This Week at Mobile Tech Manor #59: It’s All About the Keyboard

Mobile Tech Manor Large 2Whew! This week had me jumping through hoops with nary a moment to myself. It was a week where I found laptops and phones strewn all over Mobile Tech Manor, so much so that every time I needed to set something down I had to move one or two things out of the way. I did a lot of thinking and hands-on analysis of keyboards and what makes me like or dislike a given one. I had some devices updated and others waiting in the queue for updates. Spend a few moments with me and I’ll share it all with you.

It’s all about the keyboard

I use so many different notebooks that I never have a chance to get used to a given one to the point that I feel “at home.” You know that feeling, having a good keyboard that you’ve used so much it fits you like a glove. Or like those old pair of jeans you just can’t throw out. To have that feeling about a keyboard you have to use it and it alone for a good while.

That’s not the nature of what I do; I evaluate so many notebooks and netbooks that I usually don’t get comfortable with the keyboard. I use one for a good while, start feeling proficient with it, and then I move on to the next device. That means a whole new keyboard to get used to, and believe me even two notebooks of the same model can often feel totally different in the typing department.

I switched around among four notebooks this week. That’s why I’m thinking about keyboards so much. Three of the devices had full-sized keyboards but one of them, the HP Mini 1000 netbook, had one that was only 92 percent of full size. It’s a great keyboard in every way; I am comfortable typing on the HP. It’s just that the slight size difference has an impact when switching between the Mini 1000 and the other notebooks. The impact is especially noticeable when going the other way — from a full keyboard to the scaled down version. It’s not bad, don’t get me wrong, it’s just not that comfortable feeling I enjoy.

The other three notebooks I used this week were the MacBook, the ThinkPad T400s and the ThinkPad x200. The three devices are all different sizes, from the 13-inch Mac to the 14-inch T400s. The x200 is in the middle with its 12-inch rotating screen. The MacBook is my desktop replacement system, it sits on my desk with a big screen plugged in to produce a full desktop experience. I really like the keyboard on the MacBook, it’s has nice chiclet-style keys. I can type extremely fast on this keyboard, and I like using it.

What I found this week is while I enjoy using the Mac’s keyboard, it’s not nearly as comfortable as the ThinkPad keyboards. The other two notebooks both have those famous ThinkPad keyboards, and there is a reason they have such a good reputation. They are comfortable. There’s that term again, and it definitely applies to these keyboards. I found I could switch back and forth between the two ThinkPads and when my fingers hit the keys it just felt right. Maybe it’s the perfect spacing between the keys, and perhaps the tilt of the keyboards that plays a role. I know one thing for certain, the ThinkPad keys have the perfect sculpted caps that just feel right.

I can type fast on the MacBook as I’ve indicated, but I can go even faster on the ThinkPads. I make fewer mistakes, too. I found I could sit down with either one of the ThinkPads and get right to work; I didn’t have to look at the keys to get started. I just plopped my hands on the keyboard, felt the keys beneath my fingers, and started typing like a Nascar driver on the track. It’s all about the keyboard(s).

Touch stuff

Keyboards aside, switching between the T400s and the x200 this week was a lot of fun. The x200 couldn’t be smaller and lighter, and it was a great notebook to carry out of the office. The T400s with that big, wide screen, was as thin and light as could in spite of its bigger size, and I found it to also be highly mobile. They both worked very well for me, and I enjoyed using either one for a given work session. They both have touch screens, too, although they are very different.

The T400s has a capacitive digitizer from N-Trig, the company that makes the touch screen used in the Dell XT. It supports four-point multitouch, and it’s pretty cool to use. It’s a standard notebook form, though, and that makes the touchscreen less useful, at least for me.

The x200 uses a 2-point Wacom digitizer, and it’s a lot more useful with the screen rotated into slate mode. The x200 touch screen feels more accurate to me than the T400s, although I couldn’t put my finger on why. OK, that’s a bad pun. One thing a bit disturbing about the touch implementation on the x200 is how sometimes holding it by the bezel can trigger a touch event. I sometimes find that I’m touching something on the upper part of the screen, and the x200 is sensing my forearm on the lower bezel. I may need to play with the sensitivity settings, I can probably prevent that. We can all benefit from good sensitivity training, right?

I did get clarification from Lenovo on one thing that had been bugging me about the x200. I have covered the inability to use the x200 in portrait slate mode with the battery on the left side. This would be my preferred orientation for using the x200, but the screen won’t stay in this orientation. It appeared to be a deliberate action on Lenovo’s part, and information they gave show it is intentional.

The x200 has a little wedge sticking out of the top of the screen on the right. This wedge looks like an antenna of sorts, and according to Lenovo it is indeed an antenna for the optional integrated 3G modem. This unit doesn’t have the 3G, but the antenna is there just the same. Lenovo prevents the rotation of the screen for use in my desired orientation as that would put the antenna too close to the body. They have determined that it is safer to use without letting the antenna get too close, so that orientation is disabled. It seems unnecessary to me, especially lacking 3G anyway, but Lenovo prohibits the rotation of the screen in that orientation.

That’s just an Android in my pocket

I’ve had a blast playing with the HTC Hero this week, although my T-Mobile G1 stared at me with those sad green Android eyes. The Hero is an improvement over the G1 in every way, although I do find at times I wish it had a sliding keyboard. The onscreen virtual keyboard is pretty good, but a hardware keyboard would have been nice occasionally.

The HTC Sense interface is one of the most useful phone interfaces I have used. I think the webOS interface on the Palm Pre looks a lot better, and is in fact better at task management, but the Hero’s interface provides more functionality. Putting widgets on the seven home screens is very powerful, and having that customizable functionality is very productive.

The web browser on the Hero is not as fast as that on the Pre, but the Hero’s browser is more usable. The reflowing text when zooming in or out is extremely useful. Simple things like a scroll bar on large web pages is highly beneficial, and something the Pre browser really needs.

My G1 is still patiently waiting to have Donut, aka Android 1.6, pushed OTA. G1 owners have begun to receive the update, but it’s trickling out for the rest of us. I want to compare the G1 with Donut with the Hero with Cupcake to see how they stack up. That’s if Donut ever gets here.

A new Pre

Speaking of the Palm Pre, version 1.2 of webOS rolled out this week. It seems to be a bit faster than the previous version, but to tell you the truth I think that’s just wishful thinking. I still find the Pre to be laggy at times, although not enough to be too annoying to use. I find the task management to be far better on the Pre than on any other phone I’ve used. The ability to swipe the cards off the screen to shut down tasks is just so darn simple. It’s also very powerful to be able to see at a glance all programs running at a given time.

A man’s Castle

I usually just write about tech and e-books in these Mobile Tech Manor columns but I wanted to mention the TV show that has become my favorite. It’s sort of related to the e-book topic, as you’ll see if you bear with me. The show Castle is now one I don’t miss if I can help it. I have come to love this show, and this week I figured out why.

For those unfamiliar with Castle, it is about a famous detective mystery novelist who uses his clout to get the mayor of NYC to let him work with a group of homicide detectives on real cases. Castle is a rich, funny guy, and he’s constantly ticking off his “partner” in Homicide. On the show his imagination brings a new angle to the detective’s real work on these cases, and each week he ends up playing a pivotal role in the solution of the case.

I find the show to be well written, and I like the actors involved. I think I also like the fact that the novels the fictional Castle produces, are the very type of novel I so enjoy reading. Anyone familiar with this column knows how much I like a good detective novel, and the Castle show fits right in with my likes.

e-book of the week

The e-book of the week was an interesting detective story that took place in South Africa. Detective Mat Joubert was a troubled man for reasons that unfolded in the novel, and the cases in the story were entertaining. Dead Before Dying by Deon Meyer was a good read, and I enjoyed the book. The characters were very believable and likable, and the surprise ending a great end to a good book. I’m definitely going to pick up some of the other books written by Meyer.


The week is drawing to a close and it’s time to spend a restful weekend at home. I hope you enjoyed the chat, and I look forward to next time.