Wireless presentation tools not ready for the stage

Ever since the days of the IBM PC Jr., many users have insisted on wireless input
devices. The demand has increased with PC presentations because it is much more difficult
to run a live presentation from a notebook computer than it is to switch slides or
transparencies.


Some wireless mice have gyroscopes to broadcast position information. This is cool, but
use them in the midst of a presentation, and you might look like you are swatting at
flies.


Wireless Computing Inc.’s SurfMouse is not really a mouse but rather a simple
two-button touchpad. You run a presentation holding the device in one hand, which leaves
the other free to hold notes or gesture in emphasis.


I found several ergonomic problems with the SurfMouse. It’s a little large for
small or medium-sized hands, and it works upside down. The buttons are above the touchpad
rather than below it.


The SurfMouse’s antenna, properly oriented, should point back at the user. But
when I went around the office and asked co-workers how they would hold the device, nine
out of 10 chose a position with the buttons below the touchpad and the antenna pointing
away. In front of an audience, I wouldn’t like to have to keep reminding myself how
to hold the pointing device.


Another problem: The SurfMouse’s cursor control is sluggish, so be prepared to
accelerate it with the standard mouse driver.


The SurfMouse takes four AAA batteries, which are included. Maybe it needs twice as
many batteries as a set of 180-foot wireless headphones because it has no off switch. Or
perhaps the designers did not keep power consumption in mind.


The Wireless SurfBoard works a little better. It has a standard-size keyboard with a
touchpad in place of a numeric keypad—one device to do wireless keyboarding as well
as mousing. This is useful for presenters, trainers, software demonstrators and, as I
discovered, product testers.


A trainer could walk around a classroom to check students’ progress while still
transmitting commands, for example.


On a whim, I connected the SurfBoard to a keyboard-video-mouse switch that serves a
number of computers being reviewed in the GCN Lab. A KVM switch is an efficient way to run
multiple boxes from a single monitor, keyboard and mouse, but I was constantly having to
leave the keyboard to go pop in a new software CD-ROM or open a chassis. Once I had the
Wireless SurfBoard, I could carry the keyboard and mouse around with me.


The SurfBoard would be a special boon to cramped offices where users must compromise on
their PC placements because of short keyboard or mouse cords.


Like the SurfMouse, the SurfBoard requires four batteries, but of the AA type. The
SurfBoard has a MIDI-out port and a PS/2 mouse port. If you don’t like the touchpad,
you can connect a mouse to the keyboard.


The SurfBoard keys have no real key-click and feel mushy. If the designers had added an
eraser-tip pointing device like the ones on IBM Corp. and Toshiba America Information
Systems Inc. notebooks, they could have kept the numeric keypad.


But the underlying technology of the devices is sound. Both give the option of four
separate RF channels, so using more than one wireless device in an office should not cause
interference. I found the response excellent—no difference in normal use from the
corded counterparts.


The ergonomic aspects are below par, however, and the SurfMouse is by far the worst.
For presentations or training, I would choose the SurfBoard. You might not plan on needing
a keyboard for presentations, but would you want to be stuck without one?



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