I-Tech Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard
- It exists!
- Poor battery life, inaccurate typing
Definitely a head turner, the Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard will generate plenty of admiring looks, but typing errors may frustrate
Price$ 199.00 (AUD)
Every so often, a device comes along that causes even hardened technology veterans like us to drool, Homer Simpson style, all over our desks. The Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard (VKB) from iTech certainly is one such gadget - and it definitely has the 'wow factor' about it.
To put it in a nutshell, the VKB projects a 'virtual keyboard' on just about any flat surface, detects your typing, and displays the characters on your phone, PDA or PC, via a Bluetooth connection. Essentially, it eliminates the need for a cramped keyboard on your mobile device, and allows you the freedom of typing on a complete QWERTY keyboard.
While iTech claim that the unit is about the size of a 'cigarette lighter', it is in fact larger than this, but will still fit easily into a pocket. The VKB works by utilizing both laser technology to project a keyboard, and infrared to generate a plane of light just above and parallel to the projected image. When a user touches a position on the surface, the light is reflected and the selected characters appear on your mobile device.
We see the main beneficiaries of this device being PDA or mobile users, as while the VKB can be used with a PC, you might as well use a normal keyboard. PDA manufacturers face a constant problem in trying to balance size and functionality. For example, while many PDAs ship with Microsoft Word, it's not exactly practical to use a PDA to type up large documents, and most people just use their PDAs to view, rather than create, document. This is because PDA screens may be too small, PDA keyboards are not comfortable and handwriting recognition is still a somewhat hit and miss affair.
The VKB does alleviate some of these problems, as you can now type on a full size QWERTY keyboard, making working with word processing and other documents, a much more practical affair. But the VKB is not without its problems, and this is an early generation of this technology which isn't for everyone.
Firstly, you'll have to install the software on your Bluetooth-enabled mobile device (a list can be found here) Secondly, like any Bluetooth device, the VKB has to be paired, and we found this to be a confusing and frustrating process with our Nokia N70. The manual does have some detail in it, but is not particularly well structured or clear, meaning you will be fiddling with the unit for some time, trying to get it to work.
Once paired however, the unit is a breeze to use. You simply stand it upright, turn it on by pressing the switch on the side and start typing away. A micro-switch is placed at the bottom of the VKB, and if lifted, automatically switches the device off, so you'll have to keep it flat all the time. An indicator light has been placed on top of the unit, and this flashes different colours when the unit is ready to pair, in use or in need of charging. A power socket is on the side, which hooks up to an AC adapter. In our tests, typing on the VKB was just about average. We experienced missed keys, double characters and incorrect presses, although these did reduce significantly as time went on and we became accustomed to the peculiarities of the device. We would say the VKB is useful for slower single finger typers, but touch typers will have problems if typing at any speed. In any case, using the VKB, while not perfect, was much easier than using a phone or PDA keyboard.
iTech has also included a variety of customizable options which the user can set, such as the keyboard sensitivity, light intensity and auto-repeat of keys. These settings help in alleviating any typing problems and you should adjust the sensitivity until you are comfortable. Users can also control the sounds emitted by the keyboard as well as the intensity of the projection, which is important when outdoors.
One of the better features on the product is the implementation of the power saving options, and these are important as the VKB only has a measly 2 hours of batter life. The first option allows you to set a timer for the keyboard projection to turn off. Thus if you are typing, but stop for a minute or so, the keyboard projection will turn off, but the unit itself will stay on. Then, if movement is detected again, the projection will reappear. The second option is another timer, which turns the unit completely off. We liked the flexibility of using both timers in conjunction, setting the projection timer to one minute, and the power timer to five. Still, two hours of battery life is nowhere near enough, especially if you are typing up long documents.
Would we buy one of these devices? Probably not. This is both because it would be yet another thing we would have to carry around, and this technology is still in it infancy and typing is rather mistake-ridden. We would love to see this integrated into a PDA if possible, thus making it much more practical. If you want to turn heads and impress your friends though, the VKB should be on the top of your list.
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