Pivot Bluetooth Keyboard
Despite the increase of the number of PDA devices coming to market with built-in or slide-out QWERTY keyboards, there are still an awful lot of people who are relying on the soft keyboard that is built into Windows Mobile, or a variation on that theme. Still many though prefer the tactile tap of a separate keyboard, and the real thing is still to be found in a range of foldaway portable keyboards. One such device recently arrived in the market is the Pivot Bluetooth Keyboard from Mobile Link Technology which claims to support UMPC, PC, Pocket PC/Professional, Smartphone/Standard and Sony PS3. So is this all-in-one solution the latest extension to bridge the gap between mobile and desk-based working? Read the review to find out.
Competing with the most compact portable keyboards at 95mm x 135mm x 18mm when closed, this keyboard would fit easily into a bag and even a jacket pocket. It has a hard but lightweight outer aluminium shell, making it robust without being too heavy. The BIG selling point for this keyboard is something called ‘InstanType’ which means it is the first to support the built-in HID profile for Bluetooth, hence it needs no drivers to connect to your device and you can start typing straight out of the box.
(all images link to higher resolution)
The keyboard is neatly packed in a clear plastic retail clamshell for protection.
Unpacking the contents you will find the keyboard itself, a PDA stand, which can be clipped to the keyboard in its folded position, and a brief set of instructions.
The instructions are a short guide to pairing devices using Bluetooth, along with one-line information about what the four hotkeys are for and how the device switches on and off. There is also a warranty card on the back.
Although Bluetooth pairing follows the normal procedure of entering a four digit code on each device, there is no prompt for the code entry on the keyboard and you must use your best guess as to when to do this. The instructions state it should be done whilst the PDA is ‘searching’ but this actully means when the code has been entered in to the PDA and it is waiting for a matching code form the keyboard. The Keyboard boasts that it can be used without any additional drivers on WM6 and so the pairing service offered is the standard Windows Mobile Human Interface Device profile.
The keyboard with the PDA stand attached weighs in at 216g making it just a little heavier than an HTC Kaiser. The outer case of the keyboard itself is aluminium whilst the hinge and PDA stand are made from plastic.
When closed and with the PDA stand attached, the device is a little under 20mm in thickness.
A pair of metal catches hold the keyboard closed and with the push of a button it opens in a gatefold format to a full 26.5cm in length.
Once opened, the keyboard lies stable on a flat surface, providing a steady platform for typing. Four rubber feet on the underside stop it from sliding around. There is quite a lot of real estate taken up around the outer edges of the keyboard where the hot keys, closing mechanism and battery compartment are incorporated.
The battery compartment is on the top left of the keyboard and the device is powered by a single AAA battery which is inserted beneath a removable cover. Next to this is the Bluetooth pairing indicator that flashes when the device is in pairing mode. Still further to the centre is the power shut-off button which shuts the device off when it is closed.
The keys are about 2mm smaller in height and width than those on a standard sized keyboard. They do stick a little so you must be firm and accurate when you type. There is a good 2mm travel on the keys which gives a good sense of the key having been pressed. Pressing any key switches the device back on and re-establishes connection to the paired device, provided it is switched on.
In the top right hand corner there is a small cup that acts as a stylus stand.
To the left hand side of the keys are four dedicated buttons, from top to bottom: Bluetooth pairing button, Internet application button, Messages button and sleep button. Some quick access to other applications can be gained by using the Ctrl key in combination with an alpha key. For instance Ctrl with D, F or G gives access to your day, week and month views in the Windows Mobile Calendar application though these are not documented and this is probably due to them not working on all devices.
The PDA stand clips on and off the keyboard when closed and at the back houses a fold-out support.
A similar fold-out metal bar on the front of the stand holds the PDA in place.
In comparison to the Think Outside Bluetooth keyboard, the Pivot keyboard is slightly larger but the reduced key size allows it to have a top row of dedicated numeric keys.
Although it looks bulky, in truth the Pivot Bluetooth keyboard is only 1mm thicker than the slimmest on the market when closed.
When closed, the length and width are almost identical too.
The included instructions are a little brief and look more like an afterthought than a manual. On the back you will find and email address for support and a technical support hotline, but this is in Hong Kong and it doesn’t say anything about being toll-free! The unit comes with a one year return-to-base warranty and offers a 2-4 week turn around in case of fault. The website is designed to be a marketing tool rather than a support tool and whilst there is a blog on there it doesn’t offer any technical information. A driver package is to be released for iPhone compatibility in due course.
BUGS AND WISHES
Having tested this keyboard on a TyTN (WM6 Pro), a TyTN II (WM6.1 Pro), a Treo 500 (WM6 Standard) and my Windows XP laptop I had varying degrees of success. Pairing with the Windows XP Pro laptop it worked perfectly and all of the keys worked as intended. It was when I tried to use it on Windows Mobile devices that I started to encounter some difficulty. It appears that in the desire to deliver to market a ‘driver-free’ device, relying entirely on the inbuilt HID Bluetooth profile, what the keys actually do is determined on a device-by-device basis. The alpha-numeric keys themselves work perfectly, it is the operation of the ‘hot keys’ that can’t be guaranteed. In my tests on Windows Mobile I had no success at all and although their compatibility list includes both the Tytn and TytnII, their own video on Youtube seems to contradict this claim.
I found the keys a little stiff to type with and the error level in my typing at speed was quite high. My hope is that the tolerance of the keys would loosen up a bit with use, but in tests I found that I had to type very firmly and accuratley to achieve anything close to my normal typing speed.
The PDA cradle seems a bit bulky for what it does and I think that with just a little innovation, a more compact design could be found. Perhaps this will be a consideration in later incarnations.
The keyboard doesn’t offer a way to control menus in Wiindows Mobile which means that even using the keyboard, the user is still quite dependant on stylus and screen or softkey operation. In use I found this to be the biggest drawback because as well as having to keep picking up and putting down the stylus there are no rubber feet on the PDA stand and every time I tapped the screen it moved a little further away from me.
You can buy the Pivot Bluetooth Keyboard for $139.99 from the Pivot Online Shop.
- Uses Bluetooth HID profile, works without drivers
- Compact and lightweight, yet robust
- Integral PDA stand
- Powers from a single AAA battery
- Full 64-key keyboard
- Hot keys not always compatible
- Typing slow due to key stiffness
- No menu control on PDA
- Only pairs with one device at a time
Being first-to-market with a Bluetooth keyboard that needs no drivers is a real achievment, and it should be applauded, but I cannot help feeling that users are being asked to compromise functionality somewhat. It feels like the device is trying to be a ‘Jack of all trades’ but lets itself down in the process. As a consumer I have to ask "who is this aimed at?" If I have a Sony PS3 then I am unlikely to have it on the train so why do I need a compact folding keyboard? If I have a Windows Mobile device then why would I buy keyboard that doesn’t give me a fully functioning set of keys?
The people who stand to gain from this device are the Windows UMPC or tablet PC users where the device works fully, without drivers and from a low power source. That should be the market for this device. Sure, sell it into other markets but sell it with drivers. When the HID profile works with some devices and not others it should be hailed as an added feature not a main selling point and selling to customers on the basis that the hot keys ‘might work’ is only going to damage the reputation.
So does this keyboard improve your productivity? Well if you have a range of devices that you want to use it with then its a nice all-in-one solution with a little compromise. If you want a dedicated keyboard for your Windows Mobile then you need to balance out the benefits of InstanType with the fact you might not get a fully integrated device.