In my opinion, QWERTY keyboards are one of the greatest additions a phone can have. Lately, there seems to be a trend away from full keyboards, with phones now shipping with only SureType pads or no keyboard at all. Whether your phone lacks a keyboard, or if you just prefer using a full-size keyboard for longer emails or editing those documents, a stand-alone keyboard might be just what you're after. In an addition to the line-up of Bluetooth enabled keyboards, we now have the Freedom Universal Keyboard from Freedom Input, Inc. How does this device measure up? Read on as we put the Freedom Universal Keyboard to the test!
The Freedom Universal Keyboard can be used with virtually any Bluetooth enabled phone, thanks to both SPP and HID modes. It's small and portable, plus typing feels great.
Setup is a little finicky, the device must be unlocked via their site and the device software prior to pairing. Once unlocked, the device is paired in the usual manner. I did run into problems with the unlocking, but their site explains what appears to be a common issue; the "unlocker" is quite strict on cookies and the default IE7 setting needed to be tweaked in order to process registration. The device is powered via 2 x AAA batteries (included).
As noted, it's fairly compact. Size opened: 285 x 98.5 x 13.5mm (113/16" x 313/16" x 1/2"). Size closed: 145 x 98.5 x 19.5mm (511/16" x 313/16" x 3/4") folded Weight 204g. 7 oz. including batteries. From the Freedom Input website here's and abbreviated list of features. The full set can be found on their site:
The HID mode that permits "Out of the Box"; Alphanumeric compatibility with many products including PCs, Laptops and many PDAs using the HID technology
HID Profile for connecting to Human Interface Devices via Bluetooth, most common profile used for PDAs, Smartphones, Laptops, PC's etc
SPP Profile, Serial Port emulation via Bluetooth, used by all BlackBerry devicesDuality gives this keyboard the widest available compatibility with Bluetooth enabled devices
Standard 5 row AlphaNumeric layout
65 full-size keys plus Esc button. Keys have quality "Scissor action"; for true touch typing feel
Shortcuts and programmable keys for specific tasks
Fold-out stand for device
Twin AAA batteries for long life
Power On/Off button backed up by auto power off function.
User programmable shortcut and command keys for fast access to applications.
Slim leather carry case with magnetic closure.
The keyboard ships in a small blister box.
Inside the box we have the keyboard, instructions, carry case and batteries.
Here's a look at the keyboard unfolded.
Here's the keyboard unfolded, with the stand out and the BlackBerry 8300 in place.
Here's a close-up of the stand. It folds away neatly when not in use. The action is spring loaded, so it will deploy as soon as it is slid out.
On the top right we have the SPP/Off/HID button and battery housing. This is used to switch modes or turn the unit off.
On the bottom of the unit is where the standard spacebar resides. Unfortunately, the fold also track through this area.
Here's a close-up of the switch, a small LED of the right indicates when the unit is on.
Here's a look at the keyboard folded. Height and depth are consistent with the BlackBerry 8300.
As the unit is folded, the crease runs roughly half way down the board.
Regarding actual use, the keyboard was astoundingly quick and accurate. The shortcut keys easily enabled switching between applications or back to the homescreen. There's a couple of rubber stoppers on the underside, so the unit doesn't slide around at all. There's also a small rubber pad on the phone stand so your device will not move either.
The only real anomalies I noted whilst typing were a switch-a-roo of the "?" and "shift" keys, the cursor arrows were inside the delete key and the break in the space all took a bit of getting used to. Overall though, the delay in correcting mistakes relating to the placement of keys was much less of an inconvenience that actually using a thumb-board or SureType pad.
An install guide ships with the unit. They also have a really good knowledge base should it be required. Support tickets can be raised should all else fail, for which they have a 24hr turn-around promise.
From the Freedom site: Compatible with over 200 devices that have Bluetooth connectivity. Supports the following Operating Systems: BlackBerry OS 4.0 or higher, Symbian (Series 60) v6 / v7 / v8 / v9, Palm OS 5, all recent versions of Windows Mobile (2003 through 6) Windows XP, Windows 2000, Mac OS X Tiger, Linux. Using HID mode Product ranges included: Acer, Asus, Audiovox, BenQ, BlackBerry, Dell, Dopod, E-Ten, Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard, HTC, i-Do, Mac, Motorola, Nokia, Qtek, Palm, Panasonic, PC, Samsung, Sendo, Siemens, Sony Ericsson.
BUGS AND WISHES
The keyboard is awesome to use, it does what it says on the tin and it does it well. I do have a couple of issues which prevent this from being the perfect device. Firstly, the setup is harder than it needs to be. I'm not sure why a three-way match is needed prior to pairing. Maybe this is a security requirement? The placement of some keys left me scratching my head. Unsure why the shift key is swapped with the question mark. Lastly, the guide that ships with the unit, plus the PDF instructions online, are only for setup and not actual use. For example: there's a large "B" button on the top of the device, however, this is not mentioned in any of the guides. Rather, I had to consult the knowledge base in order to determine what this was for (pairing assist on Windows Mobile devices, I believe).
The Freedom Universal Keyboard is available for approximately USD$99.00 from a number of online retailers.
- Small and portable
- Can handle a number of phones/operating systems
- Allows for accurate, quick typing
- Shipped instructions need fleshing out
- Multiple step setup
- Strange placement of some keys
Despite the shortcomings of the keyboard, they are merely inconveniences and don't detract significantly from what is otherwise an excellent device. The key placement does become easy to manage and setup only needs to be done once. If you've used a thumbpad for any length of time, then this keyboard will come as a huge relief. Typing, however, is only have the fun; the shortcut keys make navigation a breeze too! Add in the quick stow stand and this device is a real winner.