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Stow-Away Keyboard Review

by Jeff Wheeler
Posted 12/7/01
 

Palm and compatible handheld computers were originally intended to be predominantly read-only devices. Your important personal information was copied from your desktop computer to the highly portable personal digital assistant, allowing you to refer to your daily agenda, contacts, and to do lists even when away from your desk. While Graffiti allows new contacts, short memos and other information to be added on the fly, most agree that they wouldn't want to write a novel, or even the family Christmas letter, on their Palm computer.

The Stow-Away Keyboard may change your mind.

An Ingenious Design

Palm KeyboardThe Stow-Away Keyboard's ingenious design allows it to be highly portable, but also provide full-size keys. How do they do it? The keyboard contains four segments and three hinges, and folds into the size of a small PDA case! Imagine a W, with each section of the keyboard being a segment of the W. When the keyboard is closed, the four sides of the W are stacked against each other. When the keyboard is open, each segment connects end-to-end, forming a full-size keyboard.

When opened, keys on the left and right edges slide in, over the hinges, to be adjacent to the keys in the center of the keyboard. This provides some rigidity for the keyboard; however, you won't be able to use this keyboard merely draped across your lap. It must be used on a flat, hard surface because of the middle hinge. When I'm at church on Wednesday night, taking notes during the Bible study, I use a small lap desk. But a hymnal will work in a pinch. 

For more information about how the keyboard folds, as well as other general information, visit Think Outside.

Installation

Installation is simple. The keyboard includes a driver (a standard .prc file) that needs to be copied to your Palm device. Then, just unfold the keyboard, slide your Palm device onto the connector, and start typing! 

Since the handheld computer connects directly to the keyboard, cables are not necessary. One advantage of this method is that the handheld is held into a partially upright position, allowing you to see the handheld while you're typing.

The keyboard draws a small amount of power from the handheld, so additional batteries for the keyboard are not required. This reduces the weight and size. However, it also means that your batteries are powering both your handheld and the keyboard. Thus, your handheld's batteries will drain a bit faster.

Typing on Your Palm

Of course, the keyboard doesn't replace Graffiti for those times when you need to jot a short note and move on. But for longer periods, such as Bible studies at church or in class or at your desk, the combination of the Stow-Away Keyboard and the Palm computer makes a great combination.

Once you find you can quickly type information into your Palm, I'm sure you'll find many more uses for your Palm than you previously thought of.

For instance, when I use my m505 (sometimes I use a Pocket PC), I use the WordSmith word processor and my Palm Keyboard to take notes at the Wednesday night Bible study at church. I find that it not only keeps me focused, it is helpful to be able to refer back to the notes later. The simple act of note-taking helps retention.

A Version for You

Stow-Away Keyboard for Handspring VisorStow-Away Keyboards, by Think Outside, are available for many Palm OS and Windows CE handheld computers, though you'll find the keyboard branded with another companies name. The Palm Keyboard is a Palm-branded version of the Stow-Away Portable Keyboard from Think Outside. Targus brands keyboards for other Palm OS handhelds. The following keyboards are available.

  • Palm m125, m500, m505 (Palm)
  • Palm V (Palm)
  • Palm III, VII, m100 (Palm)
  • Handspring Visor (Targus)
  • Sony Clie (Targus)

This reveals one of the disadvantages of the Stow-Away Keyboard. Since the various Palm OS devices use different connectors, one keyboard is only compatible with a few models. For instance, if you buy a Stow-Away Keyboard for your Palm IIIx today, and later upgrade to an m505, you'll find that your keyboard won't work with it. You'll need to buy a new keyboard. The m125 and m500 series use what Palm refers to as a "new universal connector", implying that this connector may be standardized for future Palm computers. So, it's possible that the keyboard for the Palm m125 and m500 series will work with some future handhelds, as well.

Versions of the Stow-Away Keyboard for the Compaq iPaq and HP Jornada Pocket PCs include a nifty feature. These keyboards include a power port that accepts the charging cable. You can use the keyboard and charge your Pocket PC at the same time! Unfortunately, this feature is not available for the Palm versions of the keyboard, even though Palm offers handhelds with rechargeable batteries.

Conclusion

In my opinion, the Stow-Away Keyboard is the single most useful add-on for my Palm handheld computer.

Price: $99

Pros:

  • Uses full-size keys
  • Folds to a convenient size
  • No batteries required
  • No cables required

Cons:

  • Requires a hard surface
  • Does not provide a charging connection
  • Different keyboards are required for different Palm OS handhelds

 

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