Official Gadgeteer Hands On Review: Stowaway Portable Keyboard
by Julie Strietelmeier
Last date revised: 01/25/2000

Program Requirements:
Palm Connected Organizers, and Handspring Visor
25 K free RAM

The Stowaway Portable Keyboard by Think Outside is the coolest accessory I've seen so far for the Palm Connected organizer. I've gotten quite a few comments when people see it in action. Comments such as "no way!", "you've got to be kidding", "wow", and "I want one!" come to mind.

What makes this keyboard more special than any of the other keyboards available for the Palm? There are two reasons. The first reason is that the Stowaway is a full sized keyboard unlike the other options out there presently. The second reason is that it folds up to the size of two stacked Palm V's.

There are several versions of the Stowaway. There is a version for the PalmPilot/Palm VII/Palm III series PDAs, a version for the Palm V/Vx and a version for the Handspring Visor. Think Outside is also going to have a version for the WindowsCE Palm-size PC.

Key size dimensions: ~.710" x .710" in.
Size closed: 5.000" x 3.625" x 0.865" in.
Size opened: 13.625" x 5.000" in.
Weight: .510 lbs.
Power: Draws power from the PDA that is attached to it.

The Stowaway arrived in a black faux leather zippered case. When I took it out of the case, it looked and felt smaller than I thought it would be. It really isn't much larger than two Palm V PDAs stacked on top of each other. The back and front of the folded keyboard is made of a light weight metal. To open it, you slide down a latch on the right side. Once the unit is unlatched, it opens like an accordion and then unfolds flat. At this point the keyboard is separated into three sections. You then slide the two outer keyboard edges to the center to create a full sized keyboard. When you do this, it makes the coolest sound... sort of a swoosh-click. Sorry, I'm weird.

When the Stowaway is in the ready-to-type position, is not a one piece rigid keyboard. If it isn't on a flat surface, it will bend in the middle. So, using this keyboard on your lap won't work all that well. It would have been nice if there were some type of sliding splints that would make the keyboard stay flat on any surface.

Before you can actually start using the keyboard, you have to install a small 25k driver program on your Palm PDA. This is an easy to use program that allows you to turn the keyboard software on/off, key click sounds on/off, set the key repeat rate, set the delay till key repeats, assign up to 9 CMD keys and view keyboard shortcuts. I found that leaving the keyboard software enabled made my Palm V quite sluggish when the keyboard wasn't attached. So, I would advise that you disable it when you're not using the Stowaway. Also I found that if the keyboard software was not enabled on the Palm, plugging the Palm into the Stowaway would initiate a hotsync. I was using beta drivers during my review so by the time they actually start shipping they may have a fix for these small problems.

To plug your PDA into the keyboard, you pull out a small popup stand. The PDA then slides on to the connector. The connector has clips so you don't have to worry about the PDA falling off while you're using it.


Typing on the Stowaway is very comfortable. Even though the key travel (distance the key travels when pressed down) is shallow, typing is very natural. The keys are large and easy to press. It feels much like a IBM ThinkPad type keyboard. If you are a touch typist and found the GoType! keyboard to be cramped, you'll love the Stowaway. The key layout is pretty standard. The only differences are that the `~ key is not located next to the 1! but is to the right of the spacebar. There are also additional special keys like a Fn key, Done key, and 4 application keys. The application keys are a fast way to launch the built in applications. You can also set 9 CMD keys to launch other applications. Using the Fn key in combination with other keys allows you to access commands like Menu, Details, Delete, Done, Cancel, and Ok. This makes it really easy to navigate applications while the PDA is plugged into the keyboard. If only there was a way to select an entry. For example, if you bring up the Memo app, you can't select a memo to open via the keyboard. You have to tap on a memo to open it.

The Stowaway is really a design marvel. The tooling that went into it must have been incredible. I really like this keyboard. It's very easy to touch type on and I love that it can fold up into such a small package. The only "concerns" that I have about the Stowaway are as of yet unfounded. I'm a little worried about the fragility of it. Some people might not realize that a keyboard is device that uses electricity. The Stowaway uses a very thin circuit board that also can bend when the unit folds up. I'm wondering how many times this flexible circuit board can fold and unfold without being damaged.

(The flexible circuit board between the keyboard sections)

Other than that, the keyboard is very well made and I feel that it is the best one available at this time. If you need a portable keyboard for your Palm PDA, then this IS the one to buy.

Price: ~$100

Super compact keyboard that opens into a full size keyboard.
Very comfortable to touch-type on.
Doesn't require batteries.

Have to use on a flat surface.
Carrying case needs to include a pouch for the PDA.

Let me know your comments on the Stowaway Portable Keyboard and read what others have to say.