Products & Reviews
Freedom Bluetooth Keyboard
Wed May 11, 2005 - 3:13 PM EDT - By
Table of Contents
> Overview Conclusion
Overview A company other than the fine folks at Think Outside is getting into the PDA keyboard market. In fact, the Freedom Bluetooth Keyboard aims for compatibility with a wide range of cell phones, PDAs, and smartphones. They have designed what they hope will be a truly universal device; it is a Bluetooth keyboard with 63 keys (rather than Stowaways 51) and an embedded number pad.
Although I typed my first draft of this review on the Freedom Keyboard, I am revising on my good old trusty PC. And I have to say that there is no comparison between hammering out a piece of writing on a full fledged keyboard and 17 monitor versus trying to write a review on a two inch screen with a keyboard with smaller than normal keys.
This issue is not limited just the Freedom keyboard though. I have had some troubles with the Palm IR keyboard and the Stowaway Bluetooth as well. Typos and other mistakes creep in more often and the paragraphs and sentences seem to need more serious editing once they make to back to the PC.
That said, I still love the idea of using a portable keyboard for e-mails, quick notes or ideas but for full fledged writing, or even reviewing the real thing is the way to gothe Treo keyboard solution doesnt cut it for any sort of serious work. In a pinch the Treo can do the job.
When comparing keyboards, on one hand stands the fantastic Palm IR Keyboard with its five rows of keys and the necessity of placing the Treo precisely in the stand. On the other hand is the Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard. Lay the Treo anywhere nearby and begin to type. However that keyboard does not have a dedicated number row an omission I found to be very serious.
So squarely in the middle is theoretically a keyboard that combines the best of both. The Freedom keyboard is truly wireless, i.e., Bluetooth, and does not sacrifice the top row of keys. There is a dedicated number/punctuation row.
The keyboard ships with a simple zippered carry case and a CD-ROM with manuals and driver, though youll want to download the latest driver from their website and sync your Treo. Also note that drivers in their native format can be downloaded from www.frekey.com very handy if you are in a jam and need to install the driver while on the road.
The Freedom Keyboard is a simple clamshell design; slide down the latch and the keyboard unfolds and is split down the center. The two halves of the keyboard slide together, though there is still a slightly larger gap between the keys on each side of the split. As with all clamshell keyboards, the spacebar is split in half as well. I wish someone would work out a way to get around this.
The stand, if you choose to use it, is cleverly tucked underneath the keyboard, swivels into place, and pops up. Impressively, the stand can be removed and placed next to the keyboard as well. The keyboard runs off two AAA batteries that should last a very long time. When you switch the keyboard on for the first time via the small switch in the lower left hand corner, the keyboard goes into pairing mode. Instead of running the Bluetooth Wizard on the Treo, tap the BTKeybd driver under applications to activate the keyboard. As usual, the Treo cannot handle more than one active Bluetooth device at a time. Youll need to go to this screen to use the keyboard for another session.
One thing that struck me as odd is that although the footprint of the keyboard is larger than that of the Palm IR keyboard, the keys are smaller. There is a lot of wasted space to the left and top and bottom of the keyboard. The top holds the two triple A batteries but Im not entirely sure what the gap on the left is for.
I did tend to make a few too many mistakes with this keyboard. All of these portable keyboards take getting used to, but this was more difficult because of the size of the keys. They especially seem squished horizontally.
Another thing I found very odd was the choice of font for the keys. I had never thought about the choice of font for keyboards before yet this one was immediately noticeable. Most, if not all keyboards Ive used have a sans serif font -- one without the little flourishes at the end of letters like the Freedom Keyboard. Im not quite a touch typist so when I looked at the keyboard I found it distracting.
One thing they almost got right was the additional functions on the keys. Especially welcome is the embedded number pad, which the Palm and Stowaway do not have. However (and why is there always a however) the number pad 7 is on the regular 8 key, the 8 on the regular 9 key and the 9 on the 0 key. This is bound to be a cause of major irritation. Still, better to have the option of a number pad. There also four Blue silkscreens on the Z, X, C, V keys to be used in conjunction with the Fn key. The first three are mapped to the phone, calendar, and messaging buttons. The fourth displays a calculator, but isnt mapped to anything on the Treo 650. Perhaps a future driver release will remedy this.
There is another dedicated button to bring you to the applications screen and when used with the versatile Fn key accesses menu drop downs. Other key combinations emulate the five way navigator though I wasnt able to consistently get this to work.
Special characters are silk screened in an unobtrusive dark orange and can be accessed by using the alt gr key. The keyboard also has customizable shortcuts easily adjustable from the main driver screen. Each of the top number rows in conjunction with the Fn key can be assigned to an application. All of the special characters and combination keys are listed in the well written manual available for download from the Treo Central website as well as the Chainpus website (Chainpus is the OEM of the keyboard).
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