Yesterday I tried the Android Bluetooth keyboard driver “BlueKeyboard JP” (Market link) again, and got it to work with my Palm Bluetooth Keyboard. The catch is/was that it will only connect to the keyboard if it's discoverable, not if the keyboard is just trying to connect. Once connected, though, it works fine for all ASCII input, though the Shift key acts sticky if not pressed in combination with another key.

Special functions: The arrow keys and Enter act like the phone trackball, throughout the phone (not just in text fields) (update: but not in the menu-button menu!). The keyboard's marked [Fn][`] = [Esc] works as Back and the [Cmd] key works as Menu; I haven't found any other hard-button shortcuts (home/search/camera/volume etc). (The driver's web page is all in Japanese, and I haven't found an English manual, though the settings screen on the phone has English.)

Update 2010-08-27:

Unsurprisingly from the name, this driver is also a Japanese input method; after several times accidentally shifting into Japanese mode I have determined that the toggle for this is [Shift][Space].

[Fn]<number> combinations (which are probably this keyboard's emulation of hard F-keys) have the following functions. No other [Fn] combination that I tried, including other numbers, produced noticeable results, but I may not have been in the right context to see an effect.

[Fn][7] Music: Previous track
[Fn][8] Music: Play/pause
[Fn][9] Music: Next track
[Fn][_-] Volume down
[Fn][=+] Volume up

Things that don't work: The Caps Lock key (but the Shift key acts as does the Android soft keyboard's shift (pressing twice locks)). The forward delete (Del) key. Unsurprisingly, the keyboard's onscreen battery level indicator shortcut — it types garbage — but the keyboard does have a hardware low-battery light.

(End update)

When in use, there is an AdMob ad bar at the bottom of the screen (where a soft keyboard would be). There is a paid version on the Market, but one reviewer said that it just displays the company's own ads instead — which seems odd.

I'm tempted to look into writing a keyboard driver myself, for the sake of having proper reconnection behavior and non-ASCII characters, but for now this seems good enough and there are other things to worry about (e.g. notepad software; Fliq Notes syncs with my existing desktop notes but lacks some features compared to the PalmOS app).

  • A remarkable feature: “Settings → About phone → Battery use” claims to give a breakdown of energy use over the last period the phone was unplugged. It distinguishes between “Display”, “Cell standby”, “Android System”, and applications. Don't know how accurate it is.

  • Bluetooth keyboard driver experiences:

    • “BlueInput” by Teksoft does not work correctly for my Palm Bluetooth Keyboard; as others have reported, some punctuation keys do not work at all (and Shift-2 generates ", making me think that it was written for a different keyboard layout and not tested with US QWERTY).
    • “BlueKeyboard JP” failed to connect to my keyboard — or rather, it immediately says “disconnected”. Also, the install permissions info says it reads GPS location, which makes no sense unless this is one of those ad-supported things, but it doesn't say that and I don’t remember whether it did show ads. Update: It works, but the keyboard must be discoverable. And it is ad-supported.

    So I still don't have a keyboard driver. Perhaps I should look into writing one.

  • I need to learn about how file/application associations work so I can figure out who is at fault (file browser or viewer app) in my failing to open PDF and epub documents stashed on the SD card.

  • USB connection is done right: plugging into a computer does not interrupt usage at all, and if you want to mount the SD card then that's an easily-reached option; neither mandatory nor buried. (Well, it didn't; since system updates it now pops up the do-you-want-to-mount screen immediately, which you have to exit to continue with your previous activity.)

  • The force-Google-Account-to-Gmail thing became considerably less annoying once it occurred to me to find out that it let me change the From address of mail sent from the Gmail account. So my external identity is still kpreid@switchb.org, except in Google apps.

  • Nice bit of polish: “A system update has been downloaded, but your battery is too low to install it. Connect to charger first.” (phrasing from memory.)

I'm considering writing up a document like the Gadget Coverage List but with an emphasis on features × how to get them on Android rather than features × gadgets — so it would be a recommended apps list, among other things.

Nexus One notes

Monday, June 14th, 2010 22:22

Did buy a Nexus One; have now had it for an hour or so. The following is not a review, but some observations:

  • It will work without a SIM card from the start. So if you want a gratuitously expensive wifi PDA...
  • The Google Account-based functionality (e.g. application Market, contacts sync) requires a Gmail account — and any Google Account with Gmail necessarily has the Gmail address as its primary email address. (Since Gmail lets you forward to another address, this doesn't matter unless you use Google services that send mail on your behalf, such as calendar invites.) I haven't tested whether they will still work if you then remove Gmail (but I would note that if it's possible at all, having a Wave account might help, since that seems to allocate a no-@-sign 'username' in the same way Gmail does).
  • Not perfect, but mighty slick. Need to stop playing around and get some sleep.

You may recall my post about looking for a new PDA. I have lately found additional pressure to find a solution.

  • Moving about on my own in new locations, I wish for a GPS/navigation device. I am currently borrowing a standalone GPS, but that's Yet Another Gadget
  • …to add to the four I already carry about (phone, PDA, watch, iPod).
  • My phone is on a prepaid plan which was chosen to be cheap for low usage rates. But it quickly becomes not-cheap under higher usage than a couple minutes a day — which I have when trying to do such things as coordinate three people on an errand.

I've compiled some of the options and what features they have into this Google Docs spreadsheet: Gadget Coverage List. Note that “-” means “No”.

At the moment, I am strongly considering getting an Android phone, specifically the Nexus One. I have recently determined that Android meets all my requirements, at least given some third-party software.

Buying a phone (and a plan) is indeed a higher cost than a stand-alone PDA, but I think universal Internet access is worth it.

Costs and carriers

The phone, unsubsidized and unlocked, is $529.

Given that it is GSM, I understand there are basically two carriers to consider: T-Mobile and AT&T. I get the impression that T-Mobile is somewhat less evil than AT&T, and I hear complaints about AT&T's network. On the other hand, T-Mobile does not have coverage (even roaming) in Potsdam, NY, where I'm going to be spending the next two years.

T-Mobile offers a monthly plan for $60/mo, 500 minutes/mo plus fees and (as far as I've looked now) a $35 activation fee. (The option to buy a plan without a phone was buried: you have to choose "T-Mobile SIM card" from the phone list.) I get the impression that the obscure monthly 'taxes and fees' can be around $3-$20 depending on the particular situation. Total cost over 2 years (not including phone): $1475+fees.

AT&T is, er, changing tomorrow. But now it would apparently be $70/mo, 450 minutes/mo, for a two-year contract with a free locked phone (which could be tossed or resold). Plus taxes and fees. After the change in data plan pricing, it would be (assuming no other changes) $65 for 2GB or $55 for 200MB data. Total cost over 2 years (2GB option): $1560+fees, and the phone works in Potsdam.

In both of these cases I assume the cheapest voice plan option.

One option would be to go with T-Mobile for the 2.5 months before I arrive in Potsdam; this would minimize my initial obligation to $709, and assuming I found I liked having a smartphone around sufficiently, I could then switch to AT&T for service during my 2-year stay in Potsdam.

Comments?

My Palm TX is noticeably wearing out (power button dead and worked around, cover hinge fraying, direction pad starting to go) and doesn't have a decent modern web browser. I might have gotten a Palm Pre by now if it weren't for the lack of full-size external (Bluetooth) keyboard support (notetaking is one of the major use cases) — though I hear there might be an SDK coming out which would let third parties build one. (Lesser issues are the cost of a phone contract (though Internet-anywhere makes that have a good bit of value) and the battery life.) I get the impression that I should be looking at the Nokia N900 or one of its relatives, but I haven't gotten around to investigating that.

My additional requirements for a New PDA are that it sync calendars/todos with iCal, sync the abovementioned notes to my Mac (I don't care what software), fit in my shirt pocket, and have mostly-not-locked-down-and-expensive software development/installation (so that customized/open-source/the-obscure-niche-I-happen-to-need software can happen).

(Apple mobile products fail on the openness criterion and either Bluetooth keyboard (iPhone/iPod touch) or fitting in the shirt pocket (iPad).)