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Cirque Bottom Line:

The Price:
  • $48
The Pros:
  • Small physical size and compact software driver

The Cons:
  • Software is not "Plug and Play"
  • Keyboard requires batteries
  • Not sure about the price ($40 would represent a good value) Ratings*:

*Maximum Rating is FIVE (5) InfoPalms

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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Palm m5xx Availability

I.M. Anonymous @ 8/24/2001 12:54:04 PM #
Any word on compatability with the m500 series handhelds?

what I want

AriB @ 8/24/2001 4:38:17 PM #
this is the kind of keyboard that I'm looking for. I don't want a keyboard that folds out into something so big that I need to put it down somewhere. I want to type while standing

RE: what I want
I.M. Anonymous @ 8/24/2001 10:03:47 PM #
I owned this keyboard for awhile before switching to the PPK. It is very portable but really does still need a flat surface to be used effectively. I think you might have some trouble using it while standing (IMHO).

Visor Version

I.M. Anonymous @ 8/24/2001 5:15:29 PM #
I have the Handspring Visor version of this keyboard and I only have one thing to say about it... avoid this keyboard if you must have a springboard module installed!

The drivers that ship with the device are not intellegent enough to tell the difference between the hotsync port and a springboard module.

I contacted Fellowes regarding this issue and the only response I got was that they *might* issue a fix someday. (Incidently, the Fellowes website doesn't currently carry the drivers for this keyboard. You can download them from the Cirque website, however.)

There is a workaround for this problem though...

If you connect the keyboard and activate it *before* installing a springboard device, the keyboard can be used with it. However, if you disable the keyboard, you will not be able to reactivate it until you remove the springboard, otherwise the visor will hang.

Not pressure sentsitive

I.M. Anonymous @ 8/24/2001 9:20:58 PM #
This keyboard is not pressure sensitive like you claimed in the review. It in fact uses a capacitance sensor to measure the electrical conductivity of your fingers. Therefore, it has no idea how hard you press, so the amount of pressure applied cannot effect the key repeats. This also means that this keyboard cannot be used with a stylus (or even a fingernail), it must be used with your finger (which also limits the possibilityt of using it as a drawing tablet). The technology used is identical to the touchpads on laptops (in fact, this keyboard is just a touch pad with letters printed on it). It is also worthy to note that there are ridges between the keys to help prevent pressing two keys at once.

Why no iiic support?

I.M. Anonymous @ 8/25/2001 10:30:24 AM #
Why doesn't it work with the iiic? the connector is the same, and the size difference isn't that big. I can see it being a bit top-heavy, but other than that, no problem. Every other Palm iii device works on a iiic (except the parachute for obvious reasons) so drivers wouldn't be much of a problem either.

It works fine - see link
I.M. Anonymous @ 8/25/2001 10:41:06 AM #
Ok, the Gadgeteer tested it with her iiic and it worked fine

The items below the keyboard on the Fellowes site were the one's that wouldn't work with a iiic (some kind of integrated case/keyboard).
Just for those iiic folk who feel unnecessarily excluded :)
Looking at the design of the keyboard, an optional adaptor would allow m500 series usage too.



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