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  • $100
The Pros:
  • Enter large amounts of text quickly into Palm
  • Folds into small package

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  • No free case

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Palm Portable Keyboard for m500 Series Review
By Ed Hardy
6/10/2001


Initial Impressions
The PPK starts as a small package about the size of a IIIx. But after pushing the button on one side it pops open to be a full-sized keyboard. Getting a keyboard this large out of that small a package is almost cartoony. It reminds me of the old site gag from the Jetsons where George's car folds up into a briefcase. Only this is real.

At first glance, the interior of the the PPK seems almost too complicated to be efficient. It reminds me of one of Rube Goldberg's ridiculously complicated machines. But once you get familiar with it, you'll see that every moving part is necessary and the whole thing is actually a model of efficiency.

The Hardware
When closed the PPK is a black rectangle that is just 5.1 by 4.5 by .80 inches. Pressing the opening button on one edge unlatches that side and the keyboard unfolds like a W. Once it is lying flat, the two outer parts of the keyboard slide in to touch the middle keys and make a regular desktop keyboard, though lacking the number area on the right.

One of the few drawbacks of the PPK is that it absolutely requires a flat surface to use. It simply isn't possible to use it in your lap.

There is no question of the keys being cramped. They are as far apart as the ones on my PC keyboard. However, the keys do move less up and down when pressed than on a regular one. This is known as travel and a standard keyboard has about 6 mm and the PPK has 3 mm. However, many notebook computers have keyboards with just 3 mm of travel. I don't think this will bother anyone who isn't super picky, though it does take a little bit of getting used to. I tend to press the keys harder than necessary.

The PPK weighs only 7.9 ounces so it is easily portable. But it still isn't something you can carry in your shirt pocket. It dwarfs the m505 and is even larger than a III series. Still, it is a lot of keyboard squeezed into a small space.

The Palm plugs into the keyboard at the top left. A small holder slides out of the PPK and pops up with a serial port connector on it. It is pretty easy to make this connection but it is important to be sure the Palm is lined up right when inserting it. If it goes in at an angle and the connectors don't line up right, the Palm will get confused and begin trying to HotSync. This isn't a crisis; you can just hit cancel and try again.

The Palm is held firmly in place. A casual bump isn't going to knock it loose. The PPK holds on with just a couple of small hooks on either side of the serial port. The large tabs in the middle of the back of the Palm aren't used.

You remove the Palm by tilting it forward. This doesn't make the loud snapping sound the cradle does but does pop it loose.

This connector uses the new Universal Connector so all Palm models for at least the next two years are guaranteed to work with the PPK.

It runs off power from the Palm itself so no battery is necessary. I can't give you any accurate figures on how large the battery drain is from the PPK but it seems pretty low. I never noticed any significant changes in how long a battery charge lasted by using the keyboard a lot.

As I said earlier, the PPK seems almost overly complicated and I was worried about how durable it would turn out to be. However, in this site's Forums I asked if anyone with Stowaway keyboards for previous Palm models had problems with them wearing out and several people assured me they had ones that were quite a few months old and they were still going strong.

A sad fact is that Think Outside no longer includes a case with this model. The version that worked with the V series came with a light fabric case that protected the outside from scratches and also prevented the keyboard from coming open inside a bag or purse.

I wish I could compare this model to previous ones but this is the first PPK I've had. People who have had both say this model has been made a bit more rugged than previous ones.

The Software
The PPK comes with an application that acts as a driver that makes the keyboard work exactly the way you would want it to. You can enable the keyboard and basically forget about it. When you plug the Palm in, you can immediately begin typing. When you remove it and plug something else in, the keyboard driver doesn't interfere. Or at least not with anything I've found yet.

The Keyboard app is where you set things like how quickly holding down a key begins repeating or whether you want a small sound whenever you tap a key.

The PPK integrates itself quite nicely with the Palm OS. It has four buttons that work like the silkscreen buttons. It also has a function key that lets lots of other buttons on the keyboard perform multiple tasks. This helps reduce the number of times you need to take your fingers off the keys and pick up the stylus.

For example, if you are in an application that has a "New" button, holding down the Function key and hitting the key labeled "New" on the PPK will work the same as if you had taken the stylus and touched the screen.

If there is a button on the screen that doesn't have a pre-made button on the keyboard, you can still hold the Ctrl and Cmd buttons down and type the first letter of the on-screen button's name and it will be pressed.

There are several apps that have been designed to work especially well with the PPK and WordSmith is one these. I actually wrote this review with my m505, PPK, and WordSmith. I also used this combination to write most of the HandEra 330 review.

One thing many of us would like to do is both be connected to the Internet and typing on a keyboard. This is possible with both Handspring and HandEra models but not with any model from Palm itself. This is a limitation of the handheld, not the PPK.

I don't know the technical details but Palm models use many of the same components to drive the serial port and the IR port so both can't be active at the same time doing different things.

I'm not sure if it would be possible for a combination keyboard/modem to do both through the serial port simultaneously but it would be nice. The other option is to wait for an SD modem to come out because it won't have this limitation.

Conclusions
The Palm Portable Keyboard is not a complete replacement for Graffiti. Taking it out and setting it up to type less than a sentence or two is a waste of time.

But if you are like me and you use your Palm like most people use a laptop, it is a great help. The fact that we are pretty much assured that it will continue to be useful for several future generations of Palm handhelds makes this an even better purchase.

Rachel A. Wild, Think Outside's Marketing Communications Manager, said that a version for the Sony PEG-N710C should be available in the U.S. in late June.

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Great Review

Binks @ 6/11/2001 9:48:33 AM #
Great Review! This is really a must have addon. I totally agree with everything that you have written. Although I do feel that the Palm should have been centerd on the Keyboard, and good call about the nylon case not being there a real disapointment. When are the Styli coming out for the m500 series especially the floating point? Then my Palm will be complete.

RE: Great Review
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2001 10:53:34 AM #
The floating point does work with the M500 and M505. You just need to unscrew the top of the floating point stylus and replace it with the top of the stylus that is included with the M500 series. After this switch, the floating point will fit your M505 perfectly.

RE: Great Review
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2001 5:28:41 PM #
Jesus!!! You people think about just everything. That would of never occured to me...

So You know I am going to try that!

RE: Great Review
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2001 5:34:27 PM #
I tried it and the stylus would not fit. The silo was too thin, and I did not want to exert too much force.

How fast?

ywk69 @ 6/11/2001 10:00:14 AM #
How fast can this keyboard type? I have one for my Vx but hardly use it even for long emails because the input speed is way too slow - even slower than my Graffiti or Jot writing speed. I would hesitate to buy this keyboard for my m505 if the input speed has not improved.

RE: How fast?
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2001 10:21:05 AM #
I too had the keyboard for the Vx and was dissatisfied with the input speed. (A little, not so much that I did not use it.) Then I got afterburner and set the keyboard app and the other apps that I tend to type into to run at a higher rate and Voilla! Great input speed...

I can't wait to go down to the store and buy a keyboard for my 505 now.

RE: How fast?
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2001 10:22:29 AM #
Get the new keyboard driver. I think version 1.2, which solves the problem.

I don't have any problems with the keyboard and I type over 60 wpm.



RE: How fast?
Binks @ 6/11/2001 10:23:49 AM #
You can also change the speed settings on the keyboard application itself so that it responds faster. WordSmith is awesome with it, and Documents to Go did just that it was very unresponsive and slow, but WS proved to be just what I needed anyway. This is regarding the 5x I haven't tried Docs to go for the m505 since WS is what I like even though it was free.

RE: How fast?
bcombee @ 6/11/2001 11:18:28 AM #
Actually, the current driver version, available from www.thinkoutside.com, is 1.5. This version adds a new option to choose if the "TAB" key sends a tab or moves you to the next field, plus it also supports the m500-series keyboard, in addition to the keyboard for the III/VII and V.

RE: How fast?
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2001 12:02:07 PM #
You must be kidding! Perhaps you haven't gone into the settings and adjusted the speed. On my Vx If I type gyberish as fast as I can hit the keys it keeps up with me - no problem.

Keyboard & IR communication

ralphm @ 6/11/2001 10:06:51 AM #
Still only one UART in m500 Series? That's too bad. I own a Palm
V with PPK and a Nokia 8210, and I would have liked to start a
telnet session and just type away instead of grafitying my
commands.

RE: Keyboard & IR communication
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2001 10:58:30 AM #
someday the M500 will have IO devices in SecureDigital format so what you suggest will be possible. I hope the first IO device is a bluetooth module!

When will it ship?

I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2001 12:02:48 PM #
I hope this ships soon. I ordered mine from Palm on March 19th and it's still hasn't shipped yet. Can't wait to get it.

RE: When will it ship?
xynos @ 6/11/2001 12:16:23 PM #
best buy in minnesota already has it in stock.

RE: When will it ship?
Binks @ 6/11/2001 12:25:23 PM #
So does the office depot in Minnesota, forget on-line if you can. I ordered my Keyboard and am glad I canceled it I would still be waiting.

RE: When will it ship?
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2001 3:57:43 PM #
Appeared in many Office Depots last week.

RE: When will it ship?
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/14/2001 11:35:56 PM #
I ordered my keyboard and travel charger from the Palm Store 3 weeks ago. I just checked with Palm and both items will not ship until the end of July! I'm pissed! I'm a loyal Palm customer, and these guys have managed to infuriate me by building a product for which the major accessories (which I use heavily) are not available in their store. If I can track the items down at retail I will buy them and cancel my Palm Store order. And I will certainly consider another company when shopping for my next PDA.

comparison with PPK for Vx ?

I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2001 12:46:06 PM #
Can anyone provide any info on how this new PPK is different when compared to the PPK for Vx, weight-wise, design-wise...etc?

Thanks

Sulla

RE: comparison with PPK for Vx ?
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2001 1:35:41 PM #
Exactly the same critter except for the connector

Good review, but disagree with a couple of points

red_vette @ 6/11/2001 1:13:31 PM #
Before I delve into my comments, anyone with a PPK might want to check out Paul Nevai's LapTopHack available at PalmGear that helps you enjoy laptop functionality in all apps with a PDA keyboard (PPK or GoType!).

From the review:

>>One of the few drawbacks of the PPK is that it absolutely requires a flat surface to use. It simply isn't possible to use it in your lap.

Not true. As a former owner of a GoType! keyboard, which I loved, I was a skeptic about the ability to use this on a lap as well. However, I have found that it works fine on a lap and as a commuter on a busy train, I frequently have had to use it on my lap. The placement of the PDA connector places its weight on or close to your left leg and the placement of the middle hinge is in between your legs so that the tension gives it support. Of course this give a slightly more "spongy" feel to the typing compared to having it on a table or a notebook (as in 3-ring) on your lap, but not much. And it works just fine. I still can type 60+ wpm while it is on my lap.

>>However, in this site's Forums I asked if anyone with Stowaway keyboards for previous Palm models had problems with them wearing out and several people assured me they had ones that were quite a few months old and they were still going strong.

Yes, I concur. I've been using mine extensively for over a year and have had no problems whatsoever.

>>The version that worked with the V series came with a light fabric case that protected the outside from scratches and also prevented the keyboard from coming open inside a bag or purse.

As a non-V series owner and having purchased one separately, I've never had a fabric case. However, with its design I would find it hard to imagine how it could accidentally pop open inside a bag or purse. If you have one, try it if you dare. I say "if you dare" because I think you would have to literally throw it against a hard surface and hit the button at just the right angle with the right force to do it. But I don't know. As a Y-chromosome carrier I don't use a purse. Anyone had a problem with this?

Don't mean to take away from a good review, but just felt that these points needed clarification "from the field." The Stowaway is not only a "cool tech toy," but something that truly increases productivity.

Keyboard for Visor Edge?

I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2001 5:18:19 PM #
I was thinking about buying a Visor Edge, but I couldn't find any keyboards that are compatible with it. Any idea when or if a keyboard is coming out?

RE: Keyboard for Visor Edge?
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/12/2001 6:23:06 AM #
I heard that there will be a Keyboard for the Edge but not until around Sept. I guess it takes a long time to get the different connectors.

Nice Pics Ed

I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2001 5:28:41 PM #
But what happened to the flowered wallpaper? ;)

RE: Nice Pics Ed
Ed @ 6/11/2001 6:19:43 PM #
Don't worry, the ugly wallpaper is still there, it just doesn't appear in these pictures. The digital camera I took these with finally allows me to get within three feet of what I'm trying to photograph. Actually, these pics were taken with the PalmPix for the m500 they sent me to review. Hopefully, I'll have that out next week.



---
News Editor
Palm Infocenter

Um...

superbenk @ 6/12/2001 9:37:13 AM #
Isn't this the exact same keyboard as the one they make for the III and all the other models? Just curious why the long review when it has already been reviewed for the other models? What else is new other than the connector?

RE: Um...
Ed @ 6/12/2001 9:40:40 AM #
Oddly enough, this is the first review we've done of any version of the Stowaway. That's why it got the full treatment.

---
News Editor
Palm Infocenter

I thought all of this stuf......

Chad H. @ 6/12/2001 10:08:25 AM #
......was supposed to be portable? You'll have to excuse me as a new palm user (m505 1 month old). If I cant use this keyboard on my lap during a flight or commute, where does the practicality take over from a laptop? If i'm going to have to find a desk or other solid platform in order to use a palm keyboard. I might as well bring my own "desk" ala a laptop computer. It just doesn't make any sense. Actually except for a few great programs (Avantgo,Tealecho,Palmreader,Splashmoney) I have been very disappointed with my $450 investment. I thought that palm would know enough by now not to release a product until there were periphials and support from 3rd party venders. What a crock. I've been waiting for my Palm modem connectivity kit for a month with another month projected as of last friday. It took me three weeks to get a crappy case with a dysfunctional beltclip. If it isn't CLEAR yet, I'm a very unhappy new Palm customer. Maybe I should have found this site earlier and then I would have been educated as to which models and manufacturers really live up to the PDA hype.

Chad "unhappy camper" H.
P.S. At least I didn't complain about the screen, I actually like it ;-)

RE: I thought all of this stuf......
red_vette @ 6/12/2001 5:20:20 PM #
On using it on your lap, see my post "Good review, but disagree on a couple of points."

RE: I thought all of this stuff......
Eyeguy007 @ 6/13/2001 6:34:51 PM #
Red,

Thanks for your input on this keyboard. I had indeed read your post concerning the useability of the keyboard on your lap. I guess I was just venting that you would THINK that Palm would have thought about a small detail like this and not have to settle for a shaky feeling, perched keyboard. I actually went out and purchased the keyboard today and will give it a personal try-out tonight. I did set it on my lap at the store and initially I would ahve to agree with you...it didn't feel like a solid keyboard but it did feel very useable on my lap.

Thanks again and everyone call Palm and berrate them about the Modem Connectivity Kit not being available yet....there is strength in numbers and maybe if we yell loud enough they'll yell at the person responsible ;-)

Chad "Have Keyboard will travel" H.

Full Sized Keyboard

Ed @ 6/12/2001 2:34:41 PM #
Rachel Wild from Think Outside dropped me a note:
> I did want to let you know that indeed the PPK is a full-size keyboard.
> US standard for full-size is 18-20mm and, as you know, the PPK is 19mm.

So don't pay any attention to me when I referred to the PPK as being "almost" full sized.

---
News Editor
Palm Infocenter

Still waiting on the other accessories

I.M. Anonymous @ 6/12/2001 10:48:37 PM #
Now that the keyboard is finally shipping, where the heck are the monitor, CDRW and SCSI RAID array attachments???

if it ain't broke...

ajf @ 6/21/2001 8:46:09 AM #
i think palm are a bunch of ****s for not shipping the m50X keyboard with the neoprene case. they probably want to force consumers to buy additional cases, at exhorbitant prices. as if that would help their company right now. morons.

on the other hand, i do love the keyboard with wordsmith. great input rate, good feel. i'm just getting more and more frustrated that i ever upgraded my Vx.

My PPK experience is different

Patrick @ 3/12/2002 12:07:51 PM #
I owned a PPK for my Vx and bought a new one recently when I upgraded to the m515. Obviously, I like this keyboard. That said, I can't believe the reviews, like this one, which say things like

"The PPK comes with an application that acts as a driver that makes the keyboard work exactly the way you would want it to."

Almost immediately after plugging in my first PPK I was extremely disappointed to find that, while there was this handy key available to pull down a menu, there was NO WAY to select a menu entry. Your hands had to leave the keyboard to pick up the STYLUS to select the menu entry and then go back to the keyboard and continue typing.
This is incredibly frustrating and, to me, is an extreme flaw in the driver. If you are doing nothing but typing long blocks of text at a time, then the keyboard is fine, but don't think you're going to use the keyboard to use the PDA the way you normally do (i.e., rapidly switching from app to app). Keyboard/stylus swapping is way too onerous for that to be real.

Think Outside acknowledges this problem in their keyboard README but these drivers have been available for years now and they haven't fixed it. Meanwhile, third party apps like Wordsmith and pedit have built in their own support to do just this sort of thing.

It is mystifying to me why reviewers gush so much about the wonderful engineering in this device (which is indeed marvellous) and omit or completely gloss over this incredibly poor usability concern.

Go Type Comparison

I.M. Anonymous @ 5/20/2002 12:59:28 AM #
Any idea how the stowaway compares to the Go Type keyboard for the m500 series?

Thank you!

I.M. Anonymous @ 8/24/2002 9:05:06 AM #
A few days ago, I purchased one of these keyboards for delivery, and have been running over the concerns in my mind: is it easy to break? Will it last for a long time? Et cetera.

I am very pleased to hear that it will work for a long time and will most likely work with future Palm handhelds.

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