Review: Freedom Universal Bluetooth Keyboard

By Al Sacco on 14 May 2008 08:27 am EDT
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Freedom Universal Bluetooth Keyboard

Bye-Bye BlackBerry Thumb

Since you're reading this review on CrackBerry.com, you're very likely familiar with the condition commonly referred to as "BlackBerry Thumb." For this reason, I won't get into too much detail, but BlackBerry Thumb comes about after excessive use of the tiny keyboard found on a wide variety of RIM devices and other smartphones. As a rule of "thumb," the more frequently you respond to e-mail or send messages using that tiny keyboard, the more prone to the condition you are.

What's the best way to avoid BlackBerry thumb, you ask? Well, reducing the amount of typing you're doing is probably your best bet. If that's not an option, or at least one you're willing to consider, increasing the size of your keyboard is sure to help.  Constant use of any keyboard can potentially lead to hand and wrist pain, possibly even to carpal tunnel syndrome over time, but if you need to type frequently, you're much better off with a larger keyboard.

In comes the Freedom Universal Keyboard from Freedom Input Ltd, which is available in the  ShopCrackBerry.com for $99.95.  The keyboard connects to your BlackBerry via Bluetooth and makes for a great way to handle inbox maintenance and rapid messaging.  It's about the size of an average laptop keyboard and is a great alternative to the small keyboard found on your device.

Should you rush to the CrackBerry shop right now to get one?  Is the Freedom Universal Keyboard for you?  Check out the following review to find out. (Note: To help ensure an accurate evaluation, I typed this entire review on my BlackBerry Curve 8320 using the Freedom Universal Bluetooth Keyboard.)

But first, some product info and specs from the manufacturer:

  • QWERTY –English and QWERTZ – German versions currently available.
  • The HID mode that permits “Out of the Box” Alphanumeric compatibility with many products including PCs, laptops and many PDAs using the HID technology. 
  • HID profile for connecting to Human Interface Devices via Bluetooth, most common profile used for PDAs, smartphones, laptops, PCs etc. 
  • SPP profile, serial port emulation via Bluetooth, used by all BlackBerry devices.
  • Duality gives this keyboard the widest available compatibility with Bluetooth enabled devices 
  • Off / HID / SPP mode switch, with indicator light to show activity and connection. 
  • Slim compact design. 
  • Standard 5 row alphanumeric layout. 
  • 65 full-size keys plus ESC button. Keys have quality “Scissor action” for true touch typing feel. 
  • Shortcuts and programmable keys for specific tasks 
  • Fold-out stand for device 
  • Twin AAA batteries for long life 
  • Power On/Off button backed up by auto power off function. 
  • Easy to use - fast and accurate – latest Bluetooth technology, no wires, fault free transmission. 
  • User programmable shortcut and command keys for fast access to applications. 
  • Rubber grip pads to prevent keyboard slipping when typing. 
  • Slim leather carry case with magnetic closure. 
  • Easy installation, no technical knowledge required

Compatibility

Compatible with over 200 devices that have Bluetooth connectivity and supporting operating systems BlackBerry OS 4.0 or higher; Symbian (Series 60) v6 / v7 / v8 / v9; Palm OS 5; Windows Mobile 03 PPC; Windows Mobile 05 PPC; Windows Mobile 03 Smartphone Edition,; Windows Mobile 05 Smartphone Edition; Windows XP*; Windows 2000*;  Mac OS X Tiger*; Linux* (*Using HID mode)

Product ranges included: Acer, Asus, Audiovox, BenQ, BlackBerry, Dell, Dopod, E-Ten, Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard, HTC,i-Do, Mac, Motorola, Nokia, Qtek, Palm, Panasonic, PC, Samsung, Sendo, Siemens, Sony Ericsson.

Power

  • 2x AAA Batteries
  • Battery life: Continuous operation of up to 80 hrs 
  • Standby mode up to 2000 hrs
Sliding in the 2 AAA Batteries

Keys

  • ISO standard full size QWERTY keyboard
  • 5 Rows of 65 full-size keys plus one rubber key
  • Key Pitch: 18mm (horizontal) x 17.2mm (vertical) Key travel distance: 2.3mm

Device Stand

  • Fold-out type, holds all PDA/phone models

Bluetooth

  • Bluetooth Chip: Broadcom 2040
  • Compliance: Bluetooth Core Spec, V1.2; Bluetooth HID & SPP profile 
  • Frequency Range: 2.400 GHz - 2.4835 GHz (79 channels hopping) 
  • Distance: Up to 10 m Antenna: Ceramic Chip Antenna 
  • Profiles integrated: GAP, SDP, SPP, HID 
  • Receive Sensitivity: -85 dBm 
  • Radio Power: Class 2

Size

  • 285 x 98.5 x 13.5mm (11 3/16" x 3 13/16" x 1/2") opened
  • 145 x 98.5 x 19.5mm (51 1/16" x 3 13/16" x 3/4") folded

Weight

  • Roughly 7 oz. including batteries

Initial Impressions

I was very anxious to get my hands on the Freedom Universal Keyboard.  I'm a true CrackBerry addict, and I've got tons of accessories for my devices.  However, I'd never picked up a Bluetooth keypad.  So my experience with the Freedom Universal Keyboard was my first with such a gadget.

Though the setup instructions that came with the device were less than stellar (see the Setup section below) it took me only five minutes of using the keyboard to realize just how valuable it could be to power users. After responding to just a few messages, I literally smiled and said out loud "Wow, this could really save you a !@#$load of time."

The keyboard is almost as large as my ThinkPad's keyboard--it's about three-quarters of an inch skinnier and half-an-inch shorter from top to bottom. Like any new keyboard, it took me a little while to get used to the slightly different key size and placement, but once I did, I was banging out e-mail on my BlackBerry faster than ever before.  And that's a bold statement--I take pride in how rapidly I can type on my RIM smartphone.

I also quickly realized, however, that the break in the middle of the keyboard's space bar--its folding closure makes such a break necessary--and the fact that the right Shift key is much smaller than a Shift key on a traditional keyboard would cause some issues for me. These are the two keys that took me the longest to get used to and I'm still struggling a bit with the tiny Shift key.

Getting Started

To get the Freedom Universal Keyboard connected to your device you need to perform a minimum of three steps.  Depending on whether you choose to download the associated software driver over the air (OTA) or to your PC, you'll need to follow a slightly different process.  I installed my driver OTA, and my process was as follows:

  1. Go to http://www.freedominput.mobi and download the driver to the BlackBerry.  (There are separate versions of the driver for handhelds running OS v4.1 and v4.2. Users with devices running OS v4.3, like certain Pearl devices, are out of luck, as there isn't currently a driver for this OS.)
  2. Turn on device Bluetooth, set keyboard to SPP mode, and pair the two devices as you would your phone and any other Bluetooth gadget. (It was all smooth sailing through this point.  Easy, peasy, Japanesey.)
  3. Register the software using an unlock code generated by the manufacturer's website based on your device ID--which the app displays after installing the driver--and the Unique Code printed on the back of your setup manual.  (Here's where the problems came in.  Definitely easier said than done.)
  4. Connect the keyboard to your BlackBerry via the application. (This worked, but I had to modify the keystroke injection settings in my BlackBerry OS Core Applications.)

You might think all of this sounds fairly straightforward, and you'd be right.  However, the keyword in there is "sounds."

When I first visited the company's site for my unlock code, I had to download an additional PDF guide to find out how to tweak a browser setting that was keeping the site from registering my information.  After I finally got the unlock code, I had issues entering it into the registration field within the app to unlock the program because you need to set your blackberry's keyboard to Number Lock (ALT + Left Shift)--at least if you're using a BlackBerry Curve.  Until you do so, you can tap your keys until your thumbs bleed and it won't register a single keystroke.  Because neither the instruction manual nor user guide said anything about the necessary number lock, I spent 10 minutes or so closing out the app and reopening it to see if it would register my keystrokes.  I even uninsured the driver and re-downloaded it before I finally tried locking the numbers and successfully unlocked the app.

Next you need to connect the keyboard to your BlackBerry by checking a box on the application's main screen.  I had no issue with this via Curve, after tweaking my keystroke injection permissions as suggested in the instructions. (Note: If your device is connected to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server [BES], you'll likely experience additional issues due to your organization's security policies.  Consult your IT administrator for more information.)


Next on the list: Programming the convenience keys.  This process was—thankfully--rather simple because it was intuitive.  You simply launch the application, scroll down, and use drop down menus to which programs or tasks you want to correspond with each of the nine available key combos. Programming the convenience keys was easy, but again, specific instructions on how to do so weren't included in the setup instructions or user manual and they really should have been.

Finally, the company only provides you with two registration codes so you cannot use the keyboard with more than two devices.  This is a major turnoff for me, as I'm often using different handhelds, and the value of the keyboard is greatly reduced because I can only use it with two devices.

Form and Function

The general form factor of the Freedom Universal Keyboard is impressive.  As mentioned above, it's just a bit smaller than an average notebook computer's keypad, and it has all the keys you'd expect or need.

When opened, the top left panel of the keyboard hides a removable tray to hold your device while you type.  The folding tray slides easily in and out, and the two AAA batteries that power the keyboard slide into another slot on the top right side.   You can lock the keyboard open by sliding a thin piece of plastic in place above the slot for the removable device tray.  And there are tiny rubber nubs on the keyboard's reverse side to reduce slippage.

 
My Curve in the Tray

The keys themselves feel sturdy and comfortable to the touch, but the whole unit feels a bit flimsy overall.  Though I didn't try, I don't think the keyboard could take much of a beating before coming apart or malfunctioning, so owners would be wise to be gentle with it.  Because the keyboard's not exactly built-to-last, the $100 price tag is a bit steep.  (Freedom Input does, however, provide a one-year warranty.)

In addition to the nine customizable convenience keys mentioned above, the keyboard has four more shortcuts that are preset to access your messaging app, contacts, tasks and calendar.  And a number of other common keyboard shortcuts are also available, like using CTRL + C to copy text and CTRL+ V to paste it. However, I still haven't figured out a way to highlight text in a message or on a Web page, so I'm not sure of the value of such commands.

Because many applications require specific keys for some functions and the keyboard was not designed with specialized apps in mind, it doesn't work particular well with certain programs.  For instance, if you try to surf the Web using the keyboard for navigation, you'll find that you can't click on links or images or even scroll through lists of links. You also can't scroll rapidly through a long section of text in a document without repeatedly tapping the Down Arrow key.  And you can't use the standard calculator app that comes preinstalled on most BlackBerry devices, because it doesn't recognize the keyboard's input. You also cannot check or unclear boxes on the Manage Connections screen. (It's possible there are ways to use the keyboard to click links or employ the calculator, etc., but I tried everything I could think of and nothing worked.  And as was expected by this point, the instruction manual wasn't any help.)

The Bottom Line

The Freedom Universal Bluetooth Keyboard is an invaluable tool for power users on the go who don't necessarily have access to a notebook computer or don't have the time to whip out and fire up a laptop.  The gadget makes typing long or frequent messages simple, and it's sure to reduce thumb and hand strain.  However, it should be used solely as a tool for messaging and should not be counted on to jump from application to application or to control a browser while surfing the Web.

Freedom Universal Bluetooth Keyboard Review Summary:
Freedom Universal Bluetooth Keyboard
Ratings

Pros:

  • Barely larger than an average laptop keypad; great alternative to the tiny BlackBerry keyboard
  • Folds in half and slides into its case for portability; easily fits in a tote bag or jacket pocket
  • Works with dozens of BlackBerry and non-BlackBerry mobile devices
  • Nine customizable convenience keys provide quick access to your favorite apps and commands

Cons:

  • Poor instructions mean you're on your own discovering much of the keyboard's functionality
  • Does not integrate well with some apps, meaning you'll still need to use your device keypad and navigation for certain features
  • Can only use the keyboard with two devices; only get two codes
  • A bit pricey at $100

Buy Now:
Purchase the Freedom Universal Bluetooth Keyboard from ShopCrackBerry.com

20 comments

Anonymous

Nice review for a keyboard I am thinking about getting. But my real question is on what application on your 8320 were you writing the review? It looked to well fromatted to be from the MemoPad application. It had some of the qualties of Word. Is there a Word application for Blackberrys?

Thanks

Al Sacco

I wrote the review in the body of an e-mail message--while saving drafts very frequently--and then sent it to my Web mail account so I could format it in Word.

However, applications that will enable you to create and edit Word documents, as well as Excel and PowerPoint files, via BlackBerry are expected to become available as early as next month from companies like DataViz and Quickoffice.

AS

Anonymous

Will it compatible with my PS3?

Anonymous

The setup routine can be very difficult to use and the support is even less useful than the instructions. After a fortnight's fruitless effort mine is going back via DSG's Chairman's office. Not only is it objectionable to be restricted to only two device - some of us are forced by job or circumstance to use many.

Also the unnecessarily complex unlock code system fails, and support apparently are weither unable or unwilling to help. Its a pity it seems like a nice piece of hardware but for me has proved an expensive ornament.

If enough customers avoid this thing maybe the company will see the light and write some conventional drivers without these unworkable complications.

Anonymous

The setup routine can be very difficult to use and the support is even less useful than the instructions. After a fortnight's fruitless effort mine is going back via DSG's Chairman's office. Not only is it objectionable to be restricted to only two device - some of us are forced by job or circumstance to use many.

Also the unnecessarily complex unlock code system fails, and support apparently are either unable or unwilling to help. Its a pity it seems like a nice piece of hardware but for me has proved an expensive ornament.

If enough customers avoid this thing maybe the company will see the light and write some conventional drivers without these unworkable complications.

Paul Bowles - Technical Manager Freedom Input

Not sure how I missed this review before....

I'm the technical manager for Freedom Input and just wanted to comment on a few points which might clear things up a bit for users.

With regards to the unique code/registration system. The Freedom Universal has just been relaunched and no longer has this system in place (so no registering the drivers before you can use them).

Anyone that has the older keyboard though is not just limited to two devices. Yes there are only two unique codes on the quick start guide but if you send us a ticket (http:\\freedom.helpserve.com) we can reset the codes you have used or generate you some extra ones.

With regards to selecting text. Press FN+Right cursor to bring up the menu (assuming you are in an email or other app that supports it) and you will have an option to select text.

With regards to checking tick boxes. You can press the Space bar on the keyboard or FN+right cursor arrow.

The FN+right Cursor and FN+left cursor emulate the Menu/select and back buttons on the BlackBerry so you should be able to navigate around pretty much everything without ever having to touch the BlackBerry. I must admit that there are issues with some of the BlackBerry internet browsers though (they just don't accept some inputs from the keyboard).

The relaunched version of the keyboard also has a much more detailed user manual which explains the things like changing the keystroke injection on the Blackberry when needed.

Rex Rana

Hi Paul. Appreciate your comments and response and hope that us "BB Storm" users can also get some help from you!

Unfortunately, there are several other posts from others having problems identical to mine. Thank you all (drummeric, etherealatrocitych, arculbert and others) for your posts!

I too could not find the "keystroke injection" tab and am also being driven crazy by the constant "Freedom Keyboard Failure to Connect" flashing. I will guess that the BB Storm users are running OS 4.7.0?

I also cannot seem to get the keyboard program to appear in any other orientation other than portrait and it comes up with the BB Storm keyboard blocking access to the configurations. This looks like a great product and I would love to get it working or will have to return it!

I have also tied to access the technical/support help site with no success.

firewalkr333

It seems like that if this keyboard is linking via bluetooth whats to prevent you from using anyother bluetooth keyboard

nliechty

Having used portable keyboards for several years on Palm devices I have become very aware of "foldable" keyboards that fold in your lap due to the hinge in the middle that allows them to collapse. Does this keyboard have a mechanism that makes it rigid when not on a flat surface, e.g. my lap? Is that what "You can lock the keyboard open by sliding a thin piece of plastic in place above the slot for the removable device tray" means?

Anonymous

Well i couldnt wait to get started using this thumb and eye sight saver. i'm still waiting! i think i'm close, all i need is to send me another "unique code" because i used both of them up trying to get this thing to work. i'm confident i'll get it, but come on guys.... whats the deal with the ridiculous set up and security codes you have for this thing? dont you want to sell a bunch of them? i spent hours on this so far, but i actualy my get it to work on my bb8310 soon!

drummeric

Has anyone had any success with using this keyboard paired with the BB Storm? I had one ordered from a different site (before I found CrackBerry), and they ended up refunding my payment because it's supposedly not compatible. A keyboard option like this would make my life so much easier, so please - if you've had success using it with your Storm, I'd love to hear all about it! ...and yes, I'll order it from CB this time. ;-)

etherealatrocitych

I have the Storm. I just received this keyboard today and it works great! I love it.

arculbert

Hi! I wish I had the magic touch you have. I bought the keyboard but how to you get around the problem of NO "Keystroke Injection"?? I'd be grateful to know your solution.

Thanks in anticipation
Arculbert

brianblackberryfun

I got the keyboard 2 days ago. Man, was I frustrated getting to connect. There's nothing that says Keystroke Injection, and so eventually I hoped I pressed the right buttons to make it work. Well, I got it working, however, these are my 2 problems: 1. Every time I press a key, there is such a delay on my phone screen showing the typed character. My typing is faster than the print of it. IS THIS NORMAL? Maybe I need to adjust the phone somehow. No one has been complaining of this. I won't keep this if it responds with this kind of delay. Maybe it is my device the way I set up my options when getting the phone initially a few weeks ago. 2. When I turn the keyboard off, I keep getting the message "Bluetooth Freedom Keyboard Failed to Connect". I want that message to go away. Every time I press the message, it comes back and then again and again. The only way I can get rid of it is to delete Freedom from my bluetooth items and then pair again the next time I want to fiddle around with this. I NEED HELP! Can someone help me! Info: I have the latest drivers and latest Storm Updates. Thanks to anyone who can rescue me from this!

Rex Rana

Glad and sad to see others having problems identical to mine. Thank you all (drummeric, etherealatrocitych, arculbert and others) for your posts!
t
I too could not find the "keysroke injection" tab and am also being driven crazy by the constant "Freedom Keyboard Failure to Connect" flashing. I see that a technical manager from Freedom input was kind enough to reply to an ealier message and hope that he will do so again for the BB Storm users of this product. I also cannot seem to get the keyboard program to appear in any other orientation other than portrait and it comes up with the BB Storm keyboard blocking access to the configurations. This looks like a great product and I would love to get it working or return it!

jaxiosberry

Thank you for the review. I've been using a high quality wireless folding 'full' keyboard with my PalmTX for years. It's well made with good fit and finish but some silly problems with Fn keys and missing basic functionality as described by others here. Problems noted here are strikingly similar.

I've been considering getting a keyboard for my 9530 and 8830 hence enjoyed the text of the review however, the numercial rating assigned for the 3 categories: Design & Function, Ease of Use, Performance was 4 out of 5 for each. This is synonymous with 'first class' or 80%.

This numerical rating for these 3 categories seems to me to be grossly inconsistent with the honest attempt of the writer (Mr. Sacco) to report findings in the text of the article.

Granted, we each have our own opinion, but based upon my reading of the text above it is inconceivable that any of these 3 categories could have been rated first class.

Here is how I would have rated them based on the text in the article:
Design & Function: 3 out of 5 = PASS-marginally (missing functionality precludes a grade of 'first class')
Ease of Use: 2 out of 5 = FAIL-substantially (installation nightmares are part of Ease of Use, shift key size & wrong location, insufficient user manual)
Performance: 2 out of 5 = FAIL-substantially (browser insufficiency is a serious issue for 'keyboardistas' like me who shun use of mouse, sytlus, and touch pad whenever possible in favour of keyboard use and shortcuts; only 2 device reggie codes for $100?! Who do these people think they are? Almost gave them a 1 out of 5 for this but that would be as mean as the device manufacturer seems foolish).

Bottom line is that IMHO this device [like my Palm keyboards] are a nice attempt but there is no way they should be misconstrued as First Class Devices. To do so is to mislead people into purchases about which they will most likely be ultimately disappointed.
4.4 out of 5? Hell no. Too many problems. Go back to the drawing board and re-do.
For now, caveat emptor (buyer beware).
Best regards.

elfaure

Setup was pretty smooth after manually pairing the bluetooth and entering the 0000 numberic keycode I was off and running. My berry did not find the keybd automatically nor did it appear in the bluetooth list until I paired it manually letting the berry find the keybd. Permissions for keystroke injection were preconfigured by the driver install off the provided CD. Took about 10 mins to get working.

Pretty satisfied less the cursor scroll speed is very slow. Changing the key repeat rate or dwell interval didn't affect it much. Hot keys and shortcuts work great. About 1/4-1/2s latency is to be expected.

AdTechMan

I purchased this keyboard a couple of months ago and I have not been able to get it to work. I too, have had no luck getting the keystroke injection to function (even with the Number Lock enabled on the Blackberry).

I have reloaded the driver and re-connected the phone numerous times and nothing works.

This would be a great product if it only worked!
Does anyone know a work-around?

pcgamer

I called freedom input three weeks ago and I told them I needed the unlock code to unlock the keyboard drivers on my blackberry 8320. which I have no idea why the drivers are lock in the first place. So now I have a 100 dollar keyboard that is no use to me. I called them again last week asking them why they never emailed me the unlock code they said they were sorry that they never forwarded me email I sent them to there one tech guy who can get the unlock code. I mean I have been trying to get an unlock code from freedom input for 4 weeks now and I mean it's like they don't know the meaning of QA I mean really..... my question is why have the drivers locked is the first place. I WOULD NOT RECEMEND BUYING A FREEDOM INPUT DEVICE!!!!!! I NEVER WILL AGAIN.

MugsyNJ

This was a fabulous product. Emphasis on WAS! Something happened with the former company, Freedom Input Ltd as all of their weblinks are now dead. This is a problem because Blackberry bluetooth devices operate on SPP mode which require you download an OTA driver. The OTA driver site is now abandoned rendering the keyboard useless. I have tried contacting the company which now operates out of Hong Kong to no avail. If you check their website you will see this keyboard is not even listed for purchase. Unless you have a device that utilizes a Bluetooth with HID mode don't go anywhere near this keyboard, unless you want an $80 door stop.