A good many professions these days require employees to often take to the road for liaising, meetings, presentations and etc, needless to say, a notebook is an indispensable tool for these mobile warriors. For those who are fortunate enough to be allocated or own a lightweight notebook, frequent traveling should be very manageable and would hardly present itself as a chore. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it's usually the case of lugging around a notebook that's anything but lightweight.
The next best companion then is the Pocket PC. These are incredibly portable, affordable and with the recent crop of them boasting high-speed processors and high-resolution displays, they are even competent enough to assume the role of a mobile office convincingly. In fact, the only real concern that's holding people back from a complete transition from notebooks to these handhelds is the lack of a proper input tool and the obvious disadvantage of smaller screens. Let's face it, stylus and thumb pad input are just not as immediate or swift as a conventional keyboard. This is where an external keyboard such as the ThinkOutside Stowaway Universal Bluetooth keyboard comes into play.
Slightly larger than a regular sized Pocket PC/PDA when folded away, the Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard feels substantial and appears to be very well made, which is largely attributed to the tough magnesium alloy used for its bodywork. For such a simple product, the Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard is remarkably crafted and doesn't feel flimsy at all. Every hinge that's holding the keyboard together is made out of metal and that gives it a very robust mechanical action while folding/unfolding the keyboard.
A quick press of a catch releases the top piece and the right half of the keyboard and from there, the input tool can be laid out flat in just one swift sliding motion and is ready for typing away.
The keyboard is powered by two "AAA" batteries and is instantly switched on upon full extension of the keyboard. A green flashing LED that's located above the button "T" reflects the power/Bluetooth status of the keyboard. To conserve electrical power, three minutes of idling will instantly put the Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard into a power-off state, while pressing and holding a key combination of Ctrl + Fn (Blue) + Fn (Green) will fire up the keyboard once more.
Getting the keyboard to start feeding inputs to a Pocket PC/Smartphone however requires more than just a simple pairing procedure as you would with Bluetooth headsets and the likes. Installation of drivers is necessary and these are included in a driver CD that covers operating systems from Microsoft, Palm and Symbian. With the corresponding drivers installed, pairing the keyboard with a Bluetooth Pocket PC/Smartphone is just a matter of detection and selection.
The layout and size of the Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard is not all that different from a notebook and touch-typing of words can still be performed easily. Due to space constraints, more than half the keys on the keyboard were programmed to serve dual and for some, triple functions. This extensive key sharing explains why there are two different color-coded function ("Fn") keys on either side of the spacebar. Keys were responsive and gave tactile feedback, though they do rattle a bit.
Overall, there's no denying that the ThinkOutside Stowaway keyboard is a practical and well-made Bluetooth keyboard. It functions as expected, looks great and it even has a carrying case for protection against scratches. All these virtues of course meant the keyboard was not going to be cheap and at US$119, perhaps a little steep for many. Rather than gawking at the cost, we suggest you give it a try and you might be impressed enough to purchase one for your mobile needs.