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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.