Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Hands-on (literally) with the Palm wireless keyboard


By Heather Wardell

When I needed a new Palm, I thought about getting one with the thumb-board keyboard built-in, like those you see on the Treo 650. When I tried it out, though, I found that my hands just weren't fitting the thumb-board properly, so I went with a "traditional" Palm that uses Graffiti as the data entry mechanism.

Still, there are times when it would be really nice to have a real keyboard. As a writer, it would definitely be nice to not have to haul my laptop around when I need a change of scenery. Tasks such as entering recipes or writing long memos would also be made much easier with a keyboard.

Palm's wireless keyboard seemed as though it might fit the bill, so I put it through its paces. Note: there is a newer version of this keyboard, with one more row of keys; I will point out places where the newer keyboard would be more effective. However, like many Computing Unplugged reviews where we like to look at products after we've given them some considerable use, this keyboard has actually been used in my testing.

Initial thoughts

There's a keyboard in there?

The Palm wireless keyboard folds up into a neat (and intriguingly folded) package only a bit larger than my Zire. Figure A shows the folded keyboard next to my Zire's case.


The keyboard and my Zire's case are nearly the same size. (click for larger image)

I unfolded the keyboard carefully and started pushing keys. While it looks as though it'd be difficult to unfold, it actually works very well. You can't unfold it in the wrong way and it's quite stable and sturdy. It does require a hard surface to work on, though; it isn't stable enough to work on your lap.

The Palm and the keyboard communicate through infrared. The keyboard has a small wand that needs to be aimed approximately at your Palm's infrared port. Figure B shows my old Zire 71 in position; there is a small silver bar that is supposed to hold the handheld in place, but it doesn't seem to do very much. Regardless, the Palm is very stable in the keyboard without it.


The setup feels very secure. (click for larger image)


The keyboard comes with a CD that has its drivers on it; there are often updates to these drivers, and so I recommend checking Palm's web site at http://www.palm.com/us/support to see if there are newer drivers than those on the CD. Either way, you install a single file to your Palm and you're in business.

After the install, there will be a new program on your Palm, appropriately called Keyboard. Here you can turn on and off the keyboard, set the repeat speed, and assign applications to the command keys. This is very handy; rather than having to press the Address hard button on your Palm, for example, you could press Cmd and 1 to bring up the Address program.