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PIC Hands on Review: Stowaway XT Keyboard
By: Adam Zeit
December 2, 2002

 

Stowaway XTConstructed 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.

Stowaway XT Stowaway XT

Stowaway XT

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!

Stowaway XTThe 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.

PIC Bottom Line

PROS
CONS
  • The smallest full-size foldable keyboard.
  • Anodized aluminum design
  • Doesn't require flat surface
  • Small and easy to transport
  • Numbers and Special signs need to be accessed through FN combinations
  • No case supplied

RATING: 9 / 10
Design: 4
Valuet: 5
Coolness: 5

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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wha?

byscuits @ 12/2/2002 2:27:57 PM #
how in the world does this thing only get a 4/5 for design? i mean, seriously, the old one was one of the coolest pieces of mechanical engineering ive ever seen, and this one only improves on the old design.

RE: wha?
Ronin @ 12/2/2002 2:36:57 PM #
I am with you on this. 4 out of 5 for design does not seem right.

I own one of these and it definitely puts the old PPK to shame in the mechanical engineering department. The PPK was a marvel and the new one is a marvel plus.

I feel like a Jetson just holding it. :)

In the Spirit of Umoja,
Ronin

RE: wha?
rvdw @ 12/2/2002 2:38:42 PM #
Probably because of: "Numbers and Special signs need to be accessed through FN combinations".

Bluetooth

DessertProfessor @ 12/2/2002 3:22:39 PM #
I had hoped that we would be seeing accessories that use Bluetooth for connecting to handhelds. A keyboard would have been a great example (just like the recently announce GPS receiver).

- Rene

RE: Bluetooth
jjsoh @ 12/2/2002 3:33:36 PM #
Then how would you view your Palm? I'd imagine you would want your Palm to be angled so that it can be viewed comfortably while typing, not laying flat on a surface. If the keyboard keeps the PDA propped up for easier viewing, it may as well be connected. Besides, though BT doesn't eat up a lot of energy, it still needs some. And, I'd rather worry about one device's battery running low than 2, especially when you're on the go.

Though BT keyboard would be welcome for desktops, I can't imagine it being beneficial for PDA's. Or... maybe my imagination is just limited. ;)

Jim

RE: Bluetooth
Davy Fields @ 12/2/2002 4:04:01 PM #
That'd be cool, to be sure, but really, when you need to have the Palm sitting next to the keyboard to type regardless, why bother with wireless when you can just prop it up?

-Davy Fields
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Palm_OS_5/
RE: Bluetooth
timewaster77 @ 12/2/2002 4:23:50 PM #
On the subject of bluetooth, why is bluetooth banned is Israel? Is it a security threat (the reach is only about 10 meters), or is there something I am missing?

Happy Sony Clie User
RE: Bluetooth
vbing @ 12/2/2002 4:25:47 PM #
While the comment about propping up the Tungsten is a good one, wouldn't it be better to have the Universal Connector free so that you could leave it plugged in and not drawing on the battery while typing?

I had a Stowaway when I was using my Visor Prism. When I went to the M515, I tried using the GoType! keyboard, and while it wasn't as portable, I could leave it plugged into the AC on my desk (and to my USB port) and just drop the M515 into it and leave it on the desk all day long, fully charged and ready to go when I needed it.

Unfortunately, the GoType! wouldn't work with the Tungsten (mostly because the thickness of the Tungsten interfered with the facia in front of the connector). As much as I am looking forward to the portability and full sized keyboard of the Stowaway XT, since I use the Tungsten constantly all day long, I miss the ability to charge the Palm while typing.

RE: Bluetooth
enjolras @ 12/2/2002 4:35:06 PM #
You could still have a PDA stand attached to the keyboard, it just wouldn't require the connector. If we could finally get all of the Palm OS providers to provide bluetooth capability.. then the keyboard wouldn't need the actual connector. You could prop up the PDA on a stand, without ever having to actually plug it into the keyboard. This means 1 keyboard for all devices...

RE: Bluetooth
hoodoo @ 12/2/2002 5:01:25 PM #
does anyone know why Bluetooth is banned in Israel?

RE: Bluetooth
robrecht @ 12/2/2002 5:13:45 PM #
Is there a universal connection extension cable that can connect the keyboard to a Palm?

For ergonomic reasdons, I would love to be able to sit the keyboard in my lap with my feet up on my desk and have the palm propped up elsewhere nearby. Call me ergonomically strange but I wrote my whole thesis like this on an old Compaq SLT-286 laptop. I've never been able to tolerate the clamshell laptop design that causes us all to hunch our sholulders.

A bluetooth connection would also allow this type of posture (or lack thereof), but I'm not sure I could be connected online through a bluetooth phone at the same time.

OK, time for someone to call me strange ...

Thanks, Robrecht

RE: Bluetooth
Xian @ 12/2/2002 6:17:50 PM #
IIRC Bluetooth is banned in Israel, Spain, and Malaysia because it uses spectrum that is already allocated for other uses.

RE: Bluetooth
cbowers @ 12/2/2002 6:33:46 PM #
The main reason I see for a Bluetooth keyboard is so you don't have to keep buying new ones each time you move to a different device.

In fact at an OEM booth at Comdex one vendor did indeed have a Bluetooth module that clipped onto the connector for a PocketPC version of the Stowaway keyboard.

This connector issue is getting a bit silly with a slew of stowaway versions for various pocketPC's, PalmOS models, cellphones, etc.

RE: Bluetooth
masitti @ 12/2/2002 7:25:21 PM #
I would love to see a BT keyboard for PDA's.

Palm on the lap, and keyboard on the desk - my typing is above proficient, and I can always take a peak down if I need to look at what I am typing.

------------------------
Mario Masitti
O/T Mod
I Love Tennis :)

no need to prop it up
mj6798 @ 12/2/2002 10:05:17 PM #
I'd also much prefer a Bluetooth-based version. I don't like having to fiddle with connectors, I'm tired of having to buy a new keyboard for every new PDA I get, and I don't usually need to look at the screen while typing. I'd be happy just to put down both devices on a desk, flat. If people really want the Palm propped up, a simple foldout leg in back of the Palm, or a simple foldout support in back of the keyboard, would still do the trick.

RE: Bluetooth
cjnolan @ 12/2/2002 10:35:15 PM #
Specifically, in Israel, Bluetooth is used by the military.
RE: Bluetooth
yapliren @ 12/2/2002 11:59:40 PM #
For your information, bluetooth is not ban in Malaysia. I am having a t68, palm tungsten t, msi motherboard with bluetooth module and I am using it everyday in Malaysia.
RE: Bluetooth
Fly-By-Night @ 12/3/2002 10:26:45 AM #
Infosync had a news item on an interesting looking BT keyboard some time ago. URL is http://www.infosync.no/show.php?id=2012.

The keys seem to be made of stretchy rubber and fabric, so that when the keyboard body slides apart, the keys are expanded to full size. Probably not as easy to type on as Stowaway XT (but does have numeric row), but will work with all sorts of BT 1.1 devices and be quite pocketable.


FBN

RE: Bluetooth
Fly-By-Night @ 12/3/2002 10:29:21 AM #
Apparently it also has 802.11b supoprt for Toshiba users near a power point...


FBN
RE: Bluetooth
danielpark @ 12/3/2002 1:41:10 PM #
Bluetooth doesn't appear to be banned in Spain. While they don't seem to carry the Tungsten, El Corte Ingles does have a bluetooth SD card available for your M-series device...

http://informatica.elcorteingles.es/producto/producto.asp?referencia=97901705307

RE: Bluetooth
danielpark @ 12/3/2002 1:48:09 PM #
In fact, here's a link to Palm Spain's listing on the Tungsten:

http://www.palm.com/es/products/tungsten-t/specs.html

RE: Bluetooth
djpedro @ 12/3/2002 2:18:33 PM #
You are also forgetting the simple point that Bluetooth needs POWER. That bt keyboard ain't going to power itself and will need a battery. Also, I would guarantee you that 90% of the users of this keyboard won't want to be bringing their cradle along to keep this puppy powered and plugged in so you can type. It seems to be a more complex setup than just the simple keyboard attatched to the palm and one for which there probably not that many people out there to use it. Certainly not the majority.

RE: Bluetooth
edevoe @ 12/4/2002 10:51:54 AM #
Another possible issue with a Bluetooth keyboard would be on an airline. I belive the the FAA has not approved Bluetooth devices for use on commercial aircraft.

"Despite the high cost of living, it remains popular..."

Application Launch

vbing @ 12/2/2002 4:32:53 PM #
I am not sure if I understand. The number keys must be accessed using one of the new Fn keys, but you can launch applications with a combo of the Function key and the number key.

Does that mean that application launch is a 3 key process? (Function, Fn+number)?

RE: Application Launch
sford @ 12/2/2002 4:47:54 PM #
You launch applications with the Cmd key + number, not a Fn key. :)

RE: Application Launch
Ronin @ 12/2/2002 6:44:00 PM #
Actually, yes.

In order to use the Cmd Keys to launch applications it requires a 3 key press: Cmd+blue Fn+number key.

To launch the applications assigned to the 4 Palm buttons a 2 key press is necessary: blue Fn+ a, s, d or f. The Silkscreen buttons are also a 2 key press: blue Fn+ j, k, l or ;.

In the Spirit of Umoja,
Ronin

bluetoothing why using the keyboard

windboy @ 12/2/2002 7:07:00 PM #
Is it possible to be using a bluetooth network connection (on a T|T) while using the keyboard?

RE: bluetoothing why using the keyboard
IanJD @ 12/3/2002 10:32:28 AM #
You can with the PPK, so no reason why you shouldn't be able to with this one (I think...)

Praising and Complaining about the same thing?

MJGunn @ 12/2/2002 7:43:32 PM #
To me, it seems like you contradict yourself when you praise the small size, and then 2 seconds later complaing about the fact that you have to use a function key to access numbers and symbols. If you want small size, you have to sacrifice some things.

Another Review

TypeMRT @ 12/2/2002 9:10:13 PM #
Be sure to visit Julie over at http://www.the-gadgeteer.com/stowaway-xt-review.html for another great review.

Stylus Free Use

Patrick @ 12/2/2002 11:27:59 PM #
This review didn't mention it but the Gadgeteer review did say how you still had to have the stylus handy when using this keyboard.

I have the PPK and this is one of my major complaints about the keyboard. Actually, it is probably a driver issue, but so what. Actually, it may even be a third party software issue but so what.

The point is that, at the end of the day, it is very annoying to work with the keyboard unless you simply want to use a single application and write a bunch of normal text. The constant switching between keyboard and stylus is very tedious. The biggest culprit in this area is menu navigation.

I don't know that Think Outside can actually do something about this. It may be that there is no support in the OS to reliably navigate menus or pick particular buttons. If you think about the Windows interface (yes, I know), one of the good things about it is that you get these underlined characters in menus and dialogues. You can use alt-character to pick the corresponding item. I often use Windows apps like this, totally mouse free, and I find it to be a boon to productivity, once you get over the initial learning curve. Of course, this feature is supported by the Windows API and I'm not so sure the Palm OS has a workable analogue.

RE: Stylus Free Use
mtc111 @ 12/3/2002 6:50:29 AM #
I'm quite pleased with the keyboard. You actually do have access to the menus. Fn-K is the silkscreen menu button, so that drops the menu down and you simply navigate with the arrow keys. One other nifty that the reviews don't highlight -- the support of the "d-pad" per se. Cmd + "arrow keys" operates like the "d-pad". AND, umentioned in the users guide (as far as I can tell), Cmd + "Enter" operates as the "d-pad" select. I haven't tried it, but this could work well with OKey. Where you currently have to use the stylus is with accessing different fields and checkboxes on the screen, for instance in a detail dialog box. Something like LapTopHack would allow for stylus free use. We TT users just need a LapTopExtension.

I'll have to get used to accessing #'s with the Fn key, but I will. Now, if I can get a little program that turns the TT off, I'll assign it to a command sequence.

RE: Stylus Free Use
Altema @ 12/5/2002 11:07:26 AM #
There is a new driver for the regular PPK which gives you a mouse pointer: You hit the alt key and the pointer pops up. You can slide it around using the arrow keys, then hit enter to select. The driver version is 1.6 but is for the Palm M5xx series.

RE: Stylus Free Use
Rolandrsr @ 12/8/2002 8:36:15 PM #
I saw where you said that 1.6 was out. I checked the Palm store and did not see the software. Would like to get it.

RE: Stylus Free Use
Xizor @ 12/19/2002 12:05:49 PM #
This comment might be a bit late, but I just have to say this... expecting to use all the software without a stylus is kind of like expecting to use a PC without a mouse... You have always needed to use the mouse with the keyboard for full functionality. I know you can use the alt key etc... but it's not nearly as handy. Hopefully they come up with something opens menus etc... with this keyboard.

RE: Stylus Free Use
Patrick @ 12/20/2002 10:29:43 PM #
Well, I use alt key combinations to great effect on Windows. Yes, occasionally there is no replacement for the mouse, but you can do the most common operations completely from the keyboard.

In the case of PalmOS, if standardized menu and dialog box navigation was available from the keyboard, that would go a long, long way to making the keyboard experience much more satisfying (for me). I don't expect to throw away the stylus altogether while using the keyboard, though.


keyboard comparision

jsulmeyer @ 12/3/2002 7:40:57 AM #
I was at Office Depot last night and was looking at a new Palm brochure that shows the Tungsten attached to a new "extra thin" keyboard. I checked the Palm web site and there is no sign of it. Does anyone know anything about it and, if so, how does it compare to the new stowaway? Are they one and the same?



RE: keyboard comparision
scaught @ 12/3/2002 8:47:21 AM #
this review is the keyboard mentioned, im 99% positive.

RE: keyboard comparision
Marshall Flinkman @ 12/3/2002 9:07:08 AM #
It's got to be--the Stowaway XT was announced at the same time as the T|T...

RE: keyboard comparision
Moose Man @ 12/3/2002 10:03:22 AM #
The brochure is for the XT. Palm Store is out of this unit at the moment. I had one on order and they cancelled it. I've had email conversation with Think Outside. Shipments are on their way to the Palm Store and they should be back in stock shortly.

I'm perturbed that Palm Store cancelled my order instead of leaving it on backorder status now I have to reorder. Palm store is the only current source for this keyboard although some of the box retailers will have it later, again according to Think Outside.

A Palm wannabe fanatic

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