The only reason your cellphone hasn’t knocked the laptop off your lap yet is because your mobile has a numeric keypad masquerading as a keyboard. With the pocket Qwerty, you have a Web browser, email access, Wi-Fi, Office applications, multimedia and global roaming Internet access—all in, well, your pocket!
Squeeze: Almost all keyboard models available fold up to look like sleek, mysterious, clamshell gadgets. Most of my friends can’t guess it’s a full keyboard until I pop it open and spread it on the table. Then their jaw drops. It’s good that I don’t think of it as a conventional keyboard either, but as a mobile keypad that houses Qwerty keys enlarged just enough to accommodate the hands. Expect lots of typos for the first 10 minutes while your mind recalibrates your touch-typing habits.
Number cruncher: The Nokia SU-8W
Core keys only: Don’t expect any non-essential keys in the spread. My Nokia SU-8W leaves out even the first row of number keys, forcing them to ride pillion on the Qwerty keys. A special “Fn” or Function toggle-key lets my mobile know I wish to tap these characters when I press any of the conventional keys. Convenient for my pocket, but quite inconvenient for my passwords, which are all alphanumeric, until I master how the “Fn” key toggles on and off.
Getting started: Regular AAA-sized batteries power the keyboard, and depending on your specific model, last anywhere between 15 and 50 hours. No messy wires are required to connect it to the mobile. Mine connects wirelessly through Bluetooth, while a few models use infrared.
Phone stand: A convenient cradle pulls out from the keyboard to prop up your cellphone, saving you an otherwise inevitable crick in the neck. People often mistake the cradle to be the data connection to the cellphone, but it is nothing more than a plastic stand.
I often pull it out completely and place the phone conveniently enough to share or hide the screen. A few extra keys control every feature of the mobile, from answering calls and dialling numbers, to responding to SMSes, selecting music to play in the background and mimicking every feature of the mobile’s navigation buttons. You won’t need to lift your fingers away from the keyboard to the mobile, unless you wish to physically switch it off.
Clincher: Its compactness and flexibility allow it to be used in places where laptops would be thoroughly inconvenient—for instance, nestled between coffee cups at small cafe tables, lounge bars or airports.
On flights, it shares table space with the welcome drink or snacks, and when not required, conveniently tucks away into the front-seat pocket. At seminars, while seated, I’ve propped the phone on one lap and the keyboard on the other.
And thanks to the inherently small size of the mobile’s screen, I don’t have to worry too much about over-the-shoulder peekers.
No hinge lock: The keyboard hinges don’t lock when unfolded, so you always need a solid surface.
Price: IBM invented the Qwerty keyboard aeons ago, Bluetooth is an accepted industry standard, and given that these are the only technologies in the keyboards, why are they so expensive?
Laptop illusion: Most newer phones handle Office documents as well as PDF and other popular document formats. If you want, you could carry along or arrange for a tiny and portable Bluetooth printer to print documents on the spot. But what you really miss is your gorgeous big laptop screen. By this year-end, the launch of the much anticipated “pico projector display” will address this issue.
This amazing device, roughly the size of a cellphone, projects an image on any surface to give you an instant screen. Discover more at www.microvision.com/pico_projector_displays
How to get them
First, search for accessories on your mobile manufacturer’s website to know exactly which model works with your device. For full features and control, your best bet is to just order the recommended model. Discard the software driver in the keyboard’s box, and download the latest version directly from your manufacturer’s site. If there is none available, choose from several third-party choices mentioned here, but cross-check for compatibility.
Nokia SU-8W: Rs7,240, with an estimated street price of Rs4,500. Also available internationally at online shopping and auction sites, at actual prices between $100 (Rs4,290) and $150.
BlackBerry keyboards: Choose from specific third-party models at www.eaccess-estore.com
Keyboards for almost all mobiles: “Stowaway” branded keyboards are quite popular, though the manufacturer, www.mobilityelectronics.com, has recently discontinued them. Find them on several online shopping sites while stocks last, for $50-150. Palm has its own keyboard, and makes a “universal” keyboard that also connects to cellphones running the Windows Mobile OS. $69.99, from www.palm.com
Unbranded Chinese: Don’t buy until you physically test it with your mobile. I’ve had problems with the package box claiming compatibility when it had yet to appear as a software update on some obscure Chinese website. However, they work well when they do.
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