Freedom Input’s Freedom Keyboard
The keyboard also has fold-out cradle to hold your handheld in good
viewing position while you type. Because it uses Bluetooth and
not a hardware connection, you can place the handheld in any orientation.
You also don’t have to buy a keyboard or connector for each Pocket PC
model or manufacturer. Unlike some fold-out keyboards, the Freedom
Keyboard doesn’t relegate the number keys to a second function of the
top row. It has all five standard rows of keys as well as a large
number of special characters. The software also supports 10 program
shortcuts to call up the programs or data files of your choice.
The Freedom Keyboard is actually OEMed by Chainpus
Freedom Input for world-wide sales. As a result, the documentation
and disks all refer to the Freedom Keyboard web site, but, if you want
to download the most current driver, you can do it from
the Chainpus web site. The Chainpus site refers to the device
as the Smartphonemate BK600. (Don’t confuse it with the PDAMate
SK-6688, which is an Infrared keyboard.) You can also download
the driver directly to your mobile device by browsing to www.freekey.com.
The installation program uses ActiveSync to install
the driver into main memory. Installation also places a shortcut
in your PPC’s Start menu to start the driver. You’ll be asked
whether you wish to do a soft-reset when the installation completes.
The soft-reset is to make sure the driver is loaded.
When you start the driver, you’ll get a configuration
The check boxes at the top of the Config tab allow you to Activate the
keyboard (begin to use it for input) and allow it to Reconnect after
you power down either the keyboard or your Pocket PC and turn them back
on. The sliders below that adjust the repeat rate (when a key
is held down) and the repeat delay (from the time you hold it down until
it starts repeating). At the bottom of the Config tab is a test
entry box that allows you to type on the keyboard and see the input.
We’ll cover the Function tab in the Program Features section.
The About tab simply lists the program version and build numbers.
The Freedom Keyboard folds into a 6 x 3.75 x 1 inch package that’s fairly
easy to put into a larger pocket. When opened it forms an 11.5
x 3.75 x 1.2 inch (3/4 size) keyboard. To protect the keys from
getting folded into the hinge, the left side of the keyboard slides
to the left for closing and to the right for use. There is a small
slider at the bottom of the left side of the keyboard that is used to
slide it back and forth:
The Freedom Keyboard runs on two AA size batteries. According
to their web site, that gives the keyboard over 90 hours continuous
use time or 168 hours on standby. There is a small switch on the
left side of the keyboard that switches the keyboard on and puts it
into "Discovery" mode.
When you switch the keyboard on, the light will flash amber a few times,
then switch to flashing green. At
that point, you can connect it with a Bluetooth device.
Concealed under the right side of the keyboard is a fold-out cradle.
The cradle slides up and mostly out of the case, then pivots to connect
to the left side of the keyboard:
The cradle snaps into the left side of the keyboard and helps to stabilize
the two halves. There’s also a keyboard lock, just below the cradle,
which further stabilizes the two halves. Unfortunately, even with
both of these in place, the hinge still has a bit of "give."
It makes typing with the keyboard on your lap a little difficult.
The cradle is completed by a spring-loaded flip-up section that places
your handheld in a shallow, but readable angle.
In addition to the standard typing functionality, the Freedom Keyboard
has a lot of special keyboard functions as well: First, pressing
Fn+CapsLock turns on an embedded calculator pad for quick numeric and
arithmetic function entry:
The irregular slant of the calculator pad and the shift to the right
of the top row (the 8 key becomes the 7 key) takes a bit to get used
to at first, but it’s quite useful once you do.
"alt gr" key acts as a secondary "shift" key, giving
you access to a wide range of special characters:
the "Fn" key provides another set of special functions, including
Fn+Z launches Inbox/Messeging. Fn+X launches Contacts. Fn+C
launches Tasks and so on. In addition Fn+Space will show/hide
the onscreen input method. That’s a step in the right direction.
One of the annoying things about Pocket PC OS is that there’s no built-in
way to keep the input method from popping up when you have an input
box. You don’t need the onscreen input method when you’re using
a keyboard. With this function you can at least put it back away
without leaving the keyboard. Fn+a number key will launch one
of 10 user-programmable applications. That’s what the Function
tab in the driver configuration is for:
Each of the 10 slots allows you to select any program that’s installed
on your Pocket PC. In addition, there’s an option to "Choose
Data File…" which allows you to set the shortcut to any data
file on your device. The data files "association" will
call up the appropriate program to load it when you execute the short
A few final notes:
One of the things that annoys me about how Microsoft implemented the
onscreen input methods in WM2003SE is that the blasted thing takes up
nearly half the screen in landscape orientation. Landscape is
great for web browsing, but any advantage completely disappears when
the onscreen input method pops up. With the Freedom Keyboard,
I could browse in landscape orientation while retaining my full VGA
resolution display area. I really like that.
Freedom Keyboard with iPAQ in portrait orientation…
here again in landscape orientation
While on the subject of landscape orientation, I should also point out
that the Bluetooth connection allows you to use your Pocket PC in any
orientation that suits you. Hardware-connected keyboards only
allow standard portrait orientation. Infrared keyboards allow
two or three of the four possible orientations, but you obviously can’t
have the IR port facing down. Bluetooth gives you maximum
flexibility. You can even set your Pocket PC up on a desk and use
the keyboard on your lap for maximum comfort in typing:
The Bluetooth connection allows me to simultaneously place the iPAQ
at a comfortable reading distance and move the keyboard closer to me,
at optimal typing distance.
The keyboard driver has no built-in help.
It does come with Adobe acrobat (PDF) formatted help files on the companion
a full User Manual (ZIP compressed).
While we’re on the subject of the documentation,
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s excellent. The documentation
that comes with peripherals is often minimal and more often difficult
to read. The gentleman who wrote the documentation for the Freedom
Keyboard is one of those rare individuals who understands the technology,
but also understands how to communicate. With a product with the
added versatility of the Freedom Keyboard, good documentation is essential
to using it to its fullest and the Freedom Keyboard folks have provided
it. I also like that there are separate User Guides for each type
of hardware you’d connect to the keyboard. That way, I don’t have
to wade through Smartphone-specific instructions to find the PPC-related
ones or figure my way through instructions that are general enough to
take in all the various connectable devices.
In case that still isn’t enough, Freedom Keyboard
also comes with Talk Me Through It (tmti) telephone technical
support to get you through any difficulties you might have with the
product. An included card gives you the first 10 minutes of
support without charge.
The companion disk that comes with the Freedom
Keyboard has drivers to support Nokia, Sendo, Siemans, and Sony Symbian
Smart Phones, O2 and Dopod SmartPhone (2003), HP iPAQ, Acer, iMate,
O2, and Dopod Pocket PCs, and Palm Zire and Tungsten models. Consult
Freedom Keyboard web site for a full compatibility list.
The keyboard software requires the WidComm Bluetooth stack.
If your Pocket PC doesn’t use the WidComm stack you’ll need to contact
Freedom Input for support.
I had some difficulty getting the keyboard
to connect to my HP iPAQ hx4700. I was able to get it to connect
easily with my HP iPAQ h2215, however so it appeared to be an issue
with the 4700 or with Windows Mobile 2003, Second Edition. After
reading through the manual, however, I discovered that the recommended
procedure when this happens is to use the Bluetooth Manager and "bond"
with the keyboard. After doing that, I had no trouble at all.
I highly recommend that people read the manual, myself included.
Other than the connection problem (solved by consulting
the manual), I had no problems with the keyboard at all. I do
have a few wishes, though: It might be hard to conceive of adding
yet another set of enhanced functions to the keyboard software, but
I thought of one such: In addition to being able to launch programs,
I’d also like to see a "macro" capability. What this
would do would be to allow you to key Fn+A to have "Herron-Morton
Place Association" appear within the document that I’m typing.
The second wish is that the manufacturer could find
some way to make the hinge absolutely immobile when locked. It’s
fairly good right now, but it still has a little "give" that
makes typing on your knees a bit difficult.
The third wish is that the software would include
a special "do nothing" on-screen input method. When
the input method is triggered, it "does nothing", eliminating
the annoying input method pop-up when you enter an input box.
It would be even better if, when the keyboard was enabled, it would
also switch to this "do-nothing" input method.
The final wish is actually general to all PDA Bluetooth
keyboards. The concept behind Bluetooth was that devices wouldn’t
require additional drivers as long as they support the correct profiles.
However, instead of supporting the Human Interface Device (HID) profile
as do their desktop counterparts, PDA keyboards universally support
only the Serial Port profile. For devices that support the HID
profile already, that means an additional, and unnecessary driver needs
to be installed. Due to Microsoft’s decision to limit driver memory,
this can cause problems.
I’m sure that there are reasons for using the Serial
Port profile and the additional driver. One would be that most
PDA keyboard manufacturers already make hardware serial port and Infrared
connected keyboards. A hardware serial port, Infrared, and the
Bluetooth Serial Port profile can all use essentially the same programming.
Another reason is that some handhelds don’t support the HID profile.
I’d still like to see the HID profile supported as well, allowing devices
with HID support to do without the additional driver.
You can purchase the Freedom Keyboard from
Input for $99, including shipping and tax. It’s available
in QWERTY (standard English style) AZERTY (Dutch), and QWERTZ (German)
need model-specific connector
full five rows of keys (with separate number keys)
typing with every screen orientation
PPC and keyboard to be separated
built-in handheld rest
access to a host of special characters
user-programmable shortcuts and hot keys
bends slightly when locked open
drivers to work
(as do all PDA Bluetooth keyboards)
When I wrote this review, the price of the
keyboard was around $130 – but shortly after that time, I was informed
by Freedom Input
that the price had been lowered to $99 shipped, making it an outstanding
A PDA keyboard should speed up text input and editing
considerably over the built-in input methods, and the Freedom Keyboard
does this well. The fastest I can "type" using the on-screen
keyboard is about 30 words per minute. With the Freedom Keyboard,
I more than doubled that value. However, any keyboard could do
that. What the Freedom Keyboard and its software adds to the equation
is ready access to special characters, keyboard shortcuts, and program
launchers. Further, because it eliminates the need for the onscreen
keyboard, it really helps in landscape orientation web browsing.
The only flaw I could find with the Freedom Keyboard
was that the "play" in the hinge does make it difficult to
lap-type. To be honest, I’ve yet to find a foldable keyboard without
a play problem. That makes it something to consider, but not a
So, if your Pocket PC is used for taking notes, writing
documents, or doing any serious text input, you’ll need a keyboard.
If your Pocket PC supports Bluetooth, you should give the Freedom Keyboard
serious consideration. For the increase in productivity, you’ll
find the money well spent.