Catch the wireless wave with a sleek SurfBoard
- By John McCormick
- Oct 20, 1997
Ever get tangled up in a long keyboard cord?
It's a job hazard for presenters, who have the unpleasant choice of trying to control a
slide show with a notebook computer pointing device or stumbling over a long-cabled
The wireless keyboard is a stumble-free alternative.
Infrared keyboards are wireless, but they work well only if you can keep them properly
oriented toward the IR receiver and if no similar devices are present to interfere with
Far better are the radio frequency (RF) devices such as Wireless Computing's SurfBoard,
a compact keyboard with full-size keys.
The keyboard is about an inch shorter and narrower than a standard business keyboard
with an internal speaker and separate mouse or touchpad.
The black wireless SurfBoard is small because it eliminates a separate number pad and
uses a key combination for the F11 and F12 keys.
Its touchpad works surprisingly well, and there is a Microsoft Windows 95 key, too.
The keys make distinctive plastic-on-plastic clicks when you type at normal speed.
They're absolutely silent when pressed slowly, so it isn't the key switch making the
Installation under Windows 3.x on a Compaq Deskpro Pentium PC consisted merely of
unplugging the standard keyboard and plugging in the SurfBoard mouse and keyboard cords,
which attached to a black RF controller box that's about the size of a small paperback
Two AA batteries fit into the bottom of the keyboard.
The only other installation task is finding the best orientation for the thin, 3-foot,
black wire that served as an RF antenna.
If you work close to the PC, you can ignore antenna orientation.
If you are far away from it--during a presentation, for example--you should first
experiment a bit with the antenna position.
RF channels are selectable on a simple slide switch at the bottom of the antenna box.
Channel selection is important if more than one SurfBoard will be running in the same
vicinity. The limit is about four devices.
If you don't want to use Channel 1 on the receiver, set the keyboard to another
frequency by pressing the Fn and Num Lock keys simultaneously.
Channel selection is a one-time job. Ordinarily, all you would do is plug in the RF
receiver, install the two batteries and turn the computer back on--no drivers, no
adjustments, no nothing. There isn't even an on/off switch on the keyboard, which is
always active but appears to drain little power when idle.
The touchpad shuts off after 30 minutes to conserve power. Other keys remain active.
If your computer doesn't have the small, round keyboard and mouse plugs developed for
IBM PS/2 computers, a serial port mouse adapter is available at no charge. A keyboard
adapter is included for older, large keyboard ports.
One important feature for users who must deliver presentations without having a good
view of the presentation screen is a green LED light located on the right side of the
SurfBoard. The LED flashes whenever you press a key or move your finger across the
touchpad. It also indicates low batteries. Another LED is present on the receiver.
If you encounter touchpad problems under Win95, try setting up the software with the
Win95 Add Hardware Wizard. You can configure a PS/2 mouse or serial mouse depending on how
you installed the RF receiver. If you already have a similar mouse installed, no change
should be necessary.
The SurfBoard has a port to accept a remote joystick.
A cable also is included to connect the RF receiver to your computer's standard
I typed this review on the SurfBoard with no keyboard errors, and its small footprint
made it highly satisfactory.
I find it particularly handy for surfing the Internet, but it's also comfortable for
Besides its obvious advantage in presentations, the Wireless SurfBoard should be
helpful to disabled workers who place their keyboards in their laps or work from
wheelchairs. I always type with the keyboard in my lap and found the SurfBoard much more
convenient than a typical keyboard and its separate touchpad.
One minor thing I didn't like was the SurfBoard's flatness, but that would be easy to
change with one of the foam pads used to adjust keyboard angles and provide a wrist rest.
The usual small fold-down plastic feet can elevate the back of the unit about a
half-inch, which is enough adjustment for desktop or podium users.
I did miss being able to hit the F11 or F12 keys.
The keyboard appears to have plenty of space for shifting seldom-used keys such as Num
Lock or Scroll Lock and making room for real F11 and F12 keys.
John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s.