Stowaway Universal Bluetooth Keyboard

  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent

Pros

  • Small and light
  • Solidly built, and comes with protective zip-up case
  • excellent hardware design
  • removable handheld/smartphone stand supports landscape and portrait orientation

Cons

  • requires Bluetooth-compatible handheld or smartphone
  • no Palm OS drivers yet

For some users, a handheld and a keyboard can be a realistic substitute for a notebook system. Although lacking processing power, storage capacity, screen size and so on, such a solution is incredibly portable. There are many portable keyboards to choose from, but unless you go for the futuristic laser-based I.TECH Virtual Keyboard, they mostly interact with your handheld using a physical connector or via infrared. ThinkOutside recently introduced its Stowaway Universal Bluetooth Keyboard, which takes the wireless connection concept to the next level.

Design
Light and portable, the Universal Bluetooth Keyboard is also extremely well protected. Measuring just 13.cm wide by 9.9cm deep by 1.3cm high when closed,a jacket pocket would accommodate it; and at 160g, it's on a par with many handhelds and smartphones in weight. Although the outer shell is pretty tough, the keyboard comes with a zip-up case that provides an extra level of protection. To open the keyboard you first prise the handheld stand away from the outer shell, then release a catch on the left edge. Fold the keyboard open and it automatically locks into its flat position. Closing it again requires you to trip a small release catch. The keyboard is powered by two AAA batteries that live beneath the case. The housing is unobtrusive and doesn't prevent the keyboard from sitting flat on a table.

Features
Infrared keyboards can be a nuisance because they require a ‘line of sight’ link between the infrared ports of the devices being connected. This can be difficult to achieve if ports are inconveniently located, and also means that devices need to be in pretty close proximity to one another. Bluetooth does not require line of sight, but of course you need Bluetooth on your mobile device -- or the means to add it via a third-party SD or CompactFlash card. ThinkOutside has added a clever ergonomic extra by making the handheld stand detachable from the keyboard itself. This makes it possible to position your handheld some way from the keyboard, avoiding the cramped, hunched typing position that infrared keyboards often force you into. The stand can hold devices in portrait or landscape orientation. One word of caution: despite the word ‘Universal’ in the keyboard’s name, your device must be running the Windows Mobile, Symbian Series 60 or Symbian UIQ operating systems -- Palm OS drivers are not yet available, but are slated for 'fall 2004', according to ThinkOutside. We tested the keyboard on the Windows Mobile-based Mitac Mio 558, and a brand-new Symbian-based Sony Ericsson P910i.

Performance
Driver installation was straightforward, although ThinkOutside provides drivers for all its keyboards on the installation CD, so it's important to make sure you choose the correct one for your keyboard. You need to pair the keyboard and the mobile device too. Again, this is straightforward and there is good-quality printed help if you need it. The keys themselves are crucial, and ThinkOutside has plenty of experience here. There are three factors that make this a very usable keyboard. First, all the keys stand proud of the outer edges of the casing. Some keyboards for handhelds and smartphones don't manage this, and your thumbs can hit the outer edge when tapping the space bar. That's not the case with this keyboard. Second, the keys themselves are large and responsive – they're pretty much the size you'd expect on a notebook, with the upper edges around 14mm square. The keys are larger at the base, providing adequate spacing, and depress a fair way when tapped. All these features allow you to achieve touch-typing speeds with the Stowaway Universal Bluetooth Keyboard. Finally, the keys are not cluttered with shortcut and key combination options. We have tried handheld keyboards with as many as four colours and five functions per key. This type of configuration has its uses, but if tapping out simple text is all that’s required, the symbols and colours are a distraction rather than a help. There are some function key combinations, of course. To retain the keyboard's small size, ThinkOutside has omitted a number row, assigning numbers to a function key combination. We didn't find this much of a problem. Function key combinations are also provided for launching various applications. The nomenclature here is firmly Windows Mobile; an when used with our Sony Ericsson PP910i the effects were mostly comparable, but on one or two occasions they were not. For example, the Inbox key opened UIQ’s Messages application, but the Excel shortcut opens UIQ’s Calculator (there’s no spreadsheet in UIQ). Function key combinations also provide access to some useful symbols, including ‘£’, ‘@’, ‘#’ and ‘%’. The Stowaway Universal Bluetooth Keyboard is a good portable keyboard. It has a well designed device stand, is easy to configure and is solidly built. Note, though, that extensive Bluetooth use can drain the battery life from your handheld or smartphone.

Specifications

Input Device
Connectivity Technology wireless
Product Type keyboard
Interface Bluetooth
Key/Button Function programmable
Keyboard Layout QWERTY
Localization and Layout English
Depth 5.8 in
Height 0.5 in
Width 9.9 in
Layout English
Hot Keys Function Programmable
Weight 0.44 lbs
Battery
Included 2
Form Factor Triple AAA
Interface Provided
Type none
Miscellaneous
Product Material Rubber
Included Accessories carrying case
Header
Brand Think Outside
Product Line Think Outside Stowaway Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard
Localization English
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility Mac, PC
Expansion Slots
Type none
Cable Details
Type none
Dimensions & Weight
Width 9.9 in
Depth 5.8 in
Height 5.8 in
Weight 5.6 oz

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