Even if you’re good at it, using the Palm’s Graffiti hand-printing system just isn’t as fast as typing on a keyboard for getting raw text into your Palm organizer. So if you’re like me, you probably gave up long ago at trying to use the Palm’s Memo Pad application to take notes. When it’s time for a meeting, you grab your Palm for sure — but you also grab a pen and paper.
But things are changing. The Palm Portable Keyboard gets Graffiti out of your way and lets you pump text into your Palm as fast — and with nearly as much ease — as your desktop or laptop Mac.
The keyboard offers a full-size typing surface in a small, quad-folding package. It’s stylishly fashioned out of metal and plastic, and feels quite solid when you fold it up and snap it closed. When closed, it’s nearly the same height and width as your Palm organizer, but twice as thick.
When open, they keyboard has a few niceties that Palm users will appreciate. Two small holes at the front corners of the keyboard act as stylus holders, accommodating left- and right-handed users. A special function key allows keyboard control of many on-screen buttons such as New, Done, Cancel, and OK. There’s also a column of buttons along the right side that launch the Palm’s built-in applications.
Pressing any key will also wake up the Palm if it’s gone to sleep and, yes, the first key pressed is recognized by the Palm. This instant-on, instant-recognition behavior is perfect for note-taking in meetings, since you don’t need to pay attention to whether or not the Palm is still awake — you just type when you need to and every keystroke is registered.
Special software is required for your Palm device to recognize the Portable Keyboard. Without it, all keys launch the HotSync application. But once it’s installed, you can use the software to customize the keyboard: You can set the delay before a held-down key repeats, and can also map function keys to your favorite installed applications.
The keyboard works great for note taking. However, the Palm OS and its applications still need a bit of refinement to better support the keyboard. There were a number of times when an operation just wouldn’t complete, or couldn’t be done at all, unless I used the stylus to tap somewhere on the Palm’s screen.
Also, since the keyboard attaches via the Palm’s only serial connector, you can’t use the keyboard and Palm modem at the same time. So if you’re a serious road-warrior who’s added email software to your Palm, you’ll first need to connect your modem to get your mail, attach the keyboard to read and write your replies, then re-attach the modem to send them.
One thing that’s great about the Palm-and-keyboard combo is that both are so much lighter and smaller than a laptop computer — together, they more easily fit on a tray table in coach (ever tried using a PowerBook in coach?). Also, the batteries in a Palm device last a lot longer than those in a PowerBook — and the keyboard needs no batteries of its own.
Then, of course, there is the coolness factor — when you set both up, all eyes in the room (or on that plane) turn to you. If you’re like me, you remember what it was like to have one of the first PowerBooks — the coolness factor of this keyboard is just as high. The only drawback to this is that every time I set mine up in front of a bunch of newbies, I had to pass it around the room and let everyone fold and unfold it.
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In spite of its few quirks, the Palm Portable Keyboard is highly usable and it will change how, where, and when you use your Palm — especially if you’re a voracious note-taker like me. Now when I’m called to a meeting, I leave paper and pen on my desk. In fact, this review was written entirely on my Palm IIIc.
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