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Two Kool, Slightly Kooky Keyboards

Is This Keyboard Flexible Enough For You?

"A keyboard is a keyboard is a keyboard" isn't quite true any more. Mary Branscombe looks at a small, light, rollup, coffee-proof fabric keyboard and Barry Gerber plays with one that says bye, bye to QWERTY. Their goal: to see if there's anything new under the sun that you'll actually want to type on.

The Wireless Fabric Keyboard from Eliksen

By Mary Branscombe

With the right PDA or smartphone, let's call them "extremely small mobile computers" or ESMCs, you can get your email, update your blog, edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, control your PC remotely and work with business applications like SAP. How much of that do you want to do on a numeric keypad (even with predictive typing)? The QWERTY keyboards on ESMCs are pretty cramped too.

ESMCs almost demand separate keyboards, but you don't want to carry a keyboard ten or more times the size of the device itself. So how about a folding keyboard that matches the size of your ESMC? Most of these are the same size as a PDA and either too flimsy or too heavy to carry with you all the time. On the other hand, Eleksen's new Wireless Fabric Keyboard is smaller and lighter; it rolls up to the size of a mobile phone. It really is made out of fabric so it won't break if you drop it. It's waterproof and if you spill coffee on it you can rinse it out and let it dry. Is it the ideal mobile keyboard?

The Eleksen Wireless Fabric Keyboard; only the battery holder isn't fabric.

This is a Bluetooth keyboard so it works with a range of PDAs and smartphones; there are drivers for Windows Mobile 2003 and 2005 (Pocket PC and smartphone), BlackBerry, Symbian (Series 60 and UIQ) and Palm OS (v5.4 only). Setup is as tricky or simple as making any Bluetooth connection with your phone. When you first connect you can calibrate the keyboard to make sure it recognizes your key presses, and you're ready to start typing.

Calibrate the ElekTex fabric keyboard to make sure your presses hit the right key.

Eleksen was set up by two engineers who worked on the puppets for Spitting Image and its ElekTex fabric doesn't conceal wires or circuits that can wear out or break. The fabric itself is the conductor; there are two layers of fully conductive fabric and a partially conductive layer in the middle. When you press a key, you press the layers together.

You do have to press quite firmly to make sure you hit the keys and that can slow your typing down a little until you get used to it, but you can adjust the sensitivity to suit your typing. The driver plays a key click sound for every key press; you can turn it off if you find it annoying but the feedback helps you spot if it has missed a key. And while it's much easier to type on a table, in an emergency you could drape it over your knees or even hold it in both hands and type, which you couldn't manage with a folding keyboard.

Turn off the clicks, check the battery or set the typing speed

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