Stow-Away Keyboard Review
by Jeff Wheeler
If you have a Pocket PC, you already know that you have several different
input options available. You can use the Letter Recognizer, the Block Recognizer
(similar to Palm's Graffiti), the popup keyboard, or Transcriber handwriting
recognition. With all of these options, you'll probably find one that you like
for taking short notes, entering new contact information, and so forth. But you
probably won't want to write the next great novel, or even your family Christmas
letter, using any of these options.
Add a Stow-Away Keyboard to your Pocket PC, though, and you'll find that you
have a mobile writing environment. You still may not write the next great novel
with your Pocket PC, but the family Christmas letter will be a piece of cake!
An Ingenious Design
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
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. 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.
The keyboard contains a connector that the Pocket PC plugs into. It also
contains a spring-loaded support to help the Pocket PC stand upright. Stow-Away
Keyboards for the HP Jornada and Compaq iPaq Pocket PCs also include a power
port. Connect your AC adapter to this port, and your Pocket PC will charge while
you are using it.
For more information about how the keyboard folds, as well as other general
information, visit the Think
Outside Web site.
Installation is simple. My HP Jornada 565 Pocket PC already contains the
required keyboard driver; different Pocket PC 2002 models may include the driver
also. If your Pocket PC doesn't include the driver, or if you have an original
Pocket PC, you'll need to install the driver included with the keyboard.
Then, just unfold the keyboard,
slide your Pocket PC onto the connector, and start typing!
Since the Pocket PC 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
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 Pocket PC battery is powering both your handheld and
the keyboard. Thus, your handheld's battery will drain a bit faster.
As noted earlier, the keyboard includes a power port. So, if you have your AC
adapter and an outlet is convenient, you can power your Pocket PC and keyboard,
plus charge your battery, while using the Stow-Away keyboard.
Typing on Your Pocket PC
Of course, the keyboard doesn't replace the built-in character and
handwriting recognition 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 Pocket PC computer makes a great combination.
Once you find that you can quickly type information into your Pocket PC, I'm sure
that you'll find many more uses for your Pocket PC than you previously thought of.
For instance, I often use my Pocket PC and keyboard to prepare Bible lessons.
I can move from room to room (maybe to be with my family, or maybe to be away
from them) and have a mobile study and writing environment.
I also take my Pocket PC (or my Palm device) to church on Wednesday night.
Using the built-in Pocket Word program and my keyboard, I can take notes on the
study and cross reference passages with my Bible program. I find that the
note-taking helps my retention; plus, I can research other ideas that I have
without the risk of forgetting them later.
A Version for You
Keyboards, by Think Outside, are available for many Windows CE and Palm OS handheld computers, though
you may find the keyboard branded with another company's name. The following keyboards
for Pocket PCs are available.
- Compaq iPaq Pocket PC
- HP Jornada Pocket PC
This reveals one of the disadvantages of the Stow-Away Keyboard. Since the
various Pocket PC and 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 a Pocket PC, you'll find that your
keyboard won't work with it. You'll need to buy a new keyboard.
Fortunately, both Compaq and HP have not changed the connector as they have
introduced new models. So, my Stow-Away keyboard works with both the older
Jornada 545 and the newer Jornada 565 models. (My Jornada keyboard will not work
with an iPaq, however.)
In my opinion, the Stow-Away Keyboard is the single most useful add-on for my
Palm handheld computer. I'm not sure if it's the most valuable add-on for my
Pocket PC; CF memory cards are also very useful. But if it's not the most
valuable add-on, it's awfully close!
- Uses full-size keys
- Folds to a convenient size
- No batteries required
- No cables required
- Requires a hard surface
- Different keyboards are required for different Pocket PCs