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Fellowes PDA Pocket Keyboard
Author: Mike Kitchenman
Date Posted: December 21st, 2001
URL: http://www.slcentral.com/reviews/hardware/pda/fellowes/typengo

Introduction

For most of you out there with a Personal Digital Assistant, or PDA as we lovingly refer to them, be it a Palm Pilot, Handspring Visor, or a Pocket PC, two of the biggest things we look for in general are a good case and a handy input device. In my case, I've got a Palm IIIXE, somewhat old school, I know, but still a very functional unit and one of the more common Palms around today. One thing I'm always looking for is a cool case to use with it, or some kind of cool new input device like a keyboard or something.

The cases are always important because they're your PDA's first line of defense if you're as coordinated as I am and your handheld falls from your hand. I know I've dropped mine once or twice and I wasn't exactly happy about it when it happened. Fortunately my case absorbed enough impact to prevent damage. Well, this is all good, but I'm not a fan of my case's squishy exterior that makes it a pain to get in and out of my pocket as the material grabs my pocket and holds on well. No good, no good at all. A leather case would go in and out easy, but won't absorb that much impact like my squishy case does. So far I'm in a lose-lose situation. I want a case that's smooth enough to go in and come out of my pocket quickly and easily, and still absorb enough shock to protect my Palm from damage.

Then you got input for it. Script works well enough, but I hate styli. I've got mammoth hands and I can't stand those 2mm thick wanna be toothpicks they give you with them. A thick stylus is comfortable enough, but it's one more thing to carry around with me. Why do I want something else to haul around? I've got enough crap with me usually, so the last thing I want is another piece of equipment to haul around with me.

The solution? Throw a keyboard into your PDA's case and get them both in one. A great theory indeed, which is something Fellowes tried to accomplish in their "Type n Go" series cases. A protective case and a Keyboard all in one handy unit. Pretty slick idea, now the only question is, how does it work? Lets take a look and see.

Design And Construction

Well, to start with the Type n Go is a hard case, which is something that's a little on the unusual side for the Palm III series, as most cases for it tend to be either thin leather or a somewhat squishy material like neoprene. I kinda like the hard case option for it, as it feels like it adds a decent measure of protection for the handheld. And the overall look of the case is smooth enough, the aluminum middle with hard plastic ends give it a very sleek look in general. I must say I like it. They even were kind enough to put a pair of IR safe ports on the case, one on the top, the other on the side, so that you can beam with the case still on your palm. Useful, very useful.

Then when you pop the side clip and open it up, you see everything inside of it. You've got a full QWERTY keyboard on the right side, along with the numeric keypad and hosts of special feature buttons right down to the button up top for a one touch backlight. There is literally nothing on the keyboard I can think of needing. Copy, cut, paste, they're all there; they even included a "Select All" button. That's pretty neat if you ask me. (If you're wondering, I like gizmos and buttons and junk, it gives me more to play with.) BTW: if you use a lot of international characters with all their funny notation on them, this keyboard has a special "Int'l" key and has ALL of them mapped over normal letters. It would take a bit of getting used to their positioning, but I'm pretty sure it'd be easier than remembering all of those weird keystrokes.

Then on the other half of the case, you've got your Palm's resting place. A small latch pops out and the bottom of the case slides down, then you pop your Palm 3 in and close it up. Not a bad design, although I have some issues with it. The little plastic 'lock' tab it has is INCREDIBLY weak; it worked itself loose way easier than I like. Secondly, this coffin bit is a bit restrictive. My Palm III has the everyday piece of Velcro attached to the back from my previous case I was using, which I don't want to remove as I may use it again sometime. This became an issue here, as the case was designed to such precise specs that my palm had a VERY tough time getting to fit right due to the Velcro back. Without Velcro, though, it fit very well and was secured quite effectively in place.

Now my beef with the design of the case; the thing is HUGE. My palm is NOT one of the compact designs, and this case dwarfs it. It barely fit in the pocket of my dress slacks I wear to work, and the ones it did fit in, it made it look like I had a 600-page novel sitting there.

Design: 2.5/4

Install

Installing this was easy as you can get. The software comes on a CD, pop it into your computer and a couple clicks later its ready to be synced with your palm. Sync it and the 16K application is loaded onto the handheld in a matter of seconds, even over serial ports. It's quite easy there.

Then once you install the application, open the case, drop the door at the bottom, slip your naked palm 3 inside, close the door and lock the button. Fire up the palm, hit the "Type n Go" application and turn on the case. It's that simple. Overall it took me about 1 minute to get this working.

Installation: 2/2

Performance

Well, my first off my testing here is going to be a bit different than most of my other work. I can't exactly benchmark a keyboard and case, so I'm just going to run down how it was to use, because that would be what you're interested in hearing. Well, the case size was annoying, but it wasn't impossible to carry around with me either. I'm always wearing a jacket of some kind around, and it fit just fine into one of those pockets.

Next test, the keyboard: The rubberized buttons on the keyboard were comfortable enough to use, and the overall layout was pretty familiar as it is a pretty standard QWERTY keyboard. The response on the buttons was quite effective and pleasing to use. So, as far as feel there goes it was pretty good. However, it was far from perfect. Due to the fact it is inside a case, they keyboard is restrictive to say the least. They have the whole keyboard in about the same width as most people are used to having for the ASDF keys on their keyboard. While for me this wasn't an issue, someone with larger fingers might easily run into trouble when messing with it, as the keys are definitely on the small side.

Another thing with this that was kinda cool was the fact that it has no battery anywhere in it to replace. I don't want to spend more money on batteries than I already do, unfortunately that means that it has to get power form the Palm. This did noticeably shorten the batter life on my palm. I suppose it is easier to change my Palm's AAA batteries than it is to spend a fiver on 2 stupid watch batteries that most small things use.

Last bit here is protection, which it did very well indeed. I gave the case a few decent tosses to see if it'd hold up and protect the palm from normal drops. I wasn't about to throw my PDA 20 feet to find out how good the case is, because I don't feel like dropping it. However, from a good 6 feet plus, it did just fine. A few scuffmarks, but nothing you wouldn't expect, and the Palm survived 100% intact.

Performance: 2/4

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Neat Idea
  • Great looking case
  • Very protective
  • Case & keyboard in one
  • The 'wow' factor is all over this

Cons

  • Keyboard is too small for large hands
  • Case is WAY too big for a pocket
  • Shortened battery life

Conclusion

Overall I was pretty mixed on this case. I really liked all it could do and how well it protected the Palm. Then it just has this all in all "Hey, that's cool!" factor going for it, as my co-workers expressed every time I pulled it out at work to play with it. However the nagging size of the case and the small size of the keyboard definitely kept me from giving it a better score than it got. Would this be a bad purchase for most people? Not necessarily, but do I think it's the best design out? Hardly. However I could see future revisions having some really neat design changes that would nix a bunch of my complaints.

SLRating: 6.5/10

Re-Printed From SLCentral