Field Test: iPod Touch + Bluetooth Keyboard

With the release of iOS 4, Apple’s iPod touch has at last become a true pocket computer. So much so, that I have taken to calling mine an “iPad nano.” When the iPad came out, I seriously considered getting one but ultimately decided against it for two reasons:

  • I like the iPod touch’s “pocketability;” by slipping it into my pocket, that’s one less piece of gear I have to hold in my hand or sling over my shoulder (I am a fanatic about traveling light).
  • I guessed — correctly, as it turned out — that Apple would quickly begin importing iPad functionality — particularly Bluetooth keyboard support — back to the iPod touch.

Once Bluetooth keyboard support had been officially confirmed for iOS 4, I went out and bought an Apple Wireless Keyboard, the little brother of Apple’s USB-tethered model which I have been using for a couple of years with satisfaction.

I also needed a new iPod touch, because my first-generation device could not be upgraded to iOS 4. Still, the two devices were cheaper than a new laptop.

My goal was to be able to use the combination in the field in place of a laptop, on business trips as well as vacation. After a series of ever more complex tests of the various hard- and software components, last week I took the devices with me to a meeting at which my job was to take detailed notes to prepare a summary.

As a backup, I also recorded the meeting with my trusty Olympus WS-400S pocket digital recorder; in tests I found that using the iPod touch to both record and type drained the battery faster than the anticipated three-hour length of the meeting.

So how did the iPod touch plus Bluetooth keyboard fare?

In short, beautifully despite some minor hiccups.

Because the current version of Documents to Go sadly lacks both full keyboard support (namely arrow, function, and command keys) and TextExpander support, I intended to use Simplenote — which has both — to compose and then copy the notes into a DTG document for transfer to my main computer back at the office.

I did not want to store confidential client work product on a third-party server via Simplenote’s web sync option. That’s something freelancers need to consider when using apps in the field.

Simplenote worked well in tests, but real life being what it is, about 20 minutes in it crashed and deleted my notes. That didn’t worry me because I knew that I would be able to reconstruct them later using the recording.

I switched immediately to DTG and despite the lack of functionality described above, it proved to be perfectly serviceable in a pinch. When I returned to the office, I was able to transfer the document to my laptop without a hitch.

When (and I assume it won’t be “if”) DTG incorporates full Bluetooth keyboard functionality and TextExpander support like many of its rivals already do, it will resume its position as one of the dominant word processing apps available for the iPod touch — excuse me, the iPad nano — and the iPhone.

I should not overlook a third essential piece of hardware: the Elago M1 portable stand, which has quickly become part of my keychain everyday carry. With a little judicious sanding to create a more stable point of contact with the back of the iPod touch (perhaps the subject of a future Tuesday Hack post), it has become an essential piece of support gear along with the dirt-cheap Mini Microphone.

In sum, my iPod touch and Bluetooth keyboard have become my new portable computer. It was worth the wait.

Author: Paul Lagasse

Paul Lagasse provides expert-to-expert communications services to nonprofit, business, and government clients in the metro Baltimore-DC area. Specialties include science and medical writing, technical report editing, and content marketing.

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