One of the rituals we often go through when we get a new Palm device is to buy a new keyboard since our previous keyboard does not work with our new Palm device. There are several keyboards lying around in my study that are painful reminders of such experience. However, Palm has just released a new infrared keyboard that will save us from investing in any more keyboard even when we switch our Palm-branded device. Unlike other traditional keyboards that use the hotsync port connector, the new keyboard uses the ubiquitous IR port. I have tried the keyboard on my Tungsten C and Sony Clie NX60, and I’m happy to say the keyboard worked great on both devices. In fact, I was able to use both Wi-Fi and the keyboard at the same time in my Tungsten C, making it easy to work on my e-mail and surf the web.
Unlike the Ultra-Thin Keyboard, which uses the metal finish, the Wireless Keyboard is made entirely of plastic. Perhaps that's how Palm kept the cost of the keyboard down--the Wireless Keyboard is about $30 cheaper than the Ultra-Thin keyboard ($99). You can probably get it for $49 if you surf the Net for a lower price.
The keyboard is definitely thinner than the original Palm keyboard but slightly thicker than the Ultra-Thin keyboard. It is also slightly longer than the other keyboards. The opening mechanism securely locks the keyboard, and it takes a bit of efforts to open up the keyboard. The opening mechanism also serves as the brace to hold up the area that holds the Palm device. The only concern I had was that the mechanism seemed a little flimsy, and I wondered how long it might last.
The folding mechanism worked well (it opens left to right) revealing the laptop sized keys. Unfortunately, unlike the Ultra-Thin Keyboard, this keyboard didn’t have any center support, and that made it almost impossible to type on my lap.
Instead of using the handheld to power the keyboard, the keyboard is powered by 2 AAA batteries. I’ve been using the keyboard for several weeks, and the battery hasn’t shown any wear yet.
palmOne released a new driver for the Wireless Keyboard (2.0p), and in addition to general and command keys preference setting tabs, the driver has two additional tabs called connected config and IR config to handle multiple keyboard types and IR settings.
The driver was quite responsive, and there was no typing lag as far as I can (This was not my experience in the past with other IR keyboard). However, I did notice that whenever I activated the driver, the beam receive function toggle under power preference became automatically turned to off, and as long as I had the driver turned on, I could not change it to on again. I’m not sure whether this is by design or bug, but I was able to receive beamed applications/data from other devices even with beam receive turned off.
There is also a setting in the IR config tab to turn off IR after certain number of minutes, and I suggest you use that to turn off IR since the use of IR can drain the main Palm battery. Also this setting did fix the beam receive on/off issue I mentioned earlier (however, it didn’t seem to work all the time in my experience).
As with any portable keyboard, there are compromises to be made in order to maintain portability (size and weight). The dedicated row of number keys is no longer there, and you need to use the blue function key to type numbers. Symbol keys are then access using the green function key. I have to say it’s not as convenient as having a dedicated row of number/symbol keys, but after several weeks of use, I got pretty comfortable with pressing the function keys to access number and symbol keys.
The tactile feel and touch was similar to the Palm Ultra-Thin keyboard, and that meant the keyboard was extremely comfortable to type, but it still took me a few days to get comfortable with the two-piece space key.
One of the huge advantages of using this keyboard with the Tungsten T3 over other keyboard is the support for the landscape mode. You can lay the T3 sideways (landscape) and then take advantage of 480x320 mode. I was however somewhat disappointed that you cannot use the T3 right-handed (i.e., lay the T3 with its IR port facing the right side). Due to the design of the keyboard, you have to use the T3 left-handed landscape mode. It’s a minor annoyance, but here the benefit far outweighs the inconvenience.
Another minor issue was a missing stylus holder that we have in the Palm Portable Keyboard. I usually had to lay down the stylus on the desk and watch it roll away. One issue that was more than a minor inconvenience was trying to wake up the device when the device went into sleep. In other keyboards that use the hotsync port, you can wake the device up using the keyboard, but in the Wireless Keyboard, you cannot do that. I typically pressed the center of the 5-way navigator to bring up the clock and press OK to wake up the device.
5.45 x 3.75 x .75 closed
10.25 x 3.5 open (x 5.75 if you include the brace at the back)
All in all, it is a winner. It’s not as comfortable as the full-sized Palm Portable Keyboard, but it’s acceptable for my small hands. I am not sure how the keyboard will fare for folks with bigger hands though. I use the keyboard all the time with my T3. I don’t know what it is, but it so much easy to write and read documents while the device is in the landscape mode, and if you happen to own a T3, this is a must-have accessory. Beside, the cost of the keyboard is reasonable, and you don’t have to change the keyboard when you switch your device to another Palm OS brand sometime in the future.