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PDA Keyboard Reviews

Think Outside Stowaway Wireless IR Keyboard
Posted December 2003 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

For most Pocket PCs running Pocket PC 2002 or 2003 OS and Palm brand PDAs with a universal connector: Palm m125/m130, m500/m505/m515, Tungsten E/C/T and Zire 71. Also works with the Toshiba e805 and Sony Clié UX series though these aren't listed on Think Outside's web site yet.

The original Stowaway is the most popular full-sized PDA keyboard and one of my favorites. The newer Stowaway XT keyboard is even more compact yet offers a near-notebook typing experience. Since PDA connectors aren't standardized, the problem was getting a Stowaway with a connector for your PDA. Also, if you upgrade PDAs frequently, you find yourself hunting for a new keyboard. Enter the new Stowaway Wireless IR keyboard from Think Outside. Since all PDAs have an IR port, this keyboard is a nearly universal solution. Think Outside is the original manufacturer of the Stowaway and Stowaway XT keyboard, though many manufacturers sell Stowaways under their own brand name. In fact Palm sells it as the Palm Wireless keyboard.

I've never been a big fan of IR keyboards because they sometimes drop characters or lag when responding to your typing (either the IR alignment goes off or interference gets you). They also aren't the most stable since the universal stand designs don't accommodate all PDAs equally well. However the Stowaway has silenced my usual complaints! The design and construction quality make this a very stable keyboard that supports the PDA well, and I haven't had a single problem with the keyboard keeping up with me or losing characters (and I'm an 80WPM touch typist).

Design and Materials

The keyboard is attractive, slick and modern looking with a two-tone aluminum and black polycarbonate plastic casing. It feels sturdy and is stable when opened for use with a PDA. The design and construction is 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. A black zippered case (looks like leather but smells like vinyl) is also included.

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 keyboard's IR port is located on a plastic swing arm which can be moved to accommodate IR ports located on the left side or top of the PDA.

 

stowaway wireless IR keyboards

Above, the keyboard open and ready for use. The the keyboard's IR port is at the end of the swinging black arm. Below, the keyboard folded shut. I tested the keyboard with the Toshiba e805 and the Sony Clié UX50 and it worked perfectly.

Stowaway wireless IR keyboard for Palm

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)

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 and Palm-specific keys such as "OK", "Home", "Find", "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 Palm/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 XT. 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 Driver

Just as with other Stowaways, the software is excellent. The Pocket PC driver requires 150K and the Palm driver 130K. For both Palm and Pocket PCs, once you install the driver you'll need to soft reset your PDA, and then you can enable the keyboard and set options such as whether you'd like the keyboard to "share" the IR port with other apps (such as the OS' beam file feature), set key repeat rate and more.

Palm OS

No Hackmaster is required on the Palm. The 130k driver installs as an application called "Keyboard" on your PDA. The application's screen is similar to Palm prefs: it has a popup menu on the upper right to select between additional screens: General, Connected Config (for the non-IR model keyboard), Wireless Config (for the IR keyboard) Command Keys, Layout, Help. In the General section you can turn on the driver, turn on/off key clicks, set repeat and delay rate as well as test your settings. Wireless Config has a checkbox to detect and use the keyboard and set power saving (basically how long the PDA will look for the keyboard and how long it will keep IR turned on when no keystrokes have been detected). Command Keys allows you to assign up to 9 command keys to launch the applications of your choice. The keyboard has command keys for OK, Done, Cancel, Details, Edit, Address book, Phone book, To Do, Memo and more.

Pocket PC

Once you've installed the Pocket PC driver and soft reset your machine, the Keyboard application will launch so you can configure the keyboard. This happens only the first time you soft reset after installation. Once you've configured the keyboard, you'll access the Keyboard application in the program group to change keyboard settings as needed.

The Keyboard application has four tabs: Config, Hot-Key, IR 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 IR section allows you to enable the IR keyboard, and specify whether you want the keyboard to coexist with other apps that using IR (such as file beaming). In addition to the Keyboard application settings, the Stowaway Wireless software adds the keyboard to the list of input options on the taskbar (where you choose options such as Letter Recognizer, Transcriber and etc.). When the Stowaway is selected as your preferred input method, an additional bar with four icons appears above the taskbar. There's an IR icon (has an X through it when the IR keyboard isn't enabled), a speaker icon that turns on/off key clicks (also has an X through it when keyboard sounds are disabled), a keyboard icon that takes you to the Keyboard app and a question mark which provides online help.

Conclusion:

In the world of PDA keyboards, this is the best thing since sliced bread! It works with most all PDAs, both Palm OS and Pocket PC. Not only that but it's highly portable, intelligently designed, stable, attractive and reliable. The driver is full-featured and there are short cut command keys for most common tasks.

www.thinkoutside.com $69.99

 

 

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