For many, a smartphone or handheld is the center of a mobile office. These people regularly use their Palm OS or Windows Mobile device as if it were a laptop.
But these devices either depend on small keyboards or touchscreens for text input. Something that can make this much easier is a full-size keyboard, like you’d find in a laptop or even a desktop. Fortunately, something like this exists: the iGo Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard.
This can be used with a wide variety of mobile devices — Palm OS, Symbian OS, Windows Mobile, or Windows XP — and serves as a handy tool for those who need to enter large amounts of text when they are on the go.
There’s something very James Bond about his accessory. I rarely fail to get an "Ooo" out of someone who sees me open if for the first time.
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You start out with a reflective silver box that’s 5.0 in. by 3.5 in. by 0.9 in., which pops open when you push a button on one side. This gizmo then unfolds sort of like an accordion until you have a keyboard that’s 11 inches wide and 5 rows of keys tall.
For comparison, that’s the same width as the keyboard on my laptop. And while the Stowaway model lacks a row of dedicated function keys, unlike some other Bluetooth keyboards it includes a row of number keys.
Just to be sure, let me clearly state that this keyboard is well suited to touch typing. The keys use the same scissor action as laptop keys do, and offer a decent travel distance.
There’s one drawback to the generous size of this keyboard: it’s not as portable as most of its competitors. I already gave you the dimensions when the Stowaway is closed, so let me put it like this. When folded up, this accessory is significantly larger than any handheld or smartphone I have, including the Palm LifeDrive. And when I’m using a slim smartphone like the HTC Touch, working with such a large keyboard is slightly silly looking.
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That said, you don’t have to carry this keyboard around with you everywhere you take your smartphone, and when you want to write a few thousand words while on the road, it’s a real lifesaver.
But keep in mind that you’re going to need a hard, flat surface to work on. This keyboard isn’t lap-friendly at all.
There’s a small easel that pops out of the back of the Stowaway that holds your device — whatever it is — up at an angle so you can see the screen better. I’ve used this with a wide variety of models of many different sizes, and it stood up to the challenge well.
Naturally, there are different software drivers for the various operating systems you can use this keyboard with. I was able to test it with three of them.
Palm OS: In the past, I have read some complaints about the Stowaway’s Palm OS driver being buggy, but I suspect that a new driver released a few weeks ago took care of most of these problems.
I wrote the majority of this review on a LifeDrive using this keyboard, and I experienced no difficulties.
I’d strongly suggest you set up a secure connection, not because someone is going to steal your keystrokes, but because this makes reconnecting your handheld or smartphone to the keyboard faster and easier.
Windows Mobile: I had heard nothing about problems with this driver, and I experienced none.
"Stowaway Keyboard" shows up as one of the text input options at the bottom of the screen, next to Block Recognizer, Letter Recognizer, etc., so picking which form of input you want is a snap.
Both the Palm OS and Windows Mobile drivers offer programmable function keys, so can easily launch your favorite applications by pressing a combination of keys.
There are also pre-set function keys scattered around the keyboard. You operate these by holding down the "Fn" button and hitting a key labeled with the function you want, whether it’s rotating the screen or opening the default web browser.
Windows XP: I know some of you might wonder why anyone would want to use a Bluetooth keyboard with a Windows XP computer, but it’s great for people with a UMPC.
No driver is necessary to use the Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard with Windows XP; just connect the two devices by Bluetooth and start typing.
Symbian OS and Mac OS X: Two other operating systems supported by this keyboard are the Symbian OS and Mac OS X, but I don’t have the hardware to test it with them.
RIM BlackBerry: I thought it would be best to make it clear that there is no driver for this keyboard to let it be used with RIM BlackBerries. iGo sells a separate keyboard for that class of devices.
I can’t give you a definite answer on how long this keyboard will last on a single AAA battery, but I can assure you it’s a fairly long time; I’ve been using one for several weeks now and haven’t had to change the battery yet.
iGo promises 90 hours of continuous use per battery, and I see no reason to doubt that yet.
As I said before, the iGo Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard is bulky, but it’s worth it if you want to use a full-size keyboard with your mobile device.
And its flexibility is a big asset. I’ve used this one accessory with three or four different handhelds and smartphones running very different operating systems.
At $130 it isn’t cheap, but the ability to switch devices means you can be fairly sure you can use the Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard for years to come.
This accessory can be purchased from the iGo web site.