We now have a huge range of devices with integrated keyboards, or touchscreen displays large enough to offer a fairly decent on-screen keyboard.
But, there are times when only a proper keyboard will do. Considering most phone keyboards lack one or two vital rows, requiring a control/alt key to access numbers and key symbols – the Freedom Pro Keyboard is a decent alternative, even for models that already have their own keyboard.
The Freedom Pro comes is powered by two AAA batteries. This means that, while you can use rechargeable batteries if you want, you also have the ability to replace the batteries easily if they run out while you’re out and about.
When folded, the keyboard doesn’t look like much and it can be easily slipped into a jacket pocket or bag. Despite a shiny finish, the plastic resists greasy fingermarks exceptionally well. On the inside, the unit has a matt finish and a sliding lock to hold the keyboard open and stop flexing.
A new addition to the ‘Pro’ keyboard is a set of hot keys to quickly jump to key applications – or make and terminate calls. These buttons are stacked down the left hand side of the keyboard, next to the power switch and a toggle for one of two Bluetooth profiles; HID and SPP. With both options available you can pair up with more devices – once you’ve added the necessary drivers via a dedicated website (www.otadrivers.com). There are other shortcuts, marked SK1 to SK6 to the right of the space bar, which can be programmed to perform other functions, as well as things like volume adjustment and media controls accessed via a function key.
So what about the keyboard quality for typing? Once you’re paired up, you’ll be able to type on a keyboard that isn’t quite as comfortable as using a trendy MacBook keyboard, but is a vast improvement on the alternative. The keys are solid and responsive and the only real problem is the ability for the keyboard to slide around on some surfaces as you’re moving from key to key. The faster you type, the more pronounced the problem gets.
At the top right of the keyboard is a slide out stand that can be used to hold your smartphone upright, although it feels decidedly flimsy and if there’s any weak point on the whole product it’s going to be this.
The big question is whether you can actually justify £90 for a keyboard, considering even Apple doesn’t charge as much for its own wireless offering (they charge £60 or less instead). Interestingly, you can use this keyboard with a Mac, UMPCs, PlayStation 3 and anything else supporting the Bluetooth HID profile, so it could make more sense if you use with a range of devices. The battery promises up to 80 hours of usage, or 2000 hours standby, which could be extended with a higher capacity rechargeable battery.
The second question is how likely you are to use it on the move. It isn’t a problem to set the keyboard down on a desk, or table, but if you’re resting it on your knees like a laptop then it becomes a problem. Despite the lock that stops it folding shut, it will still begin to fold inwards. And the other problem is where you’re going to keep the phone supported? It’s not something that What Mobile could ever start using for writing copy during a press conference, but for updating text in a coffee shop instead of using a netbook, it’s definitely capable.
In other words, there are limits to the places you can realistically use this over putting up with an integrated keyboard, or typing via a touchscreen. As long as you’re aware of these limitations from the outset, it’s a great alternative to careful fingertip typing on your BlackBerry or obscuring a large amount of the screen for an on-screen keyboard. T9 is obviously another alternative, but gets particularly irksome if you’re entering numbers, names or technical terminology.
BlackBerry OS 4.0 and above
Windows Mobile 5, 6, 6.1 and 6.5
Symbian Series 60
Symbian UIQ 3
HID devices including PCs, Mac, Playstation 3, UMPCs/netbooks.
More info/ordering: www.freedominput.com
Size: 185x98x12mm open / 145x98x18mm closed
Battery: 2 x AAA for 80 hours usage, 2000 hrs standby
Weight: 204g including batteries
Key pitch: 18mm horizontal x 17.2mm vertical (key travel 2.3mm)