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PDA Keyboard Reviews

Editor's Choice

Think Outside Stowaway Universal Bluetooth Keyboard
Posted June 2004 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

For most Pocket PCs running Pocket PC 2002 or 2003 OS with integrated Bluetooth or with a Socket Bluetooth card. Also supports Symbian Series 60 phones such as the Nokia 3650 and the Sony Ericsson P800 and P900. Does not support Palm OS.

The Think Outside Stowaway folding keyboards have been the most popular with PDA users. Their near full-sized notebook keyboard size, good key travel and tactile feedback won't send you running back to your computer when you need to write at length. The keyboard folds in half, making for a highly portable and reasonably durable typing solution.

The Stowaway IR keyboard, introduced in December 2003 has met with great success. Since it's wireless and is not dependant on a connector, you don't have to buy a new keyboard when changing PDAs, and you can use your PDA's sync port for other things while typing. The only drawback is that you must maintain line of sight with IR products and keep the PDA and keyboard close together, which can be a challenge. Enter the Bluetooth Stowaway which makes these problems a thing of the past. Bluetooth wireless technology does not require line of sight and has much greater range than IR. You can put the PDA anywhere you like and move it as needed without interrupting the connection to the keyboard. In fact, range was so good that I placed a Dell Axim X30 wireless Pocket PC in the next room 15 feet away and typed away on the Stowaway sitting on my desk! There is no lag when typing nor does it drop keystrokes.

Since the PDA doesn't need to be close to or lined up with the keyboard, the stand on the Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard detaches, so you can prop-up and place the PDA where you wish. If you prefer, you can of course leave the stand connected to the keyboard and use them close together. The stand has a pop-up mechanism which supports the PDA and has two positions: one for portrait and one for landscape.

The keyboard supports most Pocket PCs with integrated Bluetooth, such as Bluetooth iPAQs, the Dell Axim X30 wireless models, Euro Dell Axim X3 with Bluetooth, the ASUS A620BT and Pocket PC 2002 and Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PCs with Socket's CF and SD Bluetooth cards. In addition, it supports Symbian Series 60 Bluetooth phones such as the popular Nokia 3650, and the Sony Ericsson P800 and P900 smartphones. It does not support Palm OS unfortunately. We tested it with the Dell Axim X30, Nokia 3650, Nokia N-Gage QD and the Sony Ericsson P800.

Design and Materials

The keyboard is nearly identical to the Stowaway IR keyboard. It's attractive, slick and modern looking with a two-tone aluminum and gray polycarbonate plastic casing. It feels sturdy and is stable when opened for use with a PDA. The design and construction is also very similar to the Stowaway XT model. The bottom surface of the keyboard has rubber grip strips to prevent it from walking across the table while you type or tap the screen with your stylus.

The keyboard comes with two AAA batteries which should be good for many hours of use. When you connect to the keyboard, the Stowaway app on the PDA will inform you of battery status (normal, low, critical).

 

stowaway wireless Bleutooth keyboard

Above, the keyboard open. Below, closed for transport and storage.

Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard for PDAs and phones

Dimensions:

  • Closed: 5.47”H x 3.82”W x .67”D (139 mm x 97 mm x 17 mm)
  • Open: 10.3” x 5.7” x 0.7” (251 mm x 148 mm x 13 mm)
  • Weight: 5.75 oz. (179 grams)

To use the keyboard, you'll press a well-integrated release button on the edge of the unit, and flip it open. It's a two-section design, rather than the accordion 4 section design of the original Stowaway, and when fully opened, it locks in place. This means that you can use it on your lap or other uneven surfaces because it will stay firmly open and flat.

At top center, there's a pull-out, flip-up stand that supports your PDA for easy viewing. The stand is strong and the keyboard latch folds back to support the stand. An adjustable thin metal bar runs along the bottom of the stand and hold the PDA in place.

The keys are notebook sized and have 18mm travel, making for a comfy typing experience that requires little if any adjustment. How did they maintain the full notebook sized keys and spacing while making the keyboard smaller? The number keys are embedded in the top row of letter keys, and the Pocket PC-specific keys such as "New", "Close", "Programs", "Word", "Excel" and etc. do not have dedicated keys. Instead, you'll hit the blue Fn (function) key just left of the spacebar in conjunction with the key you need. The number and Pocket PC function keys are masked in blue. There's also a green Fn key just to the right of the spacebar and you'll use that for symbols and page up/page down.

Is using function keys for symbols and numbers cumbersome? Yes, but that's the price you pay for miniaturization. Other than slow-downs caused by hunting for function keys, I found I could really fly while typing on the Stowaway. It's as good as better notebook keyboards. And happily, keys like the spacebar, shift, backspace and enter are in their normal locations (some PDA keyboards move these around). The large selection of keys for common functions and commands means you'll rarely be forced to pull out your stylus.

Installation and Use

Regardless of platform, you'll first want to pair the keyboard with your PDA or phone. You can use the keyboard without pairing, but each time the connection is terminated you'll have to connect anew rather than simply pressing any keyboard key to reconnect. To put the keyboard in connection mode (necessary only the first time you connect and pair it with a PDA or phone), you'll simultaneously press the Ctrl, blue and green Fn keys. Once you do this, a green LED on the keyboard will pulse, telling you it's ready to pair. You'll then use the Think Outside software on your PDA or phone to search for the keyboard and pair with it (remember to turn Bluetooth on first). Enter a pairing key on the PDA (numbers only), then type those same numbers on the keyboard and press its enter key. Your PDA/phone should then tell you that pairing is complete, and you can then set keyboard preferences in the driver and enable the keyboard. Think Outside uses a monolithic driver which supports their IR, Bluetooth and physical connector keyboards. You'll select which kind of keyboard you have the first time you launch the keyboard application.

The keyboard power savings feature will turn off the keyboard after 3 minutes of inactivity, when the device goes beyond maximum range (stated as 10 meters), when the PDA is turned off or when the keyboard is closed. To reconnect, press any key on the keyboard. Do not press Ctrl, blue Fn + green Fn again, as this will put the keyboard back into new pairing mode. Very simple! If you do choose not to pair the keyboard and device, you will have to put the keyboard back into new connection mode every time you wish to connect. I suggest pairing! If you wish to use the keyboard with more than one device, note that the keyboard can only maintain one pairing connection. This means if you've paired it with device A and then device B, when you want to use the keyboard with device A again, you'll need to re-pair.

Pocket PC

Once you've installed the Pocket PC driver and soft reset your machine, you'll launch the keyboard application to configure the keyboard. Once you've configured the keyboard, you'll access the Keyboard application in the program group to change keyboard settings as needed or you can tap on the input selector in the taskbar to select the keyboard applications.

The Keyboard application has four tabs: Config, Hot-Key, BT and About. In the Config section, you can enable and disable the keyboard, turn on caps lock and num lock notification, set whether the keyboard shows a Today Screen Icon, set key repeat and delay and specify the keyboard layout language. The Hot-Key screen allows you to assign applications to launch using up to ten function keys. The BT section is where you'll pair with the keyboard and create a new connection to the keyboard. In addition to the Keyboard application settings, the Stowaway software adds the keyboard to the list of input options on the taskbar (where you choose options such as Letter Recognizer, Transcriber and etc.).

Symbian Series 60 and Sony Ericsson P800/P900

The SE P800/P900 software works much the same as the Pocket PC software described above. You'll select which kind of keyboard you have, enable the keyboard, pair and set preferences and hot-keys as you wish. The Symbian Series 60 keyboard app is understandably a bit more slimmed down. You can pair and enable the keyboard, set Bluetooth timeout and enable security (pairing) and assign on of 10 Fn keys to any application installed on your phone. It cannot launch built-in apps such as Messaging or Web, but can launch apps you've installed.

Conclusion:

An excellent keyboard that's easy to type with yet is light and very compact when folded. Excellent! Bluetooth pairing is trouble-free and the connection is excellent with no lag or dropped letters. It may cost more than the IR Stowaway, but you have the freedom to place the PDA or phone where you wish and in any orientation. If only there were Palm OS drivers.

www.thinkoutside.com $149.99

 

 

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