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December 21, 2006

New 5-Row BT Keyboard is a Marvel

The new iGO(Stowaway)five-row Bluetooth keyboard is the ultimate input device; it far outshines the competition because there is not competition.

I have witnessed the entire evolution of external keyboards from hardwired to wireless, from Infrared to Bluetooth. It used to drive me crazy to spend a hundred bucks or more on a portable keyboard dedicated to a particular device only to have the next iteration of the device come out with a different connector rendering the keyboard useless. I have a whole bone pile of them.

That's no longer an issue with a Bluetooth keyboard, especially the new Sierra, which is practically universal. It comes with an installation CD with drivers to accommodate over 500 devices from Pocket PCs to Smartphones and even most of those other PDA wannabees.

Installation and setup was a breeze. I am always apprehensive about getting Bluetooth devices married; I got this keyboard hitched to two different PPCs and a Smartphone without a glitch. It's just a matter of installing the proper driver from the CD and going through the a three-step process of linking the keyboard to your device.

If you're eager to setup the keyboard and a CD drive is not handy, you can install drivers over the air from the ThinkOutside/iGO Website.

The quick-start manual takes you through the whole process painlessly in English, French, and German. There is a detailed user guide on the installation CD in .pdf format that you can print if you're the tree book type.

The only other thing you need to do to get clicking is to install the single AAA battery that powers it. According to the literature, the battery will last for two months under normal usage. I appreciate the choice of an AAA batteries because they are inexpensive and easy to obtain almost anywhere. I also appreciate the fact that the battery is included in the package. There is nothing worse than getting a new toy and then having to hunt for the right batteries to power it.

I give Stowaway extra points on including a sleek, black nylon zipper case to protect the unit--it fits like Spandex bicycle shorts. Thoughtfully, Stowaway also includes a specially treated screen-cleaning cloth in the case.

This inputter's presentation is really classy in its shiny chrome case that unfolds in four hinged sections that slide together to form a full-size keyboard. It's even fairly rigid when extended so that you can type with it in your lap if you wish.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the new five-row keyboard has a smaller footprint than the old four-row when folded. It is significantly larger, however, when unfolded. Closed, it measures 5" x 3.5" x .9" and 13.8" x 5.1" x .5" opened. It weighs in at 10.7 ounces.

On the back of the keyboard is a removable PDA stand that will hold any unit, and you can adjust the angle. I don’t know if it were intentional, but the two holes in the upper corners make nice pen and stylus holders.

In almost no time, you will be typing away with abandon as characters dance on the screen at your command. The feel of this keyboard is all business. The keys are not too sensitive, and the full-size, familiar QWERTY layout allows you to get right to work with little learning curve.

On other keyboards, I have always felt that I needed to accommodate their peculiarities. That's not the case with the new Sierra, which makes it a total treasure to tap.

There are many differences between the previous four-row version and the five-row version. Most obvious is the new top row of keys that contain numbers, shifted characters, and twelve function keys.

You can access an embedded numerical keypad with the shift key. Several dedicated keys bring up applications such as Internet Explorer, Contacts, Messaging, Calendar. You can bring up the Today screen, New menu, and Program menu, but you can't invoke Word, which is strange. I would think that would be the most commonly used program associated with an external keyboard. However, you can quickly access whatever application you wish in the Program folder.

You can also program up to ten keys to perform custom-designed operations and macros.
There are many other things you can do from this versatiile keyboard as well. You can navigate Websites with the keyboard. You can even start and stop phone conversations from this keyboard. You can quickly go to Programs, Settings, and the Today screen. Naturally, you can do all the normal keyboard editing commands such as cut, paste, and delete.

Instead of blue and green function keys, there is only a blue one, which simplifies matters. Other five-row keyboards use smaller keys, which makes typing accurately difficult, whereas the Sierra uses standard size keys.


I'm not sure why iGO dubbed this new five-row beauty the Sierra. Sierra can mean mountain or saw, but I think one could aptly call it the Summit or La Cumbre in Spanish. No matter what you call this full-size keyboard, it's definitely the pinnacle of inputting, the acme of key-finger articulation, the apogee of texting applications. I particularly appreciated the ease with which it connects because that can be a real nightmare with some Bluetooth peripherals.

ThinkOutside Sierra Bluetooth Keyboard $129

Posted by tim at December 21, 2006 09:48 PM


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