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Reviews

iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth Keyboard

By Legacy December 6, 2006, 12:00 am

INTRODUCTION

    Anyone wanting to do serious typing on a PDA or Smartphone needs a decent external keyboard. Even though thumb keyboard aficionados may beg to differ, I believe they will agree that no one can thumb 60 words a minute, even 40. Think Outside, Inc., a small company founded in 1998, designed the very popular line of Stowaway portable keyboards and mice which are included in the Design Collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. In May 2006, Think Outside, Inc. was purchased by Mobility Electronics, Inc., the makers of the versatile iGo power adapters. In September, Mobility Electronics released a new full size foldable keyboard based on the Think Outside design: the iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard. I have been using the compact iGo (formerly Think Outside) Stowaway Sonoma Bluetooth keyboard which we reviewed late last year here. Let’s see how well Mobility Electronics, Inc. first release of an external keyboard performs as we Think Outside the PDA!

WHAT’S HOT


    Here are some specifications:

  • Works with almost all Bluetooth enabled devices
  • 100% full size keyboard for touch-typing
  • Includes a fifth row of keys for dedicated numerical entry
  • User programmable shortcut and command keys for fast access to other applications
  • Power saving auto sleep mode
  • Stainless steel and ABS plastic construction
  • Weighs less than 11 oz.
 

Sierra

Sonoma

Keyboard Layout 5 rows 4 rows
Key Spacing 19mm 18mm
Battery Requirement 1 AAA 2 AAA
Weight 10.7 oz 5.6 oz
Size Closed (HxWxD) 5.0" x 3.5 "x 0.9" 5.5” x 3.9” x 0.5”
Size Open (HxWxD) 13.8" x 5.1" x 0.5" 9.9” x 5.8” x 0.5”
User Programmable Keys 10 10

Here’s a chart comparing the Sierra to the Sonoma. More on comparisons later in the review!


SETUP

    The iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard is targeted to PDA and Smartphone users wanting a portable full size keyboard.

(all images link to higher resolution)

This is the iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard retail package.

    The iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard package includes the keyboard, a polishing cloth (the shiny stainless exterior smudges), a spandex-like case, AAA battery, driver CD, and manual. The drivers can be installed with the included CD or directly onto the PDA/Smartphone by accessing the Think Outside web site. I chose the latter method.

The Think Outside web site recognizes that a mobile browser initiated the url request and redirects the browser to a web site designed for mobile devices with the appropriate Windows Mobile 5.0 .cab installation link.

The Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket Mobile Explorer download process.

The Stowaway keyboard and mouse driver Windows Mobile 5.0 installation process. The drivers require 751KB of storage memory.

Once the drivers are successfully installed, the next step is to pair the keyboard with the device using the Stowaway configuration utility.

The Think Outside wizard provides an easy pairing process with the keyboard.

The keyboard is made discoverable by depressing a recessed button. This is much simpler than the ctrl + fn (blue) + fn (green) key press combination required on the iGo Stowaway Sonoma Bluetooth keyboard.

    The pairing process is completed by entering a user selected pass key in Windows Mobile and repeating the entry on the keyboard. My main complaint is that you can only pair one device. When my wife and I travel, I end up having to re-pair each device when each of us needs the use of the keyboard.

PRODUCT FEATURES

   The iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard provides full size keyboard capability in a small portable package and complements the iGo Stowaway Sonoma Bluetooth compact keyboard in iGo’s portable keyboard product line.

The iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard on the left and the iGo Stowaway Sonoma Bluetooth keyboard on the right in their closed position.

The iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard on top is .9" thick, while the iGo Stowaway Sonoma Bluetooth keyboard on the bottom is .5"’ thick. The Sierra weighs 10.7 ounces vs the Sonoma’s 5.6 ounces.

The iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard on the left in the included spandex like case takes up less space than iGo Stowaway Sonoma Bluetooth keyboard on the right in the included large case.

The tri hinge design of the iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard makes the keyboard feel flimsy although the overall stainless steel and ABS plastic construction is sturdy.

The single hinge design and aluminum enclosure of the iGo Stowaway Sonoma Bluetooth keyboard is more solid than the Sierra, however it lacks the 5th row of keys found in a full size keyboard.

The iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard at the bottom unfolds into a large keyboard vs the iGo Stowaway Sonoma Bluetooth keyboard at the top. The horizontal and vertical key spacing on the Sierra is 19mm and 18mm on the Sonoma. As little as the 1mm difference sounds, I find it makes a big difference.

The iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard includes a detachable PDA/Smartphone stand which stores in a recess underneath the keyboard.

The iGo Stowaway Sonoma Bluetooth keyboard PDA/Smartphone is built in and is not detachable.

    Both keyboards allow the keys to travel 3mm, when pressed. This is comparable to most notebooks computer keyboard and having learned how to type on the one and only IBM Selectric typewriter, the experience with the Sierra keyboard is close. Even though the key travel on the Sonoma is identical it does not feel as crisp. The abundance of application specific keys such as inbox, contacts, calendar, start menu, etc. work very well with Windows Mobile. This is an area where the Sierra shines with some dedicated keys vs the Fn + key combination required on the Sonoma. The Sierra also has a key combination for the Windows Mobile 5.0 soft keys.

The keyboard feature I find the most useful is the Alt + Tab to cycle through active programs on Windows Mobile. This feature works with both keyboards.

    The Sierra and Sonoma keyboards are excellent products and the choice should be based on personal preference for the size and keyboard usage conditions. The Sierra requires a rigid surface with enough room to place the detachable stand, while the Sonoma with it’s integrated stand and single hinge will work on a thick magazine sitting on one’s lap.

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HELP SUPPORT

   iGo provides a 12 month warranty from the date of purchase. Support queries can be made via email here or on the iGo forum here. Current drivers and manuals can be downloaded from here. The manual is very comprehensive and should be reviewed to get the most out the keyboards many application related function keys. Unfortunately, the manual lacks an index. The iGo/Think Outside web sites have some naming issues with the keyboards, in some places they are referred to as the Sierra and the Sonoma, and in others as the iGo Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard and the iGo Stowaway Ultra-Slim Bluetooth keyboard.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

    Both keyboards support many OS’ and devices. The iGo/Think Outside web site provides compatibility charts by OS and by product. I reviewed the keyboard using a T-Mobile MDA (a.k.a. HTC Wizard) Windows Mobile 5.0 phone edition.

BUGS AND WISHES

    The only small issue I found was a lag when trying to switch input methods between the Think Outside driver and Phatware’s Calligrapher: otherwise the automatic Bluetooth connection works very well.

    My only wish is a design of that would bring the Sierra keyboard layout (5 rows) in a single hinge package with an integrated PDA/Smartphone stand like the Sonoma.

PURCHASING

    Both keyboards can be purchased from iGo here. The iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard retails for $129.99 and iGo Stowaway Bluetooth Sonoma Keyboard for $149.99. Both are reasonably priced, however I think the Sierra is a better value. An internet search will net you a better price.

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PROS


  • Five rows of keys


  • Comfortable key-stroke feel



  • Excellent Bluetooth pairing wizard

CONS


  • Requires a sturdy surface to use


  • Stainless Steel enclosure smudges


  • Only pairs with one device at a time

Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

OVERALL IMPRESSION

   This article started out as a review of the iGo Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard, however since I owned the Sonoma I decided that a comparison of both would be more interesting. In the end both of these keyboards are very good. Think Outside and iGo have a reputation for solid products and they deliver with both of these. The Windows Mobile driver, which supports both keyboards, provides an easy Bluetooth pairing mechanism and a good set of customizable settings. The choice becomes a personal one; having 5 rows with dedicated numeric keys vs 4 rows with a more compact enclosure suitable for lap typing. I personally like the Sierra better, because it is a better value, I like the typing feel and I hate having to use the Fn key to type numbers. The stainless steel exterior is prone to smudges, however a soft polishing cloth is included. If iGo could design a hybrid of the two, they would have a "Think Outside the PDA" killer portable keyboard.




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