Stowaway

Handheld computers have always suffered from a difficulty in data entry. From the ill-fated Newton to the most recent Palm OS systems, handwriting input is not suitable for writing much more than addresses or notes. And, keyboard-based systems such as the Psion don't have a large enough keyboard. But now you can have the best of both worlds with the Stowaway keyboard. Designed for the Handspring Visor, the Stowaway is also available for Palm models, but branded as a Palm keyboard. Compact
The Stowaway keyboard measures just 3.6-x-5.1-x 0.8-inches closed, but it opens out to 13.8-x-5.1-x-0.4-inches when open. The key spacing is the same as a normal desktop keyboard, and it feels like a PowerBook keyboard to use. No batteries are needed, just the power from the Visor. The consumption is so low I didn't notice the batteries running down any faster than usual. A minor flaw is that the keyboard lies flat, unlike an angled desktop keyboard. However, it's still a million times better than trying to write a long document using a stylus (the pen that comes with Handsprings and Palms). It has function keys for easy access to the standard Palm applications, such as the To Do list or Memo Pad, so you don't usually need to use the stylus, though there is a resting-place for the stylus if you need it. The practicality of the keyboard is undeniable, but that is almost secondary to its head-turning ability to spring from its folded position to a full keyboard. The keyboard is in four, joined pieces, so when you crack open the case it folds out concertina-style. Then the left and right sides slide in to lock it in position. Last of all, a rest for your PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) slides out of the top. This can be done in two or three seconds, and I guarantee you will spend the first week of owning a Stowaway keyboard demonstrating it to amazed friends and co-workers. It is the kind of gadget James Bond would be proud of - despite its lack of firepower. It's functional, but the design is so appealing I would be surprised if it failed to appear in a design museum before long.

OUR VERDICT

There have been a few attempts at improving hand-writing software. Graffiti works well for notes, but it just can't replace a good keyboard. This is a great keyboard, conversation piece and all-around nifty gadget. The usual problem with gadgets is they seem like a good idea, but end up in the bottom of a drawer. Also, they're often expensive and difficult to justify. If you have a Visor you'll use this keyboard all the time, and the price is just £69. That should be cheap enough to buy and claim it on your expenses later. I can unreservedly recommend everybody buy one immediately.

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