Monday, December 15, 2003
Stowaway XT Keyboard Review
Posted by Don Tolson in "HARDWARE" @ 12:00 PM
If you're using your Pocket PC for any serious text composition, at some point you'll want to invest in a full-sized keyboard. There are a number of them out there, but the most innovative, compact designs come from Think Outside, with their most recent version being the Stowaway XT. It's had a somewhat bumpy start for the iPAQ line, but all that seems to be behind it now, and the Stowaway XT has become one of coolest accessories for text composition.
Trying to create that "Great [substitute nationalistic reference here] Novel" on a thumb keyboard, or using screen gestures usually just won't cut it -- especially for those of us to tend to be a bit verbose and were 'forced' to learn touch typing at high school (Thanks, Mom!). It gets to the point where you have to compose on-screen, since few other methods can keep up to the thought processes. And the only way to do that is with a full-sized keyboard.
One of the earliest accessory purchases I've made for both my Pocket PCs has been a fold-out keyboard, designed by Think Outside. The first was the Targus Stowaway keyboard for my Jornada 568. It was OK and cool for the time, but it was also a bit on the bulky side, and difficult to fit into a dress jacket pocket (I have to wear a suit to work...). Then, when I moved to the iPAQ 2215, it was time for a new keyboard, and I when I first saw articles on the Stowaway XT, I couldn't wait to get one. I had seen them for the Palm units for a number of weeks in the local stores, but nothing for the iPAQs, and Think Outside's Web site made no mention of the 2200 series. Then Jason announced he had tested one on the iPAQ2215 and found it to work, then it didn't. Then, Think Outside announced a new set of drivers for the Stowaway XT for Windows Mobile 2003 devices and I decided to take the plunge. I found a Fellowes Stowaway XT on eBay and crossed my fingers. (For those who can't wait to the end of the article - it works great!).
For the majority of the iPAQ series, installation of the keyboard is fairly straightforward. You unfold the keyboard by pressing a black button on the left side, then pulling the top up and to your right -- kind of like opening a book.
Figure 1: Unfolding the Stowaway XT keyboard
(This is by far the coolest part of the process and one that never fails to impress friends and colleagues I show it to.) Then, flip up the support and serial connector, and attach the Pocket PC to the connector. The support is spring-loaded so that it flips up automatically when it's pulled out from the keyboard, and it holds the Pocket PC at a good viewing angle for seeing what you're typing. The serial connector makes good firm contact within the unit, so there is a comfort level that things are not going to come apart while you're working.
To close the keyboard, you flip down the connector, slide in the support, then press a small black button at the top right side of the connector mounting, just above the space between the P and hyphen keys on the top row. (You can see it in Figure 1 above) While pressing this button, pull the right side of the keyboard up and fold it over the left side. Folded up, the keyboard isn’t much bigger than the iPAQ itself.
Figure 2: Comparing the XT keyboard to an iPAQ
For the iPAQ 2200 series, the serial connector mounting will need some minor modifications to allow the unit to sit down firmly on the connector, since the 2200 base is a bit flatter than its cousins. Think Outside is aware of this and has posted a description and pictures of the required mods on their Web site.
Basically, the mod consists of filing away a portion of the curved bits of the connector mounting plastic on either side.
Figure 3: Where to modify the XT's connector for the iPAQ 2200
(Photo courtesy of Think Outside's Web site)
Figure 4: The modified XT keyboard connector
(Photo courtesy of Think Outside's Web site)
I used a Dremel tool to carefully grind away the edges of the plastic and have encountered no problems at all. Unfortunately though, I have to take the iPAQ out of its Proporta metal case to use the keyboard, since the serial connector is not long enough to reach the unit through the case. I suppose I could have ground off more from the plastic, or nibbled the hole in the metal case larger, but I didn't want to go that far. (Oh, for a Bluetooth keyboard!!)