device nearly anywhere.
By far the highlight of the entire package is the removable easel. The tilt of the PDA/smartphone in use is adjustable to one of the three different positions via a metal bracket and notches located on the underside of the easel. A height-adjustable rear panel with a thin foam stripe running horizontally provides additional support for the taller Palm PDAs. Though the easel does feel a bit fragile when being extracted from the keyboard, it seems reasonably well-built and should survive the rigors of long term usage, assuming proper care is taken when removing and reinserting it into the keyboard. I’ve always felt that composing lengthy e-mails and word processing documents was an enormous choir in any handheld device. While that is still mostly true, I had my best-ever experience in handheld word processing when using this keyboard with a TX on the detached easel running Documents to Go in landscape mode.
The new Treo 680/750/755 formfactor posed no problems in regards to stability or positioning on the keyboard’s easel. Of the three devices immediately at my disposal (700p, 755p, TX), the TX seemed the best fit on the easel due to its relatively flat and wide base. I did find my TX to be considerably more stable than any of my other devices, especially when in landscape mode. It even worked with my Sena flip case still on the TX! And my 700p with its Seidio 3200mAh “rumpshaker” battery was a tad more stable than the stock 755p. I imagine a LifeDrive would fit nearly perfectly on this little stand. This is one instance where it helps to have an older, bigger, and heavier Palm device!
I installed the driver included on the bundled software CD on my 700p and began testing. I also checked Palm.com for a newer downloadable driver but the website mirrors the CD’s 188.8.131.52 version. BTKeybrd.prc takes up 67k of main memory. While the 755p is not yet officially supported by the keyboard’s driver, in my limited testing time with the new 755p, I encountered no issues whatsoever. The 755p and the 700p behaved identically under these Bluetooth conditions. The TX also had no issues with being simultaneously online via wi-fi and connected to this keyboard and typing via Bluetooth.
The actual keyboard driver/configuration utility appears in the launcher as “BTKeybrd” and has a different icon from earlier Palm IR keyboards. The usual onscreen options are offered in the main configuration screen: Status on/off, sound on/off, Delay until repeat and keyboard repeat rate. A single line to use for test typing is available at the bottom of the screen.
The next submenus of the configuration utility are the “CmdKeys” section where application shortcut assignments can be generated. Up to 9 different command key shortcuts be entered. None are enabled by default and a “default” key can always restore the original settings if necessary.
A useful (albeit barebones) Help menu appears next. This screen basically gives a list of the relevant function key shortcuts (Fn + whatever) and their associated function. The help menu also lists the command + navigational key shortcuts to mimic the function of the Palm device’s built-in 5-way Navigator. I actually found the navigational aspect of the Palm Bluetooth keyboard its most confusing aspect. I am used to quickly cycling through menus with the Palm 5-way Navigator directional pad. Having to hold down a command button on the keyboard prior to pressing an arrow key is counter-intuitive to both Palm and desktop PC logic. I understand that a downsized keyboard such as this will always entail numerous compromises but for users editing large documents or with a long list of applications to scroll through on the launcher, it can be aggravating to think the keyboard is suddenly unresponsive prior to the realization that the command key must be held down to move around onscreen.
The usual “About” menu is the final screen available in the BTkeyboard app. No surprises here.
Despite a history of quirky Bluetooth drivers under Palm OS 5.x, I had no issues whatsoever while testing this keyboard with a Treo 755, 700p and Palm TX. I did get one random reset when launching Blazer from the keyboard shortcut key on my 700p but I attribute that to the 700p’s general unreliability and Bluetooth issues. Unlike my Palm Bluetooth headset, the 700p never dropped the connection with the keyboard. Activating the driver app on each Palm device does require a quick power-up/pairing process performed by holding down the Bluetooth icon button on the top left corner of the keyboard. Strangely, the Bluetooth indicator light on the keyboard is a bright amber instead of blue.
- Lightweight but good build quality. Minimal flexing while typing
- Sleek, understated monochromatic styling when closed. Nice embossed Palm logo
- Rock-solid initial driver with plenty of keyboard shortcuts and toggled commands
- Full five-row key layout
- AAA batteries included in the package
- Removable easel is a brilliant touch and makes for highly configurable typing setups
- Quick and flawless Bluetooth pairing. No passkey required
- More affordable than earlier Bluetooth keyboards
- Palm devices can be charged while using keyboard. This was difficult with earlier IR keyboards and usually impossible with direct-connect keyboards.
- Onscreen battery status indicator
- The multi-colored key font is a bit thin and is hard to read in dim lighting conditions.
- Not quite as compact as earlier folding keyboards
- Bluetooth LED blinks amber instead of blue
- Limited number of Palm handhelds certified as compatible. No "official" 755p support
Palm has once again managed to hit a home run with an accessory release. This Bluetooth keyboard is simply the finest experience I have ever had with a wireless portable keyboard. All of their issues that plagued earlier, pricier Bluetooth ‘boards have seemingly been resolved. At the same time Palm has bundled a solid driver and configuration utility and introduced a few novel twists into the overall user experience.
Aside from the lack of any side supports to keep overly wobbly Treos secure on the easel, I can find very few faults with this keyboard. Of course, I’ve only had the keyboard to test for one week but the initial signs are highly encouraging that this is a definite keeper.
The Zen of Palm is still alive and kicking with this simple yet elegantly designed accessory. It would be a very wise move indeed for Palm to begin bundling this particular keyboard with the E2 or TX handhelds and package them with an updated version of Documents To Go as a more highly portable alternative to the Foleo. For users wishing to combine affordability with serious mobility, this keyboard plus a Palm TX makes for a true mobile manager.
The keyboard is currently available from Palm.com for $99.95.
My Rating: 4.5 / 5