[maemo-users] External Keyboard Recommendations

From: Jeffrey Mark Siskind qobi at purdue.edu
Date: Tue Jun 24 18:38:38 EEST 2008
   Based on my 'research' the Freedom UBK is the one for me. It seems to
   me it has a good smallness/usability ratio. I found a blog post about
   it (in Swedish only I'm afraid) from a programmer (=used to typing)
   who praised it. He used it with a palm device. Also, I seem to
   remember someone mention using it with a N810 here on the list so it
   should work.

That might have been me. I have been using a Freedom Universal Bluetooth
Keyboard with my N810 since about January. I am very happy with it. As far as
battery life, I have never noticed any problem. I can type into Emacs on the
N810 for at least 4 hours, while it is on WiFi or has a bluetooth connection
to my cellphone and not drain the battery. I charge my N810 every night and
basically it lasts for a whole day of use so long as I don't do compilations
etc. on it. The Freedom UBK runs on a pair of AAAs. They last for several
weeks/months of use. I keep a set of spares in my pocket.

The crucial thing for me is that I keep my N810, a keyboard, and my cellphone
(a Verizon RAZR 2 V9m on which I have the broadband access plan) in my pocket
all of the time. That way I don't have to carry a laptop around. I have Emacs
installed and I have a Debian sid chroot with LaTeX installed. I have three
different pocketable bluetooth keyboards: the Freedom UBK, an Elektex cloth
keyboard, and a Freedom Mini Duo. Each has its tradeoffs.

Freedom Universal - This is the biggest of the three. It is by far the most
comfortable to type on. It is the only one that comes close to a normal
keyboard. But you need to be careful if you carry it in your pocket. If you
sit in certain kinds of chairs (narrow ones that have arms, particularly
airplane seats) with the keyboard in your pocket, it will put pressure on the
keyboard and break it. I am on my second keboard for this reason. I am now
careful to always take keyboard out of my pocket when sitting. I also usually
only carry this keyboard when I plan to do heavy typing. This keyboard runs in
both SPP and HID mode. HID works out of the box with the N810 and SPP works
with the kbdd driver. Obviously HID is much better.

Elektex - The is the most sturdy of the three for carrying in in your pocket.
It won't break.  And it folds/rolls up really small and flexible. Also runs on
a pair of AAAs which last for weeks/months of use. But it only supports SPP. I
had to write my own driver for it. (It is a patch for kbdd which is under the
GPL. You can get it from the authors of kbdd.) The catch is that this keyboard
only reliably detects single keypresses. No chording of shift/ctrl/alt with
other keys. So shift/ctrl/alt operate as prefix keys. And you have to adjust
your typing accordingly. Not so great for Emacs. The other thing is that there
is no tactile or audio feedback on keypresses. So you have to type quite
determinately. Good for short messages but not great for long typing. Finally,
the major issue is that after months of use, it got uncalibrated. (It detects
the wrong position of touch for some of the keys.) It comes with software for
recalibration but it only runs on certain cell phones and maybe Windows. The
protocol is proprietary (and I don't know it) so my driver doesn't support it.
I haven't yet been able to recalibrate my keyboard. Until the recalibration
issue came up, I had been carrying this keyboard when I didn't anticipate
heavy use and the Freedom Universal when I did.

Freedom Mini Duo - This is the smallest of the three. It supports both SPP and
HID. HID works out of the box with the N810 and SPP works with the kbdd
driver. Obviously HID is better. I now carry this instead of the Elektex when
I don't anticipate heavy use.  It is small and comfortable to carry in your
pocket. And it comes with a pretty thickly padded protective case. It is so
small that it is not comfortable to type on for long text. But it is fine for
short text. The problem with this keyboard is that it is discontinued. I
believe that they had quality control problems in manufacturing. I'm on my
second. My first stopped working after a few minutes/hours. And some of the
keys didn't work even before then. And I returned it under warranty. My second
works. But some of the keys, while they work, are not mechanically sound
(i.e. the oilcan mechanism is partially depressed when not pressed). This
keyboard has internal rechargeable batteries that you recharge using a USB
cable. My first keyboard wouldn't recharge. I haven't yet tried to recharge my
second keyboard as it hasn't run out yet.

The good thing about the N810 is that you can set up the bluetooth to
automatically recognize multiple keyboards. I can easily switch between any of
the above just by turning one off and another on. (You also need a menu click
to enable/disable the kbdd SPP driver.)

In short, if you want a keyboard that you can carry sturdily in your pocket
and be able to comfortably type long texts, unfortunately there is no current
solution. The above three come closest to various points on the tradeoff space.
I've also looked into the laser keyboards by VKB and Celluon but these don't
appear to meet the needs either. The Frogpad doesn't seem any smaller or more
sturdy than the Freedom Universal. And the CyKey won't interface to the N810.
I played with the SU-8W and prefer the Freedom Universal. I haven't tried the
Stowaway full size, the Stowaway Ultrasim, the original Freedom, or the Tablet

    Jeff (http://www.ece.purdue.edu/~qobi)
    a. Nokia SU-8W
       5.24"x3.43"x0.75" 6.7oz 4row
    b. think outside stowaway
       5.5"x3.9"x0.5" 5.6oz 4row
    c. think outside sierra
    d. freedom
       6"x3.75"x1" 7oz 5row
    e. freedom universal
       5.7"x3.8"x0.75" 7oz 5row
    f. tablet kiosk
    g. frogpad
       5.6"x3.73"x0.66" 7oz
    h. vkb
    i. celluon
    j. flexible
    k. freedom mini duo
       3.6"x2.8"x0.24" 3oz 5row
    l. cykey

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