Tactical Advice

Spill at Will

Flexible compact keyboard works for road warriors who need a lightweight option in an unclean world.
This story appears in the March 2008 issue of BizTech Magazine.

If you’ve never seen a flexible keyboard before, it’s a wild trip worth the $33 price of admission. The AKB-220 is just half an inch thick (including the height of the keys) but as wide and long as a standard, albeit compact, keyboard. Made of translucent gray silicone — think a thin Rubbermaid kitchen-sink mat — the keyboard is also water-, coffee- and dust-proof.

End-User Advantages

For the road-warrior type, the AKB-220 weighs in at half a pound and folds into numerous shapes, down to 5 inches thick by 2 inches wide. This review was written with the keyboard attached to my notebook via USB cable (a PS/2 adapter also ships with the keyboard). When attached, the device driver installs automatically without additional software. It’s not unpleasant to use, either, though it does takes some getting used to — the keys bounce a little less and the soft silicone feels foreign to my fingertips.

Adesso offers free tech support through a toll-free number and a one-year manufacturer’s warranty. The team promptly and pleasantly answered my call after only a short time on hold.

Why the Adesso AKB-220 Works for IT

Where the flexible keyboard really shines is under adverse conditions for computing, such as a factory floor. Plastic covers placed over standard keyboards protect them from hazardous chemicals and dust but quickly become brittle and damaged. The Adesso AKB-220 is like a rubber mat, so that shouldn’t happen. It’s also fully washable; you simply clean it with soap and water when it becomes dirty. In medical environments, not only is there no place for germs to hide under the keys, but also the entire device can be routinely disinfected as well.

As I mentioned, the keyboard is pretty hard to damage. I’m considering getting one for that user (and we all have one) who habitually spills Orange Crush all over his keyboard every few months. Users can twist it, fold it, roll it — even try to tear it — without damaging it.

Disadvantages

Although the Adesso AKB-220 flexible keyboard could reign supreme under certain conditions, don’t rush out and replace every keyboard in your company just yet.

I found it difficult to consistently press the keys hard enough to not miss letters as I typed (though this may have more to do with getting used to the keyboard than with the performance of the device itself).

The Num Lock and Caps Lock indicator lights are red LEDs — bright enough to be a distraction — under a silicone cap in the upper right corner. The serene, dim green light that is used on most conventional keyboards would be better.

The only circuit board in the AKB-220 keyboard is also in the upper right corner, a 1-inch-by-2-inch rectangular protrusion where the USB cord connects. This is a small aberration in an otherwise completely flexible device, but when folding or twisting the keyboard, be careful not to damage the circuit board.

In a perfect world, this keyboard would also be offered in a wireless model. True, this would probably mean less flexibility (the batteries need to go somewhere), but it would be nice to have the option.

CDW Price: $33

IT Takeaway

At a very competitive price point, the AKB-220 flexible compact keyboard works for road warriors where dust, liquids or germs are an issue:

• Weighs about 8 ounces, so it could be useful for traveling employees;
• Folds down to a compact 5 inches thick by 2 inches wide;
• Provides a dust- and germ-free surface that’s fully washable and spill-proof.

 

Dr. Jeffrey Sheen is the lead enterprise analyst for Grange Insurance of Columbus, Ohio.

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