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Stow-Away Keyboard Review

by Jeff Wheeler
Posted 12/13/01

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 for HP JornadaThe 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. 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

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 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 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

Stow-Away Keyboard for Compaq iPaqStow-Away 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.)

Conclusion

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!

Price: $99

Pros:

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

Cons:

  • Requires a hard surface
  • Different keyboards are required for different Pocket PCs

 

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