Windows Phone Thoughts: Pocketop Wireless Keyboard Reviewed

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Friday, February 28, 2003

Pocketop Wireless Keyboard Reviewed

Posted by Andy Whiteford in "HARDWARE" @ 07:54 AM

When it comes to the world of Pocket PCs, everyone has his or her own ideas about what an essential accessory is. For example, a high capacity memory card, protective case or a screen protector. Once these fundamentals are covered, the list of essential items may well increase depending on how you use your pocket friend and what you use it for. For those users who need to enter a lot of text or are looking for a smaller solution than a laptop, a portable keyboard will most likely be high on the wish list. While the stylus in conjunction with the onscreen keyboard or Transcriber may be adequate for writing a small email, jotting down a quick note or adding an appointment to your Calendar, itís not the most effective way of entering a lot of text. There are various options on the market that allow a more efficient way of entering a lot of data such as software solutions that replicate large onscreen keyboards or make predictive assumptions of the word you are typing or the hardware solutions like clip-on thumb keyboards. Most solutions out there have their merits but I personally find that nothing quite compares to the touch and feel of a full-sized keyboard. In my opinion, this would definitely be the preferred method of data entry but carrying around such a keyboard to complement a Pocket PC just isnít a viable option. Luckily, there is now a good selection of foldable keyboards available and the wireless keyboard from Pocketop Inc. is one of them.




The design behind the Pocketop keyboard is simple. Create a relatively full-sized keyboard that folds up to approximately the size of a Pocket PC. The actual construction of this product is anything but simple, however, as this is one cool piece of design.

So what do you get?
In the box you will find the keyboard, a driver disc, PDA stand with fittings, stylus, battery and a user manual. The keyboard itself when folded up is protected in its own, hard case. This gives it great protection when not in use and added rigidity when opened out for working with. Opening the case is as simple as pushing two small buttons on the corners of the case. This releases the keyboard which then folds out like a book with a single motion. This is all you need to do to have the keyboard set out and ready for action. While the keyboard is almost full size, this is in the laptop sense i.e. there is no separate cursor key section and keypad as found on a desktop equivalent. The cursor keys are located in the lower right side of the keyboard and similar to laptops, there is a Numlock function that lets a section of the keys operate as a keypad if you have a lot of numbers to enter. These numbers can also be selected from the top row of keys however they share their function with the first row of letters and need to used in conjunction with the Numlock key.


Figure 1: The contents of the box


Figure 2: The keyboard folded out and ready for use

Using the Keyboard
The included disc contains the keyboard driver and electronic user manual, however, Pocketop also include a small flyer that points you in the direction of their Web site for the latest version of the software, something which I consider to be good practice. This is a simple installation that sets up any compatible PDA for use with the keyboard.

The driver contains various settings that enable you to customize how the keyboard operates, however, the location and layout of this new driver configuration is different from what is in the manual. When installed, you can use the Pocktop keyboard by selecting it from the same input method menu as you use to select the standard Pocket PC input metho (Keyboard, Transcriber, etc.). Once selected, you can use the keyboard straight away. When Pocketop is in use, there is a small tool bar at the bottom of the screen with the various options that allow you to rotate the screen, adjust screen brightness, create a shortcut macro or toggle the key click sound on or off. The two final icons on this bar allow you to view the Help and About information.

To the left of the icons is a blank portion of tool bar that displays any toggle keys as they are pressed, such as Shift or Numlock. The rotate screen option is intrinsic to how you use the PDA and keyboard combination and a very valuable component, in my opinion. The short cut macro function is another very handy option that allows you to map a series of key presses or text to each of the alphabet letters and is recalled by using the Function and letter key combination. You could effectively map long or commonly used text strings to a key, for example, your address, and have the keyboard type this into the application at the touch of a button. This is a great feature, however, it will be hard to remember 26 different macros. Selecting this function from the tool bar can look these up but this will interrupt the fluency of your typing, as you would need to tap on the screen. Because these macros are just a collection of key presses, there is no easy way to undo the text if you select the wrong macro shortcut by mistake. Using CTRL-Z to undo your last action only removes the last character of the macro so you would basically have to backspace through the entire macro. It would be nice to have an undo macro feature to make this feature more foolproof. You can turn sound on or off and this function provides an audible confirmation that each key press has been registered. These are the only driver options available to the user and itís surprising to find no option to change the likes of key repeat rates or delays. While I never found this to be an issue, everyone has different typing styles and these options really should be present.


Figure 3: Selecting the keyboard from the input method menu


Figure 4: Rotating the screen is simple

Layout
On the top right of the keyboard are four application keys that give you access to Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and Notes and a further four applications: Start Menu, Task Manager, Calculator and Find, when used in conjunction with the Function key. There are many other useful shortcut keys to such things as popular applications like Word, Excel and Inbox and useful functions like turning off the Pocket PC and OKing on screen prompts.


Figure 5: The tool bar provides one click access to the relevant options

Technical setup
I found setting up this keyboard a breeze and there are a number of options for the way you physically use it. The keyboard works wirelessly through Infrared and because of this, we need a line of sight between the IR ports on both the keyboard and device. Pocketop has included a handy PDA stand with a moveable mirror that lets you set up your device in a convenient position in front of you. The mirror will reflect the wireless signal to the IR port on the top of your PDA where most devices have this placed. The port on the keyboard is placed left of centre and this also allows you to place a PDA with a left-sided port in a good location for use without the need of the mirror. I am not aware of any devices with a right-sided IR port so I think this is a well thought-out design point. This bundled PDA stand is a good solution that many users will be comfortable with but I am the minimalist type of user who prefers to not rely on extra accessories to make the most of a product. This is where another strong design feature comes into play: Screen rotation. This built in utility will allow you to place the Pocket PC flat on the desk in front of you with IR ports aligned and then rotate the screen in any angle 90-degree angle to get the optimum viewing position. Simply flipping the screen upside down but still in portrait mode without the need for a soft reset is a quick and convenient way to have you typing without carrying the stand with you. Rotating the screen to landscape mode does require a soft reset but will give you the benefit of typing with a wider entry line.


Figure 6: No need to use the stand


Figure 7: But you can if you prefer

Thoughts on ease of use
Typing on this keyboard demonstrates good quality when you consider the dimensions of this product in its folded state. The keys are of a decent size and have a good amount of travel with a very tactile feel. The one thing to note here is that compromises have been made to attain the small dimensions when closed in a single fold. Of the three main rows of letter keys, only the middle row is full sized with the rows above and beneath employing a smaller size of key. To make the compromise more comfortable, the keys on these two rows are contoured towards the middle row to make it easier to push them. This makes the feel of the keyboard something different to what most people are used to and does take a bit of getting used to. That being said, through use, the keyboard does become more comfortable and intuitive.

The underside of the keyboard sports small rubber feet that keep the keyboard in place when you type. However, the spine of the casing has a smooth, brushed metal finish that supports the centre of the keyboard when in use. Due to the light weight of the keyboard, I found it would slip around a little on a smooth surface when using keys towards the middle. I would love to see this metal spine have some form of thin rubber strip to eliminate this minor but annoying problem.


Figure 8: A stylish little unit when folded up


Figure 9: A nice compact size next to the Axim

In use, the keyboard has a rigid feel, however, the hinge in the centre of the keyboard has no such locking mechanism. On a flat surface, this causes no issue, but it does mean you canít use the keyboard on an uneven surface such as your lap. This is only a minor point and common to a lot of similar keyboards but I can only assume there was some manufacturing reason why a simple sliding tab was not used to lock the centre of the keyboard and see this as a missed opportunity. Otherwise, using this keyboard is similar to a laptop keyboard but not in the same league as a standard desktop PC. For convenience, there is a small stylus well to hold the included stylus which will keep it in close range if you need to make changes on the screen itself such as selecting check boxes etc.

Gotchas
The biggest issue I have with this keyboard is the size of the keys. It will take time to grow accustomed to this and I think some people will find this a hindrance when entering large volumes of data. It would be great if Pocketop could increase the size of the smaller keys to fill out the dimensions of the keyboard meaning larger keys within the same compact size of the unit. The smooth centre support also creates a minor issue with keyboard movement when typing and some form of rubber support in this area could easily rectify this.

Where to buy
The Wireless keyboard can be purchased from Pocketop Inc.ís Web site for $99.99 including shipping.

Specifications
  • Weight 4.2 ounces (120 grams)
  • Folded .57 x 3.28 x 4.68 inches (1.43 x 8.2 x 11.7 cm)
  • Open .38 x 3.28 x 9.2 inches (.95 x 8.2 x 23 cm)
  • Key Travel 2.1mm
  • Key Spacing 17 mm
  • Driver install - 610.5kb
  • Battery†- one 1.5v AAA - Approximately 6 months @ 2 hours per day at 120 keystrokes per minute
  • nine programmable keys
Conclusion
This really is a handy keyboard to have, although will take a little bit of use to become accustomed to the small, contoured keys along the top and bottom rows. The very fact you can carry such a good keyboard around in your pocket and set it up so easily without any further add-ons is excellent. Response from the keyboard was first rate and I noticed no form of lag at all when typing although Iím sure there are many who can type a lot quicker than I can. This is a recommended accessory and if you are one who would welcome writing a lot of text on the go, the Pocketop falls into that category of being essential. I could quite happily leave my laptop at home knowing I could use the more portable combination of my Pocket PC and Pocketop to achieve the similar results however I would recommend regular typists trying one out first to ensure you can work with the smaller keys.

If you enter extensive amounts of text on your PDA, I think there are other, more comfortable solutions out there with the whole complement of full-sized keys. If you have access to more than one type of PDA or upgrade your device regularly, the keyboard from Pocketop comes into its own through its sheer universal compatibility. Itís a close call and you really need to decide what is most important to you.

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