A range of external keyboards for Windows Mobile devices are available on the market, however, they're both costly and can be device-specific - this article takes a look at some of the pitfalls of buying an external Bluetooth or infrared keyboard.
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Why Choose an External Keyboard?
Windows Mobile handset keyboards can be very tricky to use, especially when you’re in possession of thicker fingers than most people. On-screen software keyboards designed for finger and thumb use can also be difficult to use for owners of phones like the HTC Touch Diamond and HTC Touch HD.
In order to tap into the vast productivity benefits of using a Windows Mobile phone, more and more users are looking into the possibility of purchasing external, portable keyboards.
While more recent devices such as the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 and the HTC Touch Pro2 have larger, more forgiving hardware keyboards, there is still a need for external solutions – and sadly these solutions aren’t as simple as rewiring a USB keyboard cable and plugging it directly into your Windows Mobile device, due to some technical reasons (such as Windows Mobile being unable to manage the role of being a USB device host.)
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No USB - Bluetooth or Infrared Only
The majority of external keyboards available for Windows Mobile use either the Bluetooth or Infrared ports, with the handful of USB solutions totally unsuitable for any form of business or communications use. External keyboard devices usually ship with a stand or mount for the Windows Mobile device to be used as a mini monitor.
One of the main manufacturers of external keyboards for Windows Mobile devices are iGo with their Stowaway range. Other devices are available, however all of these external keyboard types share two common factors: price, and a lack of uniform technology. Purchasing a keyboard for a Windows Mobile device is completely different to popping to the local mall or supermarket and picking a new one for your desktop PC.
A popular choice is the infrared or bluetooth laser keyboards - devices that project a keyboard onto the desk - however these are considerably more expensive than the solid keyboard solutions.
Before choosing your device, check whether bluetooth of infrared would be more suitable for your device, budget and even battery life.
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Research the Purchase
So the first thing to do is not to logon to eBay or Amazon and purchase the first cut-price external keyboard you can find. Chances are it won’t work. Instead, checkout the following websites before checking out the prices on eBay:
With standard prices at around $100 or £90, purchasing one of these solutions comes down to necessity. If you are fortunate enough to be able to purchase one for full price then it should be a simple case of synching your Windows Mobile device with your PC, installing the drivers and then setting up the keyboard.
Reduced price solutions meanwhile can be found on eBay or Amazon, but make extra sure you’re purchasing the correct keyboard, one that will work with your Windows Mobile device and one that comes with drivers.
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Of course, there are alternatives to an external keyboard - such as a small laptop of netbook. One device you might consider is the HTC Advantage or Flint, bulkier Windows Mobile telephony devices with larger displays and detachable keyboards. They measure just under the size of a DVD movie case, and fulfil the need for a business-suitable keyboard and Windows Mobile phone handset.
A further choice would be the new HTC Shift which will run Windows Mobile (but comes with a version of Windows Vista!) - however third party telephony software is required even though the device comes with a SIM slot. This device is extremely high spec, with a much sturdier keyboard than the HTC Flint and HTC Advantage.