[Ed. note: this review picks up where the Unboxing left off. If you haven’t already read it, read the i.Tech Virtual Keyboard Unboxing first.]
This past month with the Bluetooth Stacks and Windows XP Service Pack 2 upgrades than I ever wanted to know…but I’m getting ahead of myself already, and we wouldn’t want that… 😉has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for me. During this time, I have managed to learn way more about
As many of you will recall from my previously posted unboxing, the Virtual Keyboard (VKB) is a futuristic gadget that uses a red laser to beam a virtual keyboard upon any flat surface. Its body is primarily composed of matte black plastic, and its shiny plastic front is where all of the magic happens. The VKB measures 3.7? tall x 1.4? wide x 1.1? thick , and it weighs 3.1 ounces. On its front is a long black glossy panel which covers the keyboard sensing receiver window. Directly above this area is the red clear plastic covered keyboard projection window.
The VKB has an internal 3.6V rechargeable lithium-ion battery which provides approximately two hours of type time with the included AC wall adapter. I can honestly say that I have never typed for a full two hours with the keyboard, so I never discharged the battery. The back of the VKB displays various programmed shortcuts.
|Red diode laser
|63 key / full sized QWERTY layout
|295 x 95mm projected keyboard size
|60mm from VKB unit
|Required Projection surface
|Non-reflective, opaque flat surface
|Good contrast up to 600 lux ambient illumination
|Works under all standard indoor illuminations up to 600 lux
|Rate Up to 400 characters per minute
|Multiple keystroke support
|Non-reflective, opaque flat surface
|Any firm flat surface with no protrusions greater than 1mm
|Bluetooth v1.1 class 2
|Bluetooth Profile Supported
|HID and SPP
|Range of Frequency
|2.4 GHz Spectrum
|Number of supported passkeys
The left side of the VKB has a rubber flap covered power port and the power / pairing button.
The right side has a rubber flap covered reset button. Little did I know that I would become very accomplished at performing a hard reset in order to return the VKB to its factory settings for more effective pairing. More about that, later. 😉
The bottom of the VKB has a sensor button, so that when the VKB is picked up from the surface it was standing upon, it will automatically shut off.
The silver plastic band across the top of the VKB houses a status LED, which flashes red when turned on, flashes blue when pairing, and glows solid blue when the keyboard is paired and is in use.
The VKB comes with a black travel pouch which, when combined with the user’s PDA…
…makes for a very mobile office, in theory.
Installing the VKB drivers is a matter of running the included disk. Drivers can also be downloaded directly from themaintained by its authorized US distributor, Golan-Tech.
The laptop I used for the bulk of this review was my Toshiba Satellite A-105, which does not have built-in Bluetooth. I need to state that up front, because the bulk of the problems I ran into later had to do with my choice of Bluetooth software and brand of dongle. So here’s how the setup went, the disk was installed…
…and the VKB software was installed on my laptop. I made sure that the box next to “Enable VKB” was checked, and I clicked sound effects because I new that I would need some sort of feedback when typing.
Various settings can be adjusted through the VKB software.
With the laptop software installed, I wanted to first give the VKB a try on my Palm Treo 700wx. The process I am about to describe did not work the first time – which is why I quickly learned about the factory reset. The way that it is done, is by taking a straightened paperclip and inserting it into the reset hole while the keyboard is turned on and projecting – all the while being careful not to lift the keyboard – which is not as easy as it sounds! Once the paperclip is in the hole, you pick up the keyboard, which releases the button on the bottom and completes the reset. You got that? 😉
The cool thing was that I did not have to install any drivers at all, Windows Mobile 5 is automatically configurable.
Pressing and holding the Power button on the VKB puts it into pairing mode, and the Treo will very quickly recognize it.
Well here; I’ll just quote VKB Forum user, because s/he was very clear, and these were the exact steps needed to get connected:
On the Treo:
3. Select the Bluetooth icon in upper right corner of Start screen
4. Check “Turn on Bluetooth”, Check “Make this device discoverable”
5. Select Devices tab, then select New Partnership
6. Select “VKB Keyboard” when it finds it (could take 30-60 seconds), then Next
7. Enter between 1-8 characters for a Passkey. After a few seconds the VKB will beep – enter the same characters on the VKB keyboard display SECRET #2 followed by the return key – left arrow with upwards line, third button down on the right. (Since I wasn’t used to the feel of the keyboard yet, when I put in 4 characters it was entering some two and three times. I started this part over, and just pressed a single P in the upper right corner of the phone and the display to get past this part. This was the most difficult part of the entire process.)
8. Verify the screen confirming it’s setting up a new partnership for VKB Keyboard
9. For Display Name, either accept the “VKB Keyboard” default or enter a name
10. Check “Input Device”
Open a program on the Treo that accepts input (Word, Excel, etc) , Select “New”, and be amazed.
Fresh from my massive success in pairing the VKB with the Treo, I reset the keyboard and paired it with my HTC Universal, then reset it again and paired it with the HTC Star Trek. The trick for initiating pairing was to press the UP arrow, Function and B keys together for three seconds. The VKB would beep and the LED would flash blue, to indicate the keyboard was again searching and ready to pair. I was feeling pretty darn confident in my pairing abilities, but little did I know that K2 was before me…
Here’s the deal: I had a Kensington Bluetooth dongle with Widcomm software installed on my laptop. It worked perfectly with my MoGo mouse and the few other BT items I had paired with it, so I saw no reason to expect trouble when I tried to pair it with the VKB. I restored the VKB to factory settings, made it and my laptop discoverable, and settled back for what I expected to be another easy pairing. Everything appeared to have been properly discovered…
All that appeared to be left to do was to enter a PIN, or passkey, on both my laptop and on the VKB. I heard the proper and expected clicks, and for the next several hours while I tinkered, I was convinced that the next pairing would work. But it didn’t, not once.
Every single time I got the same dratted pairing error.
I was tired, I was frustrated, and I didn’t want to throw my laptop and the VKB through a window, so I finally shot off an email to support:
I have successfully paired the VKB to my Pocket PCs and am now trying to do it with my laptop, but am having an issue. So here is a support question:
I have installed the XP driver on the disc, and after it didn’t work I reinstalled with the one from your site.
I can pair the VKB with no problem to any of my Windows Mobile 5 devices – including a BT enabled smartphone, so I know there is no problem with the keyboard. My issue is that when I try to pair with my laptop, there seems to be a breakdown in the process when the pairing key is entered. I’ll enter it on the laptop, then enter it on the keyboard, or I’ll do it keyboard first then laptop, but no matter what I do, I get the same error.
I know this is going to be something simple that I don’t “get”, I just need help “getting it”.
In case it matters: My laptop does not have built-in BT. I am using a Kensington dongle with Widcomm BT Software v18.104.22.1680, and I am running Windows XP service pack 2.
Very shortly, I received help from Nim, the Support Manager:
Some questions about the circumstances and a few suggestions:
Most importantly, does the VKB beep (non-keystroke) during the pairing process with the laptop?
The VKB beeps when it expects the passkey to be written on it and has a certain time window for the input.
Did the laptop come with service pack 2 or did you update?
Computers that come with service pack 2 tend to have a different Bluetooth stack that causes problems with HID connections.
The Bluetooth stack in use can be checked in System->Device Manager.
As I understand, the Kensington Bluetooth software supports SPP connections but not HID connections.
You may be find it easier to use the default Windows Bluetooth driver (the one it matches to Bluetooth adaptors automatically) to connect to the VKB since it supports HID connections (and so needs no driver).
If the stack only supports SPP than the driver is a must.
The driver for Windows XP has a connections tab where the COM port is chosen.
The COM port assigned in that tab needs to agree with the COM port assigned by the Bluetooth software.
There should be a list of COM ports in the Bluetooth software.
Another possibility is that the Bluetooth software is referring to the passkey as the “secret key.”
In this case, check for the option to choose the key prior to the PIN input screen.
Another thing to check in the Bluetooth software is whether the laptop is visible to other devices.
So the VKB did not “like” the Widcomm software that my Kensington Bluetooth dongle used…all righty, then. I would simply buy another BT dongle and choose one that specifically used the Blue Soleil driver software.
After I had received the new equipment, I performed another factory reset of the keyboard. After some false steps requiring reinstallation of the VKB XP driver, and the support of some online friends who were trying to chat in the middle of what was starting to feel like another exercise in frustration, everything suddenly popped into place and the VKB began working. Holy cow…it was all almost anticlimactic!
What did I learn so that all who come after me will not have to deal with the same frustration?
Widcomm BT drivers + VKB = Bad News; Blue Soleil BT drivers + VKB = Happy Typing!
Well sort of…
Through a series of trials and errors, I found that a regularly lighted room did not cause problems with keyboard operation. While the keyboard will work outdoors, bright over-head sunlight absolutely affects the performance – which stands to reason. The keyboard is best used in a desktop situation, where there is a nice flat surface to allow a clear and smooth typing surface. While typing, I had to be very conscious of where my non-keying fingers went, because it was very easy to accidentally brush against a virtual key, which would then cause entry errors. I worked out a method where my fingers would tuck up into my palm when they weren’t being used, versus the more spread-open-hand typing style I usually employ. The only other real issue that I encountered was finding a comfortable way to prop my Treo, since unlike my HTC Universal it doesn’t have away to prop the screen for easy viewing.
Typing on the VKB is very doable; the method is novel, and it is just about guaranteed to attract a crowd if you in a public place. I would imagine that using and mastering this keyboard will enhance your geek cred in certain circles…but.
The fact of the matter is that I found typing on a perfectly flat, keyless surface for any amount of time – even with the key-click sound turned on – weird and strangely disconcerting. I love the idea of the VKB, and once paired with my PDAs the keyboard worked nearly perfectly. I just never felt that this method would or could ever be my first choice for text entry.
There’s no doubt that using the keyboard made me feel like I was definitely in the 21st century, but all the while, I was wishing I still had that clackety old keyboard that got left behind. 😉
, and check out the .
What I Like: Futuristic design that actually works, turns any flat surface into a keyboard, works in all but the brightest sunlight, definite wow factor
What Needs Improvement: I found no way to make typing upon a flat source without tactile feedback feel normal, your mileage may vary