Ever since the introduction of RIM's Blackberry, there has been a covert
rage over adding thumb-typing to consumer electronics. Although the RIM
Blackberry has yet to hit critical mass in popularity, it has influenced
many handheld designers like Handspring and Nokia. Simply put, a lot of
people think putting a thumb keyboard on something will make it sell
like hotcakes. The SnapNType T301 is a thumb keyboard that grafts on
nicely to the Compaq iPAQ 31xx, 36xx and 37xx. As with most of these
keyboard extension devices, the accessory hooks up with the serial port
link at the bottom of the iPAQ unit. That means you can't use the
cradle while using the keyboard, but that isn't too much of an issue here
since the accessory is designed for usage on the go.
With the recent introduction of thumb keyboards on cell phones, I found
it was too much of a compromise on those small devices to use. Although
the feel of a keyboard is subjective, no feel will make it easier to
type if your smallest finger covers up two or more keys. I'm of Asian
descent and I'm certainly not the biggest guy around, but even I've had
trouble with key spacing. Luckily, the manufacturers have gotten the
size fairly correct here, at least for my thumbs. True to its
advertisement, the SnapNType keyboard is great for short spurts of
note-taking. For prolonged usage, however, the typing experience is not
as comfortable as it could be. The rubbery keys did not give as much
tactile feedback as I wanted. Moreover, it took more force than I
thought was needed to actually strike a key.
The physical dimensions of the product are small. On the whole, the
unit takes up very little room. It's easy to carry around, even in your
own pocket. The thickness is a tad less than a CompactFlash sleeve.
Furthermore, the manufacturers have made the sleeve accommodate
expansion sleeves that the iPAQ is so famous for. The accommodation is
not without its compromises though. On a naked iPAQ, this makes for a
slight rattle when you type heavily. Because I had to strike the keys
harder than I expected, the rattle problem was exaggerated. However,
with a sleeve in hand, the SnapNType keyboard was more at home and the
rattle problem was gone.
Many manufacturers tend to leave their product the moment it's finished.
In this case, TT Tech could have easily stopped after the product typed,
but they have added some value-added features to their product. Since
the keyboard covers up your PDA's buttons, the manufacturer has included
the contact and calendar keys on the SnapNType itself. The now
ubiquitous Windows Start key on keyboards is also on the SnapNType. It
naturally brings up the Start Menu in the Pocket PC operating system.
Moreover, the SnapNType drivers include a FaceBoard so you can start up
a dialogue box to pick emoticons. Maybe the manufacturers thought you'd
be using this to chat or IM online. It's certainly a great extra to
have and highlights the care put into the design of this product.
With all these extra functions floating around, I didn't think the
layout was overcrowded. It is unfortunate numerals can only be accessed
via a shift key combination, but I guess this is standard for most thumb
keyboards. The keyboard does not support the newer iPAQ H38xx. TT Tech
has notified me that a new version of the SnapNType will be released for
that. For now, it will work with all existing iPAQ machines both in
Pocket PC 2000 and Pocket PC 2002. While Think Outside is promising to
release an adapter to help convert older iPAQ peripherals to the new
H38xx format, I'm unsure whether it's actually possible with this item
since the form factor is such a crucial element of the product.
Ultimately, this is a useful accessory for those who are
Transcriber-challenged. It's certainly fast if you are used to it or
come from a RIM background. I was charmed by the extra features; like
the emoticons, even though I'm not sure if it will really save me that
many keystrokes. Unfortunately, there's a question of how prevalent
these will be in the retail channel, especially considering Compaq is
rolling out with their own thumb keyboard. As such, it becomes a
problem to see if the keyboard's touch and feel fits you. The
aesthetics of the item are top notch. Compared to the Compaq one, the
silver design and black plastic borders mimic all your existing
expansion sleeves and iPAQ color schemes. So if the keyboard works for
you, this keyboard and your handheld would make a great pair.
[19/25] Ease of Use