ThinkOutside Bluetooth Treo Keyboard: Leaving My Laptop Behind
Although Peter Arts had written about it here on Treonauts many months ago, it was only after recently getting one of palmOne's Wireless Infrared Keyboards that I finally understood how I could go about leaving my laptop behind on those occasions where I didn't need the full fledged power of a PC.
I was principally looking for a 'lighter' solution while mobile for writing in MS Word with DocsToGo, meeting notes and responding with long emails when on the go during the day or a short weekend break. In this respect, a portable keyboard proved to be the essential accessory making this a viable proposition.
There is no doubt (at least in my case) that data entry speed using the external keyboard is nearly twice as fast as using the one on our Treo and it is therefore a much welcome and needed companion if you find yourself wanting to type more than a paragraph or two while on the go.
Of course, one of the main considerations why you might even remotely be tempted to try this is the enormous weight that you'll save. Compared with a typical laptop coming in at 2.7kg (5.9bs) and the combined 160gm of our Treo plus the 160 to 210gm of the keyboard this setup amounts to less than 15% of the weight of your laptop and can easily be carried around in two suit pockets.
Now for the practical aspects of using a portable keyboard with your Treo:
I've now tested two keyboards: palmOne's Wireless Infrared ($69.95) and ThinkOutside's Bluetooth enabled one ($129.95). The main difference between both (aside from the obvious that one uses Infrared and the other BT to connect to your Treo) is that palmOne's offers five rows of keys while ThinkOutside's is more compact with only four - this is presumably the reason why the first weighs 210gm and the second 160gm. Also, ThinkOutside's is noticeably slimmer than palmOne's.
Additionally, where the palmOne keyboard is designed specifically for PalmOS but works on PocketPC devices the ThinkOutside keyboard is designed for PocketPC but works equally well with PalmOS. The relatively minor differences is that the Function keys on the first show familiar PalmOS icons while the second doesn't. In both cases however the command keys can easily be changed via the installed application on the Treo.
Perhaps the single most irritating issue that I had with palmOne's keyboard was that one cannot 'wake up' the Treo via the keyboard (something which you can with TO's). Because the standard maximum "Auto-off after" timing is 3 minutes (see Power under Prefs) I found myself losing my train of thought having to regularly power on my Treo - it was actually driving me bananas to the point where I nearly dumped the keyboard.
Luckily and totally by accident I stumbled upon a freeware application called 'Always On' which allows you to change the Auto-off setting to an additional 5, 10, 15, 30min, 1 hour and finally Always On. All I can say is that this freebie literally saved palmOne's keyboard from oblivion.
In turn, ThinkOutside's most annoying glitch is that for some reason not all function keys work (particularly the up/down and left/right) and I'm still trying to figure out if this is a standard issue or some bad setup at my end.
As for the difference between using infrared versus bluetooth on these keyboards, well, the jury is still out. I know that BT will suck up a lot more battery than IR but considering the issue that I mention above where I will leave my screen on for longer periods with the IR keyboard I think that it sort of balances out (except for the fact that the BT keyboard also requires two AAA batteries to operate). Also, in contrast to the old Treo 600 keyboard you cannot power your Treo 650 in either of these and because of this I carry an extra battery.
In terms of the keyboard itself, both are excellent albeit I found palmOne's to be just a little less noisy when pressing the keys than ThinkOutside's. One aspect that I preferred on TO's however is that the Treo fits more comfortably in its holder than on p1's where it is more prone to moving.
Moreover, from a design perspective, I certainly feel that the grey and aluminium ThinkOutside keyboard is noticeably more appealing than palmOne's black plastic one. Still, it's not really something that matters an awful lot and considering that palmOne's is nearly half the price of ThinkOutside's it certainly would not be reason enough to choose one over the other.
Finally, a quick tip: make sure that you disable Keyguard (see Prefs) when using your Treo with the keyboard or you'll find yourself rapidly annoyed pressing the center nav button repeatedly to unlock it - later it's a question of remembering to enable it again...
Overall I feel that both keyboards are an excellent solution if you're looking to leave your laptop behind but I have to admit that I'm having a hard time deciding which one I'll keep using on a regular basis (I'm leaning towards the IR option). No doubt the pricing consideration may make it a lot easier for many.
Treonauts like to leave heavy things behind...