Palm Portable Keyboard Goes Wireless

Palm portable keyboard gone Bluettoh

Long ago when digital portables where in their infancy, people were already loath to type on tiny keyboards, stylus or not. So Palm made a sweet little portable keyboard that would fold up and fit in your cargo pocket. And what do we have now for luxury typing on the go? Rubber roll-up jelly keebs? That’s a hard no from this scribe.

But why mess with the success of the the Palm Portable Keyboard? It just needs to be updated for our times, and that’s exactly what [Xinming Chen] did with their PPK Bluetooth adapter.

Inspired by the work of [cy384] to make a USB adapter as well as [Christian]’s efforts with the ESP32, [Xinming Chen] points out that this version is more power efficient, easier to program, and has a built-in Li-Po charging circuit. It also uses the hardware serial port instead of the software serial, which saves brainpower.

There’s really not much to this build, which relies on the Adafruit Feather nRF52840 and will readily work with Palm III and Palm V keyboards. Since the PPK is RS-232 and needs to be TTL, this circuit also needs a voltage level inverter which can be made with a small handful of components. We love that there’s a tiny hidden switch that engages the battery when the adapter clicks on to the connector.

The schematic, code, and STL files are all there in the repository, so go pick up one of these foldy keebs for cheap on the electronic bay while they’re still around. Watch the demo video unfold after the break.

Want an all-in-one solution for typing on the go? Check out the history of tiny computers.

19 thoughts on “Palm Portable Keyboard Goes Wireless

  1. Hey, I have this keyboard and a palm tungsten. I believe the keyboard uses IR. I still need to turn it on and see how it works, but I think I’ll mod in a processor so I can use it as a PDA.

    1. I think that’s a later module. I’m pretty sure it used some sort of IrDA based standard as I think even Widows CE devices worked with it without drivers. It had Windows markings on the keys.

      1. That was likely the one from Targus. They made several variants of them, some were designed for Palm, others for Windows CE devices (e.g. iPAQ). It is called Targus Stowaway keyboard. I think the one in the article is just the Palm-branded Targus one. I believe Palm was rebadging it for their devices.

        The Palm/Handspring version used indeed IrDA (Palm didn’t have any other interface, Bluetooth came only much later or as an add-on card, plus it was really power hungry). The keyboard used a clever arrangement with a slide-out holder for the PDA where the top of the support acted as a mirror to reflect the IR into the IR receiver – which was at the top of the Handspring Visors (I think Palms had it on the side).

        I had one of these myself. That thing was great to type on (almost full-size keyboard with proper keys and travel!) and an instant head-turner whenever it came on the table.

        I remember taking notes in a several hours long project meeting back in 2001 or so with it, using one set of AA batteries in my Handspring Visor for the day while others were scrambling around for power outlets with their laptops just to take notes. And the entire setup folded neatly away and fit into two pant pockets. A few people were green with envy :)

        1. I have a Handspring Visor Platinum and a folding Targus keyboard for it which plugs into the connector at the bottom of the Visor. Never got it to work, might not have been able to find the right software for it.

          1. I have the same one; yes, it’s talking to the Visor via the cradle connectors. Mine worked fine on my Platinum and Pro; I don’t remember if there was an installable .prc as a driver, but there probably was.

            (I seem to remember the Visor having some native USB capability alongside the serial; and that the cheaper and simpler USB docks when compared to Palm’s was a big selling point, but it’s been, what, decades?)

            I’d sort of had a project like this one in the back of my mind for years; I imagine that the difference between the Palm and Handspring versions of the keyboards isn’t insurmountable, so this is a great headstart on that.

          2. I have the same one. Just got it out recently and wondered how something like this project could be accomplished, as I (and most of the world) hated Apple’s POS “butterfly” keyboard.

            This folding keyboard is probably of better quality than most laptop keyboards today.

          1. I had a Visor and used one of these keyboards with it through the dock connector. Looking at the technical doc about the keyboard, I discovered that the Visor version uses TTL voltage levels instead of RS-232… saving me some hassle in converting the keyboard. Win!

  2. Amazing! Love it, put in a bid on one. (I feel like I owned one before I moved, but can’t remember if it was the IR model)

    Re: no charging because of micro switch disconnecting battery. All that is needed is a connector cap/cover that depresses the switch for charging.

  3. I started a project like this years ago. But shelved it after realizing the Adafruit implementation of Arduino for their old BlueBerry Feather board was buggy (could not control the GPIO pins dependably).

    Humm, don’t see how to upload a picture of that project to this post. Anyways, that project used an injection plastic connector called a Bridge and laser cut acrylic to hold things together. I like the FDM design and the clever way the connector is made in this HAD posting.

    1. YES! I have been wishing for such a means to use this wonderful kybd on other devices for many years. But wishing was never having! I was never a techie, but I am gonna build it and Use It!

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