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Bluetooth folding keyboard enters the wild

PDA cool - at a price

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If you've been wondering when you'd be able to get a truly wireless keyboard for your PDA or smartphone, the wait is nearly over. However, neat as this latest Stowaway folding keyboard from Think Outside looks, it doesn't come cheap.

The Stowaway folding keyboard

Think Outside president Greg van der Dries was in london last week with samples: "Bluetooth is still very expensive," he admitted, estimating that at $150 or £99, the Stowaway will be two or three times the price of the infrared equivalent.

"The extra is almost all component cost. Bluetooth adds $10 to $20 to manufacturing, and anything that costs me $10 will cost the consumer $30 to $40," he added.

"The chip cost is descending though," van der Dries continued. "There are 15,000 Bluetooth devices on the market and as that base increases, the economies of scale kick in. This time next year it will be 20 to 30 per cent cheaper. Bluetooth is still an early adopter product, it's not for the faint of heart. But as I travel I see geographic and cultural differences, and one of them is that Europe is two years ahead of the US on Bluetooth."

Van der Dries insisted that the principal reasons for adopting Bluetooth are that it is more secure than infrared, and it is universal - he uses it with a Mac as well as with his SonyEricsson P900. It will run with a PC too, given either a Microsoft or Logitech Bluetooth keyboard hub and drivers.

The keyboard will sell here through Widget and Dixons, among others, and will launch with Symbian and Pocket PC drivers; PalmOS drivers are in the works but not yet ready for release. Van der Dries says that the choice of platforms is due to the shift he sees underway in the handheld market, away from PDAs and towards smartphones: "There's 10 million PDAs sold every year and the market is contracting, that's why we're running, not walking, towards the mobile phone platform. My prediction is that in five years you won't be able to buy a PDA that doesn't have a phone in it."

Pocket review

This Bluetooth version uses the same responsive and near full-size keyboard as earlier Stowaways, but now with a detachable PDA stand. It takes two AAA batteries, which the company claims should give months of light use - so take spares with you just in case.

I copied the drivers to a P900 and a Nokia 3660 via Bluetooth, installation was simple enough although the 3660 required a little guesswork to augment the documentation. Once paired with the keyboard, I could type into either device, as well as moving between applications.

Given how much these devices differ in their user interfaces, it was not surprising that the keyboard couldn't access everything, but for notes and email it was remarkably good. It's rigid when open too, so there's no problem using it on your lap. All I want now is that Palm driver. ®

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