The two gadgets under scrutiny today both come from BudgetGadgets.com. The first is the blue silicon USB flexible keyboard and the second is a car cigarette-lighter power adapter that accepts USB cables like those used to charge the MP3 players, cameras, and GPS devices. How do they stack up, and is any quality sacrificed for a bargain price? Let's take a look.
First, let's preface any comments about this sort of flexy keyboard with the fact that — at least from the user reviews of flexible keyboards on Amazon and New Egg — these keyboards don't function well for typing. As ridiculous as that sounds, many people still like them for the portability, ease of cleaning, and virtual indestructibility. For certain environments high in moisture, dirt, or dust, these keyboards would endure well. You still need to consider that touch-typers hate them, lamenting the force and excess precision needed to register some keypresses; pressing the edge of a key or hitting it unevenly or at an angle will get you no output. Those who hunt-and-peck fare better with them.
With all that said, this keyboard performs just like the rest, for better or worse. The silicon exterior feels good under the fingers, but the responsiveness of it is iffy at best. Here is an example of what you can expect. The top sentence was touch-typed directly on my laptop keyboard, and the bottom is what I got trying to touch-type the same sentence with the flexible USB keyboard:
I like to go outside
Playing at the park is fun
playingtte prk i fn
Lundqvist lunges forward
It's a four-on-three situation
it' four-o-the iuion
I wish this keyboard would actually work.
whthi kebordd tuy wr.
It's as if I were having a seizure while typing.
itasf Iwere ng a aseizurewe tyng
Having used one of these flexy keyboards myself now and seeing that this particular one reflects the rule, not the exception, it makes those flying-fingers typing scenes by Justin Long in Live Free or Die Hard seem about as believable as Goldblum's virus that took down Independence Day's aliens.
I thought maybe it just needed broken in, but I've been using it for a few weeks now and it's no better than the day I bought it. On the upside, you can roll it up, fold it, submerge it in water, or deform it just about any way you want and it still works fine. Just don't fold it up while plugged in and using it; this can cause keys to stop working or generate random output. It's also the most portable type of keyboard ever made, and this particular make/model has a full set of keys, something many do not, including a numerical pad, Print Screen, Scroll Lock, Pause, Page Up/Down, Home/End, Insert/Delete, a Windows key, and special buttons for Wake Up, Sleep, and Power. Now, if only it were more responsive and forgiving to typists.
For very limited or emergency use or for specific situations that a standard keyboard would never survive, this isn't a bad alternative; just know the shortcomings going in. It does no worse than the others of its ilk, but it can be a pain to use. The brief manual has a number of typos, grammatical, and mechanical errors I can only assume are translation problems (BudgetGadgets.com originates in China). Some more localization and clean-up would have been nice, but it's not terribly necessary since the keyboard is totally plug-and-play. No drivers are needed, and no software is included.
The other gizmo I'm looking at today is a car charger designed for devices that typically charge off a powered USB port. Many MP3 players can only be charged this way without a special adapter, and other devices have come to accept a USB charge over the years. The charger's rated for 12-24V DC input and 5.0V DC output, and current of 800MA. This should be compatible with a fairly wide range of devices; the ones I tested it with were an Apple iPod Nano, a Creative Zen Mozaic, and a Sony NV-U44 GPS unit.
The Nano and GPS recognized the connection and seemed to charge off it in my car without any problems. The Zen recognized the connection intermittently, but would not charge off of it, though. However, the Zen wouldn't charge off my powered USB hub or the iPod's wall-charger adapter. Further digging revealed that the Zen is specifically made not to work with anything but an actual computer or a special adapter from Creative itself. Apparently it has to be able to "communicate" back and forth with whatever's charging it, so the fault lies with the player, not the charger.
Being the size of most other cigarette-lighter adapters and featuring dual connections so you can charge two devices at once, it will likely save you money having to buy multiple unique adapters for all your gizmos. That is, unless you own a Zen. It's been working fine for a few weeks now, though I can't swear to how it'll hold up over several months or years of use. It's given me no reason to think it won't perform admirably for charging on the go. The review unit came with no packaging or manual, but I didn't really see a need for them. If you can't figure out how to use it or don't know what it's for, you wouldn't be shopping for something like this in the first place.
While you can find comparable items at Amazon or other outlets for about the same base price, BudgetGadgets.com offers free shipping on virtually everything the sell, as well as discounts for buying in quantity.
In the end, it seems you can save money and still get peripherals that work just fine.