VKB Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard review: VKB Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard

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2 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Compact and sleek form factor; cool concept.

The Bad Limited number of compatible PDAs; doesn't work with Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition; expensive; poor user guide and tech support; lack of tactile keys might not be for everybody.

The Bottom Line The VKB proves that image isn't everything. Despite looking cool, the keyboard takes some getting used to and needs better support options.

4.9 Overall

VKB Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard

Editor's note: This review was updated after VKB sent us a new keyboard with the correct driver for Windows Mobile support.

We thought we saw some pretty sleek keyboards when we reviewed these PDA accessories last fall, but nothing compares to VKB's Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard (BTVKB). Sure to turn heads, this ultracool gadget projects a full-size "virtual" keyboard on your desk or any flat surface using lasers, one of which projects the keyboard image, while the other senses the touched keys. We garnered a number of oohs and aahs from passers-by as we used the keyboard while on the go throughout our test period. Sadly, looks and concept alone don't make a good product, and the BTVKB's lack of tactile keys may be a turnoff to some. The BTVKB costs about $150 and works with a handful of Bluetooth-enabled Pocket PCs and Palm devices, as well as some smart phones, PCs, and notebooks (you can check for compatibility here).

One of the advantages of the BTVKB, if not its biggest benefit, is the gadget's compact size. At 3.5 by 1.3 by 0.9 inches and 2.8 ounces, it's about the size of a large pack of gum and easily slips into your bag or even pocket. VKB even includes a protective carrying case so that you don't scratch the keyboard's projection and receiver window on the front. With the exception of some silver trim and the small red projection window in the front, the device is cloaked in black, and there aren't any distinguishing features to clue you into its functionality. The power button is located on the left along with the charging socket that's protected by an attached rubber cover; a Reset button is located on the right side, along with a protective cover. On top of the BTVKB is an LED that blinks blue when it's ready for pairing and red when the battery is low. There is also a microswitch on the bottom that must be depressed in order for the keyboard to work; therefore, if you pick up the device or if it tips over, the keyboard turns off. This is a good thing since it prevents any unnecessary battery drain.

Unfortunately, our admiration for the BTVKB ended during setup. Originally, we tried to pair the keyboard with the HP iPaq hx4700 (listed as a compatible device), and we had no problem getting the software driver on our test machine. The trouble came when trying to pair the two devices. Using the Bluetooth Manager on our iPaq, we were able to discover the BTVKB and add it to our list of paired devices. As instructed by the quick-start guide, we went to the VKB app under the Programs menu, went to the Connection tab, chose Bluetooth (which is set to Serial as default), and followed the rest of the directions. While trying to connect, we got the following message: "The device does not offer any usable services. Please enable any desired services on that device or choose another one." The sparse quick-start guide and CD-based user guide didn't provide much in the way of troubleshooting tips, and if you think you're going to find help from the company's Web site, try again. We finally got a technician on the phone, and even though he walked us through the process, we still weren't able to connect, and he couldn't offer any solutions--we were left out in the cold.

We were then sent a new keyboard and an updated driver. We gave it another go on the hx4700, but this time, the Bluetooth manager couldn't even discover the device during pairing. We went through the same process on the HP iPaq hx2750--no luck there either. Giving up on Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition handhelds altogether, we opted for the HP iPaq H4150 , and lo and behold, it connected with no problems. We also tested it with the PalmOne Zire 72 and didn't experience any of the setup problems we encountered with the Pocket PCs.

The projected keyboard is clear and bright, although it gets a little blurry around the bottom edges, more specifically, the Ctl (Control) and Del keys. Still, they're legible and work just fine. You get all the number and symbol keys, but the BTVKB doesn't exactly mimic a true keyboard; for example, the quotation mark/apostrophe key is located near the bottom to accommodate the arrow keys. Since the BTVKB isn't restricted by physical constraints, the projected keys are large and well spaced. However, some might have trouble adjusting to the lack of tactile buttons. A clicking sound lets you know that the device is registering your keystrokes, though. If you prefer to type in silence, you can turn this feature off under the VKB menu. You can also adjust the keys' sensitivity and projection intensity, as well as set time-out limits, enable autorepeat, and more through the VKB menu.

Indeed, we had problems getting used to the lack of physical keys, and on our first try, we produced a memo rife with typos. Accuracy improved the more we used it, but we never felt fully confident or comfortable when typing documents. On the upside, the keyboard was responsive to our touches and registered every keystroke. Battery life is rated for two hours of continuous use, and we found that to be accurate. Of course, you'll get more mileage out of the battery with casual use.

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