Mobile Tech Manor #103: Keyboard Envy

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Mobile Tech Manor (MTM) is the home office where I cover the world of mobile technology, and it’s an active scene of gadgets and apps. This column is my look back at the week and my outlet to share observations and lessons learned about the tech that crossed my path. My work with a Windows tablet this week made me go looking for a portable keyboard. Sit back and share the week in Mobile Tech Manor.

Gadgets of the week

This week, I spent a lot of time using the TEGA v2 tablet that had just arrived when I was writing last week’s column. The TEGA v2 is a 10-inch (1024×600) slate that’s almost as thin and light as the magical iPad. The v2 packs both Windows 7 Pro and Android 1.6 under the hood, making it an unusual tablet. It’s the first Windows 7 touch slate I’ve used, and this week I used it quite a bit.

I like using the v2 — a lot, in fact. I’ve long been a tablet fan, and the comfortable form factor makes it a joy to use. I’ve been surprised how comfortable it is while using it for long periods, either in portrait or landscape orientation. The Atom processor is plenty fast, and the SSD keeps Windows humming. The newly exposed HP Slate 500 will give the v2 a run for its money, with dual digitizers and cameras.

The TEGA v2 is essentially a fast netbook without the keyboard; it has the same hardware components as netbooks, with the addition of the good capacitive touch screen. The touch screen makes Windows 7 pretty useful, but it doesn’t go far enough to replace both the keyboard and a trackpad. Windows is designed to be operated with the keyboard and mouse (trackpad), and sometimes they’re required to get the job done.

I have an old Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard that, for some reason, doesn’t work with the TEGA, so I researched portable keyboard options currently on the market. The search brought me to the Freedom Pro Bluetooth keyboard, and I ordered one from Amazon for $85. It’s expensive, but besides being highly portable, it has one feature no other keyboard has: dual protocols for working with mobile gadgets.

Keyboards designed to work with computers use the HID protocol to connect over Bluetooth. This is used by both Windows and OS X, and even the iPad uses HID. That’s not the case for Android phones and BlackBerry devices, which use the SPP protocol. Portable keyboards usually support one protocol or the other, but the Freedom Pro keyboard can toggle between the two. I can use it with Windows systems like the v2, and also with my Android phone. I don’t really have a need to use a keyboard with my EVO 4G, but since I was getting a keyboard anyway, I figured it was good to have the capability.

The keyboard is really nice, and I intend to write a review of it soon. It folds in half and is so small and light it’s easy to throw in a bag just in case it’s needed. It’s a good companion for the v2 for those times when I need to do some serious writing and a keyboard is the tool of choice. I am happy with the purchase so far.

Apps of the Week

The only new apps I played with this week were both related to the TEGA v2, and I showed them off in a video. FrontFace and Thinix Touch are shells that try to hide the less-than-touch-friendly Windows 7 interface from the user. So far, I like FrontFace better; even though it’s not officially released (and not fully functioning), it’s getting close. It completely hides Windows and turns the whole screen into a touchable interface that’s easy to use with fat fingers. I’m in the process of configuring it the way I prefer, which, admittedly, is a big task. I’m hoping to get the official release soon so all functions are operational.

One app that I’ve been using for almost a decade is Pocket Informant, a calendar/task manager that is great for mobile devices. I’ve used it on Windows Mobile devices, the BlackBerry, and most recently, the iPad. It’s the first app I run each morning on the iPad, which sits next to my computer where I can easily keep an eye on the things that are important to me. I spoke with Alex Kac, the PI developer, about the version he’s working on for the Android platform. I could really use PI on my EVO, and Alex reported he’ll be ready to release a beta version for Android any day now. It’s not out at the time of this writing, and I am so excited about the impending release I’m checking the Android Market several times a day to see if it’s available. From early looks on the PI website, it might be one of the best apps for Android once released.

E-book of the Week

This week, I’ve been plowing through Judas Unchained, the last of the Commonwealth Saga by Peter F. Hamilton. The series has been great — an epic space opera — and I’m almost finished with it. I may take a breather and read something by another author before jumping into Hamilton’s Void Trilogy, which is sitting in my Kindle library waiting for me.

Wrap-up

That’s how I spent my week in Mobile Tech Manor. It was a typical week full of small things that do big things. I’ll be back next week, and who knows what I’ll have to share. Until then, be safe and happy computing.

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