By: Adam Zeit
December 2, 2002
Constructed of an advanced aluminum alloy that is designed for years of rugged use, the Stowaway XT keyboard is quick to open and slips easily into a pocket. When open, it remains rigid, and can be used for comfortable touch typing during a lecture, in a car or anywhere else, just name it. The new Stowaway is marketed by Palm as the Ultra-Thin keyboard. Having the universal connector, it currently works with Palm m125/m130, m500/m505/m515 and Palm Tungsten only. Is the Stowaway XT the perfect keyboard? Adam Zeit, PIC reviewer and Palmi's Editor in-Chief, will answer this question shortly.
The Think Outside Stowaway keyboard, also known as Targus Stowaway and Palm Stowaway keyboard, is probably the most known PDA keyboard out there. Since 2000, Think Outside has sold more than 2,000,000 keyboards under Palm, Targus, Motorola and Kyocera brand names. Why is the Stowaway such a success? It is the only PDA keyboard which is touch-typeable, folding and has full-sized keys, all at the same time. However, the only drawback I had with the good old Stowaway was that I couldn't type while the keyboard was on my laps, or any other non-flat surface. It wasn't steady enough and always folded outside under pressure, if wasn't placed on a hard, supportive surface.
Oct, 28, 2002, was the day Think Outside listened to its customers and launched the Stowaway successor, the Stowaway XT, for Palm hardware users only (Universal Connector). The Stowaway XT is 30 percent smaller and half the thickness of its predecessor. This is achieved by eliminating the numbers line, and the launcher application buttons on the right side. Instead of the folding W construction of the original Stowaway, we now have a V construction with a rigid anodized aluminum back. Now one can type easily while holding the keyboard on his laps, since the Stowaway XT doesn't need a flat surface to work. The V construction had divided the space key by two, it is a little strange, but you get used to it, after a day or two.
A regular full-size keyboard has a six rows design: one bottom row for command buttons, three middle rows for letters, one row for numbers and one top row for function keys (F1-F12). Since we hardly use the function keys on the PC, and there is no use for them on the PDA, the original Think Outside keyboard came with a five-row design. The Stowaway XT comes with a four-row design, without the numbers row. Basically, it isn't a problem, since the numbers are the least used keys on the keyboard. The Stowaway XT introduces us two new Function (FN) keys. The Blue and the Green FN keys, that are placed on each side of the space key. If one needs type a number on the Stowaway XT, he must use the FN (Blue) key and then press the associated key. Fortunately enough, the numbers/special characters are replaced on the Q-P letters, so with the FN (Blue) key, they are just a row down. The special characters can be accessed with the FN (Green) key.
The Stowaway XT may be opened using one hand only. The release button is placed on the left side of the keyboard. After pressing the button, you just need to pivot the right side of the keyboard, until reaching a 180 degree angle between the two parts of the keyboard. All is left to do in order to connect the Palm handheld (I've used my m515, since the Tungsten is banned in Israel, because of the Bluetooth), is to pull out the black door in middle of the top of the keyboard, which will reveal the connector and the pop-up stand. Closing the keyboard is a simple as pulling a small switch, located near the "-" key. Once again, the keyboard may be closed, using one hand only.
Before using the keyboard, one must install the driver. Unfortunately, I didn't have a driver no a case in the package I've got from Think Outside. I downloaded their driver from the web, and started typing. It looks that the old driver for the Think Outside Stowaway works fine, however it doesn't recognize the numbers and function keys. On my second attempt, I found the new XT specific driver on Palm website. Voila! It works!
The 87k driver file (version 1.9T) is responsible for configuring the key repeat rate, delay until repeat and key clicks. One can assign 9 applications to be launched using the Cmd key and the appropriate number on the keyboard. The layout of the keyboard may be changed here also, from English to English Dvorak to German and Japanese. There is also built-in support for screen pointer. Unfortunately, without having an OS5 handheld, I can not tell where and how it is used.
If you ask me, the new Stowaway XT keyboard is the best keyboard out there for your Palm handheld. There are many different keyboards for the PDA, some need your stylus, some use your thumbs and some are really full-sized, however difficult to transport, and far away from folding. However, if you really need a keyboard for typing long texts, and not just phone numbers, go for the Stowaway brand. Think Outside has just proved us once again that the impossible may be possible, their original Stowaway keyboard has evolved and we welcome the new successor, the Stowaway XT.
The Stowaway XT can be purchased online for $99 from the Palm.com Online Store. There is a free shipping special until Dec 13th. The previous version of the Stowaway keyboard is now priced at $79.
RATING: 9 / 10
Adam Zeit is a journalist in PCPLUS, Israel and the Editor in-Chief of Palmi Group, the leading Israeli web site network handling PDA's, Palm and Pocket PC, mobile Phones and other Gadgets.
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