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Cross-platform key-mapping problems with some Bluetooth clickers

I’ve been experimenting with using a tablet to read ebooks while on the elliptical at the gym.

I’ve been experimenting for about a year with using a tablet to read ebooks while on the elliptical at the gym. At first, I was using the 12″ Surface Pro. The Kindle Windows program didn’t make the font big enough, so instead I used the browser-based Kindle Cloud Reader because Chrome allowed for a much wider range of zooming in beyond Kindle’s built-in font zoom. The fact that the screen was so big was nice, but because it was so big, I couldn’t lug it around while doing weights. So my routine was going to the gym and throwing stuff into the keyless locker (as it’s closer to the ellipticals than the locker room padlock lockers), doing ellipticals, then weights, then pulling the tablet out and doing the final stretch of ellipticals or other cardio.

Reaching to the tablet to touch the screen to turn the page breaks the workout flow. Also, at this level of zoom, you have to turn pages a lot. So I got a bluetooth clicker. I settled for the Logitech R500, which has a much thicker body than other models and makes it easier to hold on without dropping while while also holding on to the handlebars using some of the fingers. Also, both the “Next” and “Back” buttons are very big and there is none of the useless extra stuff that other models have. Other than not allowing me to fully grab the handlebars (holding on to the handlebars comes in handy especially when I start jumping), this was a pretty good setup. It also worked well with the Aladdin Ebook Reader for Korean language books.

I put all my workout gear – water bottle, hand towel, toilet paper (stuffy nose messes everything up), and phone in a sling bag. Last month, while testing out iPads for work, I thought maybe I could get one for the reading. So I got a refurb 8″ iPad Mini 2 16GB for $100, and it fits nicely into the bag. Despite being half the size of a 12″ tablet, it’s still surprisingly readable when at max font size. And still compatible with the R500. So now I can skip the locker visit from the routine and read books during both the warmup (which is a shorter routine) and the final cardio.

Recently I came across a finger ring-style clicker. Wow, this is it! This will make it so much more convenient to hold onto the handlebar.

Unfortunately, the two available models Dino and Amerteer brands both have something funky going on when connected to iPads. They both paired okay, and when on a browser, the up and down keys do act as PageUp and PageDown. However, neither the Kindle nor Aladdin app pick up the buttons as valid page-turning keys. The browser-based Kindle Cloud does pick up the keystrokes, but the max font size on the browser is barely readable while on the elliptical. I also tested these devices with an Android smartphone – the Aladdin app works with the clicker, but the Kindle app (neither the Android app nor the browser-based Cloud Reader) does not work.

The fact that the Logitech R500, which is actually a pricier alternative ($40) to competitor products ($15-$25), works perfectly with all the usage environments I’ve tested (haven’t yet tested Android with the R500), indicates to me that there is something going on on the keymapping end of this. I’d imagine that the clickers can choose between the Up/Down, Left/Right, PgUp/PgDown and maybe even SpaceBar or Enter for mapping the up/down keys, and Logitech went the extra mile of doing some analysis of usage scenarios, and had the firmware respond to the host device (Windows, Android, iPhone, iPad, OS X, etc) by changing keymaps as needed. While the cheaper devices just stick to whatever key the manufacturers came up with.

I’m super tempted by the finger ring form factor. I wonder if it could be possible to access these clickers’ underlying firmware and somehow remap the keys?

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