Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Hands-on (literally) with the Palm wireless keyboard

The keyboard itself

The keyboard that I reviewed has four rows of keys. The top three rows contain the letters and numbers, and most of the control keys (Enter, Shift, and so on). The bottom row has two small space bars (one on each side of the fold in the keyboard), the delete key, two function keys, several of the arrow keys, and the Alt, Ctrl and Cmd keys.

Many of the keys have words printed on them, such as Edit or New, or symbols such as the percent sign. Some of these are in blue and some are in green. One of the function keys is blue and the other is green. This is not a coincidence. To page down, for example, you hold down the green Fn key and press the key with PgDn on it. While this does take some getting used to, it is a well-planned method of making the most of the keyboard's small size, and it does quickly become routine.

How it works

For general typing, I find the keyboard to be very solid. The depth of the keys is certainly much shallower than a regular keyboard but only a small amount less than my laptop. The keys snap back quickly and have a nice feel to them. The keyboard is very responsive, and the navigation keys work well.

Where this keyboard doesn't shine is in numbers. I mentioned above that the newer version of this keyboard has one more row of keys; the new one has the numbers and symbols on their own row (like most keyboards) but the older one combines these with the top row of letters. While I have begun to get used to this, it certainly does slow me down when I need to type a number. Almost invariably, I get the letter instead and then need to go back and erase it. I am not surprised that Palm decided to change this design in the new version; it really is inconvenient.

Battery life

Palm says that the two AAA batteries will last up to four months depending on how often you use the keyboard. I used mine quite a bit over a two week period and it was still going strong. Unfortunately, I didn't close it back up after I took the pictures for this article, and the batteries were dead when I came back to it a few days later.

I think that the keyboard was likely sending out infrared signals throughout the time that it was open, and that this probably drained the batteries in short order. Folding the keyboard back up and putting it away would have prevented this.

Final thoughts

As it stands right now, the keyboard earns a rating of 3. It does the job, particularly if you don't need to type very many numbers, in a reasonable fashion. The new version, with a separate row of number keys, would rate at least a 4. Both units appear to be the same size, and are very portable and well-designed.