Wednesday, December 1, 1999

The Stowaway Portable Keyboard

PRODUCT PREVIEW

By Claire Pieterek

What's about the same size as your Palm device but enables you to type as easily as you could on a regular PC? It's the Stowaway Portable Keyboard by Think Outside, as shown in Figure A.

FIGURE A

Here's a picture of the Stowaway Portable Keyboard all folded up nice and neat. (click for larger image)

The Stowaway is an innovative keyboard that can be carried compactly but expands to its full size in use, as shown in Figure B.

FIGURE B

Here's the Stowaway Portable Keyboard expanding to full size. (click for larger image)

Unzip the Stowaway's faux leather case and you'll find an attractive anodized aluminum device, similar in color to a Palm V. Pick up the Stowaway Portable Keyboard and hold it in your hand, as though it were a book. Slide the thumb latch downward to pop it open. Push the red end grips toward the center, and you now have a full-size keyboard! You can connect your Palm device by sliding the dock out of the upper portion of the Stowaway. Then all you have to do is push the support back like an easel and park your Palm device. You can see a Palm device connected to the Stowaway in Figure C.

FIGURE C

This is how a Palm device looks when connected to the Stowaway keyboard. (click for larger image)

How it rates

I have tested a preproduction model of the Stowaway, and I am impressed. The Stowaway has intrigued everyone I showed it to, including a friend in Japan who's accustomed to seeing all the latest electronic gadgets.

A long-time GoType keyboard user mentioned to me that she preferred the Stowaway keyboard's feel to that of the GoType. Although I haven't personally used the GoType, I do like the springy yet substantial touch of the Stowaway. The audible and tactile feedback rivals my old favorite, the KeyTronic PC keyboard, which I used to use.

Better than the KeyTronic, the Stowaway offers a number of function keys geared perfectly for PalmOS-based devices. Both the "Big Four" and silkscreen buttons can be accessed directly from the Stowaway Portable Keyboard without taking your hands away from the keyboard. You can also turn your Palm OS-based device off, scroll, use shortcuts, and start new records. The Stowaway will be a real boon for any Palm device user who needs to take notes, enter a lot of data, or work on the great American novel away from his or her desk.

With all its ease, about the only possible improvement I can think of for the Stowaway would be to add a lock for the center hinge so it can be used more easily in one's lap.