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Freedom Bluetooth Keyboard

For Palm, Pocket PC and Smartphones

Posted April 21, 2005 by Tanker Bob

Tanker Bob hasn’t been a big fan of portable keyboards. Some cannot be used well in airline or waiting room scenarios because they don’t have the stiffness to sit on a small tray-table or your lap. Others make too many compromises with only a four-row design. Still others require mating to a particular PDA connector, making them obsolete when you upgrade to something else, or perish the though, switch platforms! IR keyboards require precise positioning of the mobile device for connectivity, limiting flexibility. And driver compatibility…well, we just won’t go there.

Freedom Bluetooth Keyboard

 

Freedom Input answered all these shortcomings with their Bluetooth Freedom Keyboard. By using Bluetooth, this keyboard stands as platform-independent. Freedom Input lists it as compatible with a large array of Bluetooth-equipped Pocket PCs, including many Asus, Dell, Dopod, i-Mate, iPaq, and O2 models. It also works with BT-enabled Palm devices like the Zire 72, the entire Tungsten series (including the T5), and the Treo 650. And if that's not enough compatibility, the keyboard also supports BT-enabled mobile phones from Audiovox, Dopod, Motorola, Nokia, O2, Orange, Sendo, Siemans, and Sony. Freedom believes that its drivers are also compatible with a number of Sony PDA models and the Tapwave Zodiac, but hasn't tested on them as of this writing.

When you open the blister pack, you'll find the Freedom Keyboard Instruction Manual and a Quick Install guide-both mercifully short and simple to follow. Here lies part of the genius of Freedom. The quick install guide has an Internet link to the current drivers online in native format for each device. If you have an Internet connection through your device, you simply go to that website, choose your device, and download the driver directly to your mobile device-no desktop computer required! Driver installation couldn't be easier. I tried this on a Dell Axim X50v and it worked perfectly.

As you can see, the Freedom sports a full five rows with 63 keys, but lacks a separate 10-key number pad. The number pad appears on the right side of the keyboard in a square. The user accesses the number pad with the Fn+Numlock combination.

Some keys may perform up to four functions depending on the shift state. In addition to the shift key, there is also the "alt gr" key for characters printed in yellow and the Fn key for those functions in blue on the keyboard and the shortcuts. These special keys support a host of special characters and functions depending on the device with which they are used, including activating dialog buttons. Freedom thought out the myriad of uses for a host of devices very well.

The letter keys size in right about full size for the key tops on a desktop keyboard. The spacing between them is considerably reduced, though, and it took a bit of practice for my fingers to adjust. This spacing issue holds true for most all portable keyboards.

PDA keyboard folded shut
Above, Keyboard folded shut for transport

The keyboard arrives in its folded state, where it measures in at 6" x 3.75" x 1" (15 x 9.6 x 2.6cm) and weighs just 7oz with batteries. That's right in the middle of the pack for portable PDA keyboards and just a tad larger than an uncased iPaq hx4705 Pocket PC. The Freedom's brushed silver and black design will feel at home in any business environment. It comes with a black vinyl case sporting a zipper enclosure and soft interior to protect the keyboard's bushed aluminum finish.

Bluetooth PDA Keyboard

The keyboard unfolds by releasing a catch on the right side of the case and opening it flat. At that point, the left side of the keyboard slides right to lock it open, and there's another tab at the top of the keyboard that slides left (indicated by the blue ovals in the picture). The combination produces a relatively stable typing platform, even on your lap or an airline tray-table, allowing the keyboard to bend up only around five degrees or so. Fully opened, the keyboard sized out to 11.5" x 3.75" x 1/2" (29.1 x 9.6 x 1.1cm). The underside of the keyboard has rubber non-skid strips incorporated to keep the keyboard stationary on flat surfaces-a nice detail.

The mobile device platform pulls out from inside the right rear of the keyboard. After pulling it out, the user swings it to the left and latches it behind the left side of the keyboard. Or, if that's not convenient, the platform may be disconnected entirely from the keyboard and used separately.

I found the handheld platform to be the only weak part of this keyboard's design. Although Freedom provides a rubber skid pad on the bottom plate's surface, it doesn't reach all the way back to the vertical holding piece. As a result, the mobile device leans pretty far back in the stand, especially in portrait mode. The screen can still be read easily, but the screen may not be at an optimum viewing angle depending on how close you sit to the keyboard. The viewing angle improves the closer the user sits to the keyboard.

Driver setup proved equally painless. Simply turn on the keyboard with the power switch on the far left side. The LED below it will be red initially then change to a blinking green. The keyboard is now looking for a connection. Enable Bluetooth on your mobile device, load the driver, and then check the Active Keyboard box on your Pocket PC or SmartPhone. Ensure that the Reconnection box is unchecked for your first connection. Upon successful connection, the keyboard's LED will blink green twice every two seconds. Checking the Reconnection box after achieving successful pairing causes the keyboard to remember this device and it will reconnect automatically at the next attempt.

The process is similar on a Palm device, but the user must choose the keyboard from the Bluetooth discovery results. All other steps are identical, as are the driver screens.

In addition to the standard driver setup and device pairing, the Freedom driver allows you to execute apps by way of keyboard shortcuts. The user assigns up to 10 programs to Fn-# key combinations using pull-down list boxes. This takes you one step closer to stylus-free operation. It came in particularly handy for making screenshots from within other applications while writing this review.

Pocket PC screen shot

Pocket PC keyboard driver

Overall function of the keyboard with both Pocket PC and Palm devices proved flawless. I noted no delay between tapping a key and the character appearing on the screen. Tactile resistance on the keys felt just like my Microsoft Natural Keyboard-excellent. The drivers were rock-solid on both the Palm Tungsten T3 and Dell Axim X50v. Two AAA batteries power the keyboard for 90 hours of continuous use. Folding the keyboard back up proved as simple as opening it.

In addition to QWERTY, the Freedom also offers the keyboard in QWERTZ (for German) and AZERTY (for French) layouts. Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, and Slovenian language support is also available.

The Freedom Keyboard for Bluetooth stands as a high-quality, portable input device for Palm, Pocket PC, and Smartphone mobile devices. It boasts solid construction and a stable typing platform even on your lap. At $99 delivered, it comes in competitively priced as well. If you are in the market for a portable keyboard that sports compatibility across all BT-equipped mobile platforms, looks and works great, and activates special features and characters on a host of devices, look no further than the Freedom Keyboard.

Pros:
5-row, 63-key design
Full-size keys
Bluetooth compatible with almost everything but your old college roommate
High-quality, attractive, solid construction
Excellent tactile key feedback
User can download the driver direct to their mobile device from the web
Drivers a breeze to install and connect
Excellent life with two common AAA batteries

Cons:
Mobile device stand leans the mobile device a bit far back
Reduced key spacing takes some practice to master

Supports Pocket PCs and Palm PDAs with Bluetooth as well as the Audiovox SMT5600 (SPV C500) Windows Mobile Smartphone, Symbian Series 60 Phones such as the Nokia 7610, and UIQ Phones such as the Sony Ericsson P900 and P910.

Price: $99

Web Site: www.freedominput.com

 

 

 

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