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Pocketop Portable Keyboard

  • Editors' rating
    7.8 Very good

Pros

  • Small size
  • works with a wide range of handhelds.

Cons

  • Battery-powered
  • difficult to use on your lap
  • no Bluetooth version available.

The Pocketop Portable Keyboard is an infrared keyboard that works with any Palm OS handheld and most popular Pocket PC devices. The keyboard is designed to be as small as possible while still supporting touch typing.

Measuring 117mm by 83mm when folded, and just 14mm thick, Pocketop is slightly smaller than any Palm device, and considerably smaller than most other rigid keyboards. It accomplishes this because, in contrast to the four sections of the Stowaway keyboard (which is going to be the Pocketop’s main competition), the keyboard is split into just two sections.

The geometry of the Pocketop means that the designer of the device -- who happened to be an architect -- had to squeeze all the keys of a regular keyboard into a remarkably small space. This was done in part by combining the numerical row with the top row of alphabetical keys -- the ones that spell out QWERTY. This sounds simple, until you consider that both the alphabetical keys and the numerical keys of a regular keyboard have a second funciton -- accessed by the Shift key. So while a Num Lock key provides access to the numbers, and Shift does what you would expect for the letters, a Punct key provides access to !, “, £, $ and so on.

This Punct key also provides access to other punctuation symbols. To save space, there is no /? Key, for instance, and so these symbols, along with most punctuation symbols that are usually assigned their own keys, are spread around the alphabetical keys instead.

But combining the numerical and the top row of alpha keys is not enough in itself to attain the small size of the keyboard. The keys are also shrunk vertically. Although this could make the keys too small to type on comfortably, Pocketop gets around this problem by raising the top edge of the top row of keys, and the bottom edge of the bottom row. This works: touch-typing is possible. The only aspect of typing that really does take some getting used to is the split, ridged, space bar.

Pocketop comes with a bewildering array of plastic appendages that are just crying out to get lost, or sat on. The purpose of these is to provide different ways of physically attaching the keyboard to a handheld device. One piece acts as a screen cover for a Palm; another as a cradle, with a silver plastic protrusion at the top to reflect infrared rays down onto the handheld’s IR port. It looks odd, and these plastic peripherals do detract a little from the simplicity of the keyboard itself, but they do provide a means of preventing the keyboard from folding in two when you try to use it on your lap.

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A CD of driver software is included; this enables a handheld to recognise the keyboard, and also enables a feature called screen rotation on some models. Screen rotation is useful for devices that have the infrared port on or near the top, as it means that the handheld can be positioned on its side or even upside down for more reliable IR connectivity, yet the display remains the correct way up.

Pocketop provides details on its site of the devices the keyboard works with: all Palm models and most Handsprings are covered (Pocketop notes that the Treo does not support the screen rotation software, and since this device does not sit comfortably in the Pocketop cradle it is not considered compatible). IBM's Workpad, Sony’s CLIEs, most iPAQs, Toshibas, Jornadas and NEC devices are also supported. The company is continually working on new drivers, so expect more handhelds to be added to the list.

We tried the Pocketop with a Palm m105. After installing the software on a PC and downloading it to the Palm using the synchronisation feature, the keyboard worked perfectly.

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