Proporta has sent us the Freedom Bluetooth Keyboard for a review. This is a small Bluetooth folding keyboard that fits into a pouch a bit larger than most PDAs, and unfolded it expands out into a sub-notebook size keyboard. It is quite useful with smartphones and PDAs, and includes software drivers for Windows Mobile devices (including Pocket PC and Smartphones), Palm OS, RIM Blackberry and Symbian smartphones.
It’s got a useful, though not particularly strong, pull-out stand that can support a phone or PDA. It would struggle with any larger or ruggedised equipment, but it propped up my PDA (an HP iPAQ hx4700) and Smartphone (an i-mate Smartphone2) just fine. It slides and swivels out and can either be fully unhooked, or clipped into the back of the keyboard.
The keyboard when open
The stand support
To use the keyboard you need to install a driver/utility applet onto your mobile device. It does not use the standard Bluetooth HID profile for operability, using instead a serial (SPP) connection with a program running on your device to control the keyboard - a simple install onto my Pocket PC, easily selecting the correct model for instalation.
My i-mate Smartphone2 wasn’t listed under i-mate on the manufacturer's site as I would have expected, but under the O2s Xphone. The new Geekzone Device Database could come in handy here!!
It lists support for a wide variety of smartphones and PDAs, including Palm and BlackBerry, and I recommend you check their website for supported devices. Since the Freedom Bluetooth Keyboard does not use the HID profile there is no support for other devices such as PC, laptops or Tablet PCs. A little disapointing as this could be a great companion to a slate style Tablet PC.
Once the small application is installed and with Bluetooth on, you will use this applet to manage the connection to the keyboard. You do not need to bond with the device. A bit annoying, on the Pocket PC and smartphone at least, is that you have to launch this keyboard listening utilty and check the “active keyboard” checkbox (ie 2 steps) to be connected, and then if you close the window to go back to what you were doing, the connection closes. There is no “minimize” option in the applet, however there is a home button on the actual keyboard which helps get you back to your main screen.
The keyboard with an i-mate Smartphone2
The keyboard with an HP iPAQ hx4700
In the applet you can assign the keyboard’s Function numbers to applications on the device (Calendar, Inbox, Contacts) and there is a variety of visually marked key combinations for core applications, and for device-specific actions such as selecting the menu buttons on the smartphone, bringing up the start menu on the Pocket PC, and general navigation. These combinations are laid out in tables at the back of the user guide, and if you follow them you can control most features of your device.
As for actually typing, it takes a bit of getting used to if you want to touch type on it, but it’s certainly adequate. If you are just a 2-finger typer, you’ll be in heaven.
It runs on 2 AAA batteries, and seems get quite a bit of life out of them. A nice power saving feature is that it turns itself off if it isn’t used for a while, which is great because I think I forgot to switch it off every time I put it away! I’d still suggest you use rechargeable NIMH batteries.
Overall, handy if you find you really need to work with lots of text or numbers on your phone or PDA, say at a café for instance. A colleague at work has one which he uses for answering emails on his smartphone at home. I am quite comfortable with handwriting recognition, and OK at texting, and prefer these inputs for the mainly quick-jot use of my PDA and phone.
It would fit in a jacket inside or side pocket, or a hand bag, but you could find it a bit large to carry around on your person everywhere you take your phone or PDA. Definitely the type of thing that you would carry in a work/laptop/gadget bag.