Pocket Keyboard Tries for Easy PDA Input

mark@kellner2000.com

Can a keyboard not much bigger than a deck of playing cards be an effective way to enter information into your Palm Vx? Fellowes Manufacturing Co., which just introduced a $40 pocket keyboard, hopes so.

Text input can be frustrating for personal digital assistant users: Handwriting recognition is a bit dicey on the Pocket PC (it works remarkably well but not flawlessly), and learning the Graffiti writing system of Palm devices takes some time and effort. No one to my knowledge has yet perfected a good voice-recognition system for hand-helds.

So that leaves the option of using attachable keyboards. Palm, Handspring and Casio users can choose the $70 GoType keyboard (http://www.landware.com/gotype). The $100 Stowaway Portable Keyboard by Targus (http://www.targus.com) is available for the Visor, Compaq iPaq and Hewlett-Packard Jornada. Palm Inc. (http://www.palm.com) sells the Stowaway under the name Palm Portable Keyboard at its Web site and in retail stores for the same price.

Those two keyboards have their drawbacks. The GoType's keys are a bit smallish--at least for this ham-handed typist. The Stowaway is good, but it has to fold out for use, and that can sometimes be a hassle--for instance, when you're walking around a store.

This is where the PDA Pocket Keyboard (http://www.fellowes.com) comes in. Unlike the other keyboards, the Pocket Keyboard is small enough that it can easily be held in one hand, with the other free to type.

That method worked for me. Holding the unit in one hand and lightly touching the keys with another made for easy and largely accurate input. That is in large measure due to its Glidepad technology, which is similar to the system used in many notebook touch pads. A very light touch will invoke a given key.

A fold-back stand lets the device support the PDA when both are placed on a desk. But I found touch-typing almost impossible in this configuration. I made more input errors with the keyboard on a desktop than when holding it in my hands.

Where might the PDA Pocket Keyboard be most useful? I imagine it would be with people working in the field.

Then again, there are many users who have no trouble using the microscopic keyboard of the Research in Motion Blackberry device or other small pager/e-mail units. For them, this keyboard brings that same functionality.

In a future version, it might be useful to give the keyboard more scrolling and device control functions. Having programmable function keys would be nice too.

Overall, the PDA Pocket Keyboard is a useful add-on for Palm and Handspring devices, and at a price that's reasonable to boot.

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Mark A. Kellner is editor at large for Government Computer News and hosts "Mark Kellner on Computers" at http://www.adrenalineradio.com from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursdays.

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