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EFO ‘smallest and lightest’ iPazzPort review

EFO iPazzPortWe’ve reviewed many EFO iPazzPort controllers over the last year. Up to now they’ve followed a similar form factor but EFO decided to go even smaller with the latest model, which is a credit card sized keyboard and trackpad combo.  I’d love to be able to describe this model by a specific name but EFO simply differentiate it from the other iPazzPorts by calling it the ‘smallest and lightest’ model.

For the uninitiated, EFO’s iPazzPort range aims to provide an ultraportable wireless controller for a variety of uses from HTPC use to acting as a games console thumb board to serving as a business presentation aid.  This iPazzPort is Windows, Mac and Linux compatible.

First impressions of the credit card sized iPazzPort

This latest iPazzPort is notably smaller than the versions we’ve reviewed up to now. The front facing dimensions are similar to a credit card, and it’s about as thick as three stacked on top of EFO iPazzPort keyboardeach other.  While we haven’t felt that the previous form factor was too big, we can understand that the smaller size makes sense for certain use cases. For example for a business presentation this model fits in a shirt pocket more conveniently than the larger size. To get an idea of the size, this model is slightly smaller than a regular size BlackBerry.

This model is also extremely light. There’s not much inside the iPazzPort except for a battery and a circuit board but the smaller size makes this model feel featherweight compared to the regular, already lightweight version. This model also feels more solid. The main body is still made from plastic but this stuff feels higher grade than the other iPazzPorts. The keys have a rubber finish which makes them ready to press, with a similar texture to the model we recently reviewed.

The trackpad on this model is far smaller than on the regular iPazzPort, due to the smaller size of the whole device. It still offers tap to click thought, although no multi-touch which has been on our wish list of features to be added to the iPazzPort for some time.

EFO iPazzPort trackpadThis iPazzPort also has dedicated page up and down buttons, also similar to the version we looked at recently there’s a red last pointer built into this model. The keyboard is backlit in a cool orange glow for use in dark environments.  Around the sides there’s a power button, although the iPazzPort will go to sleep to save battery life. At the base of the iPazzPort is a standard USB charging port.

Using three credit card sized iPazzPort

The keyboards across the iPazzPort range have come a long way since we reviewed the first model a year ago. This model carries on these improvements offering good tactile and usable key spacing for those of you used to typing on a portrait smartphone. The QWERTY key positioning is slightly off in places, since the keys are aligned vertically rather than being staggered but it’s fairly easy to adapt to the layout.  The keyboard backlighting works very well.

The laser pointer works just as well as on the larger version; my only thought with the placement of the activation button is that it’s on the right side of the iPazzPort. This might be more convenient for right handed than left handed users if the user wants to switch between using the laser pointer and trackpad/buttons.

EFO iPazzPort power and laser buttonsEFO recently switched back to RF transmission for the iPazzPorts from a brief foray into Bluetooth, which has been a good move.  Windows 7 detected the device almost instantly and there was no need for pairing.  Another benefit of moving away from Bluetooth is that the battery of this model lasts for a good few hours, which should be plenty given that users are unlikely to use the iPazzPort as a primary keyboard for a whole day at a time.

The trackpad is responsive, however its small size makes it a little harder to get used to than the larger iPazzPort which has a standard laptop size trackpad.  It gets the job done though.  One aspect of using the trackpad that I found very difficult to get the hang of was the button placement to the right of the trackpad.  It felt very unnatural to fish out the secondary mouse button; the trackpad button placement of the larger iPazzPort feels far more logical, but of course that model has enough real estate to allow for easier button placement.  I’d also love this device to have a multi-touch trackpad; a saving grace is that EFO is adding multi-touch capability to the next version of the regular size iPazzPort, so if multi-touch is a must-have for you then stay tuned for our review of that one when it comes out.

Should you get out the credit card for the credit card sized iPazzPort?

What’s amazing about this iPazzPort is that it crams the most essential keys and functions of a trackpad and keyboard into a tiny package that looks pretty decent.  For the $50 being asked, the iPazzPort works as promised with no major flaws and would be a great complement to HTPCs and business presentation users.  I’d just wish EFO would start coming up with some different names, which would help me to describe the different models more easily!

The photos in this post were taken with a Samsung Epic 4G.

Here is the EFO iPazzPort product page.

Neil Berman

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Oct 30, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Reviews | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Logitech Revue: Is $299 realistic?

logitech-revue-google-tvGotta say, I’m more than a little skeptical about the chances of the Logitech Revue wth Google TV package, which was announced today at a niche-looking price of $299.  That price places it squarely in baby-HTPC territory and miles away from the Roku or Apple TV ballpark.  Granted it offers more than the Roku or Apple units (although less than an HTPC).  But will consumers really be willing to shell out close to $300 for something that might not be perceived to offer that much more – especially since Roku is getting Hulu Plus on its $59 impulsebox.  While the world might be ready for that kind of give-it-a-try expenditure, Logitech might have a harder time convincing the mass market to part with a lumpier sum.

Neil Berman

Oct 6, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EFO iPazzPort review (3rd generation)

The EFO iPassPort is now in its third iteration and it’s been great to see how this HTPC keyboard/trackpad combo controller has developed over the past year.  In my review of the version 2 iPazzPort, I had some lingering questions about the typing experience and said that “…I’d actually love EFO to take something like one of the larger BlackBerrys…and place the left and right buttons where the call buttons normally live.” Well that’s exactly what EFO appears to have done, fitting the new iPazzPort with a keyboard that looks very similar to that of a BlackBerry 8800 series smartphone.  So let’s see if third time’s a charm for the iPazzPort.

At first glance the 3rd gen iPazzPort looks similar to previous iterations, but this version has some significant enhancements.

The keyboard design and layout has been completely reworked. Keys are now closer together and with better ergonomics. Whereas the previous gen iPazzPorts had keypads arranged with flat horizontal key rows, the new model is far easier to type on if you’re used to typing on a BlackBerry-style smartphone.

The keys themselves offer slightly better feedback than previous versions of the iPazzPort, although the experience is still far from a BlackBerry for example. I was able however to type far more fluently with this iPazzPort compared to previous ones. The backlight is still present which means typing in a dark home theater living room is no problem.

The key layout is also a big step up from the previous model, with media keys now included as well as all the useful secondary keys such as Ctrl, Tab and Fn 1-12. There are also dedicated page up & down buttons that make webpage navigation much easier. Most of the important keys now feel like they’re in the right place, although I’d love to see standalone up & down keys or support for two finger scrolling, which leads me to…

The trackpad – no changes here unfortunately. There’s nothing specifically wrong with the trackpad; it works perfectly well, is a good size and support tap to click as previously. However in a world of multitouch trackpads it would be great if the iPazzPort offered two finger scrolling for effortless webpage navigation. There might be a hacky way to enable this, I’ll let you know if I discover anything.

The third gen iPazzPort now has a red laser pointer built-in, which makes it ideal as a presentation device. The pointer light is bright and is easily viewable in well-lit rooms. It also doubles as the most amusing toy my cat had ever seen, he chased the thing around the apartment non-stop for an afternoon.

The build quality of the iPazzPort seems largely unchanged. It feels light and well put together but lacks the premium feel of something like the Logitech diNovo Mini. It also costs a fraction of the price, so that needs to be taken into account.

The iPazzPort retains the mini-USB charging port and internal lithium-ion rechargeable battery of its predecessor. It comes with a USB charging cable. The iPazzPort goes to sleep after a few seconds if not used to save battery, and consequently the device gives plenty of use between charges. Whereas the 2nd gen iPazzPort used Bluetooth, the 3rd gen model goes back to RF transmission. This might also contribute to the good battery life of the device.

Overall the 3rd generation iPazzPort represents a bigger leap than the changes between the 1st and 2nd gen models. The redesigned keyboard, inclusion or media keys and laser pointer now make the iPazzPort even more compelling as a great HTPC or presentation controller. Now if EFO can get two finger scrolling going in the next version and reverse engineer the key feel of a BlackBerry Bold, this will become a truly great product.

The EFO iPazzPort 3rd generation costs $45 and is available here.

Neil Berman

Aug 19, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Reviews | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Brando HTPC Wireless Keyboards Review

Brando 800M-BRF 2392RF

Brando wireless keyboards 800M-BRF (top) and 2392M-BRF (bottom)

Brando makes a lot of keyboards, mice and all manner of computer accessories. Within that arsenal of gadgets are a selection of wireless keyboards, some of which also have a trackball or trackpad. This makes them good candidates for the Home Theater PC (HTPC) market or other use-cases where portability is important, as with the EFO iPazzPort which we recently reviewed. So here we have are a couple of Brando’s wireless controllers under review, let’s see if they’re any good …continue reading

Apr 25, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What might the Apple Mac Mini HDMI rumors mean for the HTPC market?

There was an interesting rumor surfing the interwebs last week that Apple might add HDMI to the Mac Mini.  Apple, which has so far spurned HDMI in its computers in favor of the newer Display Port and Mini Display Port connectors, has not had an HTPC contender in its line-up apart from the non-live-TV-capable Apple TV.  So what?  Well if the Mac Mini HDMI rumors are true, I think this could mean more for Apple and the living room HTPC market than may initially be apparent, and the reason comes back to the iPad …continue reading

Mar 6, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building a Windows Media Center HTPC

In January 2009 I started running the Windows 7 Beta followed later in the year by the Release Candidate on my trusty old Pentium 4 living room PC.  In October to coincide with the Windows 7 launch I brought that computer into the modern age but decided to wait a few months to collect my thoughts before sharing the experience. Continue reading about building a Windows Media Center HTPC…

Feb 13, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Guides, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES: Ceton Quad Tuner discussion with Microsoft

The new Ceton quad HD CableCARD tuner for your HTPC is here, and to prove how real it really is I spent time with Microsoft talking about it today.  As a reminder this PCI Express beast offers four CableCARD HD tuners for simultaneous quad channel recording in an HTPC using Windows 7 Media Center.   All the gory details are in the video below, and yes, this thing really is as great as it sounds.  HTPC enthusiasts rejoice!  So check out the video and then order the largest, fastest hard drive you can find.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 7, 2010 Posted by | CES, Computing, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, Video Features | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

EFO iPassport review

iPassport backlitOh aren’t living room computers just the best idea!  There’s nothing like having a huge keyboard on the coffee table hugging that hardcover copy of ‘Finest landscape photography’, and how about that wireless mouse which can double up as a paperweight for the New York Times when the windows are open.

Hmmm…someone needs to make a cute, tiny and usable media center keyboard and mouse which can be hidden away real quick when necessary.

To be fair there’s already one solid player in this market, the Logitech diNovo Mini, which at $150 is quite pricey.

Fortunately there’s now a more affordable contender in the form of the EFO iPassport.  Available for around $40 plus shipping, this mashup of a smartphone-style thumboard and notebook trackpad aims to take two familiar input methods and turn them into a tiny wireless solution for controlling a computer…and it works.

Unboxing the EFO iPassport

iPassport front view

The EFO iPassport ships in retail friendly clear plastic (which can easily be opened without needing a saw, yay!), and includes a USB dongle and separate USB charging cable.  The main unit sits comfortably in the hand and is exceptionally light.  Some may find it lacks a quality feel, although the plastic body seems fairly sturdy.  The keys are rubber with similar travel to a typical smartphone.  The keypad also has a backlight, which is a nice touch and essential for theatre-style viewing.

The trackpad buttons have a similar feel to the keypad buttons with minimal travel, but the trackpad itself defaulted to tap-to-click upon install which improves the experience in my opinion.  The one feature lacking from the trackpad is a scrolling area, so you’ll need to call upon the arrow buttons on the keypad.  There’s no multitouch support either, so no MacBook-style two finger scrolling which is a feature every trackpad should have.

Installing and using the EFO iPassport

I installed the iPassport into my ancient living room Pentium 4 which is running Windows 7 RC, and the OS had installed a device driver in the five seconds it took me to get back to the sofa, seriously!  Everything worked just great and my previous (very nice) wireless keyboard with its built-in trackball started the process of gathering dust.  The included documentation notes that recent Windows releases and Linux are supported but according to the reseller’s website the iPassport also supports Mac, Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii.

Now this device might not be the best choice for everyone.  If you struggle with the keys on smartphones then you may also find this thumboard tricky to handle.  Equally if you type a lot then you will probably get more words per minute with a larger keyboard on your lap.  Personally I find myself using my living room media center for watching media and surfing the net, neither of which requires a huge amount of typing.

iPassport side viewSome compromises have also been made regarding the selection of keys on the device, probably due to the size of the unit.  For example there are neither F1-F12 keys nor a Tab key, which I missed when navigating web forms.  Other keys are curiously placed, such as the Enter key which is near the middle of the keypad instead of being on the right.  The arrow buttons straddle the Space bar instead of being clustered on the right and the numeric keypad is in two rows on the left instead of being grouped in threes.  I would have preferred to see a layout closer to a typical BlackBerry thumboard, or one inch of extra width added to the iPassport to accommodate more keys.  Text selection can also be a bit finicky as the arrow keys sometimes behave erratically.

The other caveat is around the design of the iPassport.  This device is likely to live on a coffee table and get plenty of curious attention from visitors.  Put simply the Logitech diNovo Mini kills it in the looks department, so if you’re a design conscious person then the iPassport might not meet your expectations.  It does come in white or black, but it goes about its business in a more functional than designer way.

Is the EFO iPassport worth a try?

Overall I’ve been impressed with the iPassport.  Aside from a quirky key layout, for the money it’s a fun and unique controller.  The backlight and multi-platform support are the icing on the cake.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Oct 12, 2009 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Now we can all install a CableCARD tuner into Windows 7 Media Center, not just OEMs

WMCIt’s widely accepted that Windows Media Center is da bomb when it comes to home media convergence if you want your HTPC setup to include live TV.  But until now, those wanting to view encrypted cable channels have needed to buy a pre-configured HTPC from an OEM with a CableCARD tuner already built-in.

That all changed a few minutes ago when Microsoft announced at CEDIA that “Integrators and enthusiasts can now add Digital Cable Tuners with CableCARD to their PC”.  For now you’re going to need Windows 7 in your HTPC for this, unless Microsoft publishes an update for previous versions.

We didn’t see that one coming Microsoft, but you just made the Media Center HTPC faithful waaaaay happy.

CES 2010 update: Check out our video discussion with Microsoft about the Ceton CableCARD quad tuner.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Sep 9, 2009 Posted by | Computing, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, News | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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