Freedom Input’s Freedom Keyboard

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WHAT’S

HOT


The Freedom Keyboard, folded is only
slightly larger than a Pocket PC


When
unfolded, the Freedom Keyboard provides a 3/4 size full 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.

SETUP

   

The Freedom Keyboard is actually OEMed by Chainpus

and branded by

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

screen:

   

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.

PRODUCT

FEATURES

   

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.

The

"alt gr" key acts as a secondary "shift" key, giving

you access to a wide range of special characters:

Finally,

the "Fn" key provides another set of special functions, including

"hot keys."

   

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

cut.

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.


The

Freedom Keyboard with iPAQ in portrait orientation…


…and

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.

HELP

SUPPORT

    The keyboard driver has no built-in help. 

It does come with Adobe acrobat (PDF) formatted help files on the companion

CD-ROM as well as printed versions.  The Help files include

a compatibility list,

a Quick Installation Guide, and

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.

SYSTEM

REQUIREMENTS

    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

the

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.

BUGS

AND WISHES

    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.

PURCHASING

    You can purchase the Freedom Keyboard from
Freedom
Input
for $99, including shipping and tax.  It’s available
in QWERTY (standard English style) AZERTY (Dutch), and QWERTZ (German)
layouts.

PROS

  • Doesn’t

    need model-specific connector

  • Provides

    full five rows of keys (with separate number keys)

  • Allows

    typing with every screen orientation

  • Allows

    PPC and keyboard to be separated

  • Includes

    built-in handheld rest

  • Provides

    access to a host of special characters

  • Provides

    user-programmable shortcuts and hot keys

  • Includes

    well-written documentation

CONS

  • Still

    bends slightly when locked open

  • Requires

    drivers to work

    (as do all PDA Bluetooth keyboards)

OVERALL
IMPRESSION

    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
value.
    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
killer issue.
    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.

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About The Author
Russ Smith