Hardware

Trek tech: Think Outside's Stowaway Portable Keyboard pushes the envelope

When you're on the road, be it Hoboken, NJ; Geneva, Switzerland; or Kathmandu, Nepal, you've probably wished you could take notes with your Palm handheld. Read on to see how your wish has been granted.


Think Outside. That’s good advice, whether for a corporation’s management team or for an outdoor mavin like me. So when I was looking for PalmPilot peripherals to take with me to Nepal on TechRepublic’s almostEverest expedition , I asked the folks at ThinkOutside to let me evaluate their Stowaway Portable Keyboard. Wow! It’s the best device I’ve ever seen. My recommendation: If you do a lot of traveling or note-taking, buy it.

An engineering marvel
Not only is this a rugged, full-size keyboard with a beautiful key touch, but as Figure A and Figure B show, it folds up like an accordion into a package just slightly bigger than a Palm III.

Figure A
All folded up, the Portable Palm Keyboard is hardly bigger than a Palm III.


Figure B
Four precision-designed sections make this keyboard an engineering marvel.


Once it’s open, pull out the hideaway docking station and snap in your Pilot (as shown in Figure C). Another thoughtful feature: The supplied keyboard driver (you install it like any other .prc file using the desktop Install tool) senses when the Pilot is docked or undocked and turns the keyboard on or off. All you have to do is start typing.

Figure C
The convenient slide-out docking station supports the Pilot.


Think Outside provided four application keys so that at the touch of a finger you can switch to Date Book, Phone Book, To Do List, and Memo Pad. Pressing the Function key along with selected keys lets you control many application menus, keeping screen taps to a minimum. They’ve thought of just about everything.

Currently, models are available for the Palm III, V, and VII. The PalmPilot and PalmPilot Professional models fit in the docking station, but their OS version doesn’t support the keyboard program. According to Palm, a driver for those products should be available soon. At $99 U.S., the price may seem steep, but after test-driving this keyboard for two weeks I’ve come to believe it’s worth every cent.

Using handheld computers for serious document writing has always been a problem. With portable keyboards now becoming available, handhelds can at last take the place of laptops in many cases (and your sore shoulders will thank you). With a portable keyboard, a bunch of extra AAA batteries, a snap-on modem, and a satellite phone, you can even stay in touch from remote locations, such as the Everest Base Camp (at least that’s what I’m hoping—sign up for TechRepublic’s TrekMail and you’ll see whether it works). By using Think Outside’s portable keyboard, your Pilot will really fly. Now if they could only invent an automatic pilot to attend meetings for you.
Want to win a TechRepublic baseball cap? Share your climbing experiences or give the guys encouraging words by posting your comment below, or send us an e-mail. It's that simple.And so you don't miss one step of David and Mike's climb up Island Peak, subscribe to our free TrekMail. Be one of the first 2,000 subscribers to our TrekMail, and you'll get a cool TechRepublic flying disc!

Mike Jackman is an editor-in-chief of TechProGuild and the editor of PC Troubleshooter and Windows Support Professional, and he also works as a freelance Web designer and consultant. Together with his co-editor-in-chief, David Bard, he is traveling to Nepal to report on high-altitude technology and to climb 20,285-foot Imja Tse. In his spare time (when he can find some), Mike's an avid devourer and writer of science fiction, parent to two perpetually adolescent cats, and a hiking enthusiast.

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