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Belkin Portable PDA Keyboard for Palm Handhelds
By Frank B. Siegel, Ph.D.

Let me start out this review by stating I am a long-time PALM user. Starting with a basic Palm Pilot with 128K, I have graduated to various Palms with greater functionality. When memory in Palms grew, so did my appetite for what I kept in the Palm.

Mail conduits permit me to download my e-mail onto my Palm for reading while out of the office. Programs like “Documents to Go” allow me to keep many of my Microsoft Word documents on my Palm, handy for reference at meetings. Newer version of these programs even permit me to write responses to e-mail or edit Word documents in the Palm, and update them at the next hotsync.

The real problem with all of this became text entry. I like Graffiti as a quick solution for entering a few words or a phone number, although using it has made my handwriting even worse. However, entering more than a sentence or two quickly becomes very annoying.

There are many “solutions” to the data entry issue with palms, other than syncing with the desktop. Some use alternatives to the standard graffiti- which I haven’t found much easier to use. Some others involve variations on thumb activated keyboards, which I find to be clumsy and add greatly to the Palm’s form factor. Personally, I prefer using the Palm in its original form for my typical look-up reference use, and having the powerful option of a keyboard device when I’m going to be either editing lengthy text, responding to email, or doing more than short notes.

Text Box:  Belkin, a major provider of a variety of computer peripherals, has released their version of a portable keyboard for the Palm. Unlike most other keyboards, this unit is flexible, working directly with the Palm V(x), and including a small adapter that permits use on the III, VII, and 150.

The Belkin PDA Keyboard is stylish, with a grey finish that matches my Palm Vx when closed. It is moderate in size, measuring about 4” x 5 3/8” when closed, weighs less than 7 oz., and fits in a jacket pocket.

Text Box:  The keyboard opens with two sides that slide together to form the full keyboard. While Belkin presents this as a “full-size” keyboard, it is actually more similar to those on some laptops. The keyboard is close to full width, over 90% of a typical desktop keyboard, but less than ¾ of the typical height. The keys are more rectangular than square. I find this large enough to touch-type on, but small enough not to be cumbersome in use. The key travel is moderate, and I found the device comfortable to use. It did take a bit of time to get used to the space bar, which is split into two parts on the keyboard

The keyboard works best on a flat surface, and built-in flat pads on the case prevent it from sliding on the work surface. The Palm fits on the left side of the keyboard, and has an adjustable viewing angle to reduce glare. The software installation is a straightforward process. When the Palm is inserted into the keyboard it automatically connects and is ready to go.

An important factor in this keyboard solution is the combination of hardware/software. Virtually the full functionality of the Palm is available directly from the keyboard. Entering new appointments, memos, contacts, or editing existing entries can be done without touching the palm. The keyboard includes four short cut buttons for instant access to applications, duplicating the four Palm buttons. Other software on the Palm can be run using a user-configurable Command key/number combination. There are also a huge number of built-in keyboard shortcuts, many, like ctrl-c are analogous to windows keyboard shortcuts. There is a function key that makes several special Palm operations available, such as scrolling, cancel, delete, new, note, details, and OK. The Function key is also used for special symbols. The keyboard can even be used to turn on the Palm backlight.

The keyboard is virtually silent in operation. The software has the Palm make a soft “click” on key entry. Fortunately, this can be easily turned off for meetings. The key repeat rate is adjustable, as is the delay. All-in-all, it is a nice combination of hardware and software.

The PDA Keyboard requires no power, running directly off the Palm. The power used appears to be minimal, as I have used the keyboard for hours without noticing major differences in battery life.

The PDA Keyboard comes with a protective case, although the basic unit appears well protected and enclosed once folded, and has a catch to hold it closed. The only significant issue I have with the design is that the adapter (if needed) neither stays with the keyboard nor fits in the case. It appears that it will be any easy part to lose.

One thing that is very important to me is how well the unit is supported and the warranty. If the manufacturer only trusts their unit to last 90 days- why should I think it will last for me? This keyboard comes with a three-year warranty, which is a great feature. Although the unit is fairly new, Belkin has downloadable manuals and software on their website.

The keyboard is available for $74.99 on their web site, but careful shoppers should be able to find it for about $60, making it an excellent buy.



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