By Norman C. Berns
Like all mortals, I love my BlackBerry. It’s good to me. It feeds me emails and lets me play games between shots. It stores names and numbers, nudges me into appointments and, best of all, lets me surf the net or gather email while speeding on a highway in the middle of nowhere.
Problem is, like most humans, I’m endowed with fingers far too fat for BlackBerry’s mini-nub keys. Mine – the 8100 – doesn’t even have a real keyboard, just combo keys – QW on one, ER on the next and so on. If the phone weren’t so damn good at figuring out what I wanted to type, I’d hurl it. But it is and I don’t.
Then along came iGo, maker of the Stowaway Ultra-Slim Bluetooth Keyboard for Smartphones. (Hey, I don’t name these things.) As you can imagine, it’s small (10 inches by 3 inches when open), stows away nicely (a mere 5 by 3Ã‚Â½ inches when closed), it’s nicely slim (about a half-inch slim and a mere 6 oz. of heft) and, best of all, connects to most Bluetooth devices.
Well, that takes a bit of doing. There’s a driver to install from a CD (or download via your web-enabled phone) and a host of tiny adjustments to make before your phone and your keyboard are ready to hook up for the day. It’s definitely worth the effort.
As is my wont with products that are supposed to work, I’ve put it to work. This entire review has been written on my little BlackBerry (with its new keyboard) instead of my computer. There’s a learning curve for sure; it’s definitely awkward, though the keyboard (and keys) are full size. It all feels a bit frail—perhaps because the keyboard tends to tip, right or left each time I hit the shift key. “Hit” seems to be the problem in fact; I’ll have to learn to stroke them gently, it seems.
Opening the keyboard is a delight, like unfolding an origami crane. The phone holder (with logo) folds back first. A tiny latch on the left lets the two sides of the keyboard flip apart until the right side snaps into place. Drop your phone onto the holder and you’re ready to work.
To save space, keys are astonishingly multifunctional, able to call up email, notes or almost anything else that functions on a smart phone. To accomplish that, however, the keyboard sports a Left function key (with matching commands in pale blue) and a Right function key (with matching commands in dull green). All on a dark gray keyboard, forcing me to type with my eyes locked a few inches above the keys. Jamming three separate commands onto one key is an amazing feat of miniaturization, but finding the exclamation point in green, the number 1 in blue and the letter Q, all on one dark gray key, is somehow less than ideal.
Should you want even more, the keyboard can be used to dial phone numbers, open applications and enter international characters. Don’t like the order of things? The keys can be reprogrammed to suit your personal style.
A few complaints, though.
It’s so fold-and-go, uh, so stowaway, you’d think some soul would have figured out it needed tiny wedges under its tipping edges. Didn’t anyone try it before the market launch? And I’d like to spit and roast whoever taped instructions to open the keyboard ON the keyboard with heavy-duty, super-stick tape. You know the kind they use to seal the CDs at El Cheapo? This was worse.
Then, of course, the open and close latches aren’t easy to push into doing their duty. And that makes me wonder how long they’ll last. Or whether they’ll go the way of the origami crane I once loved, poor thing, folded to death.
Still, the package is hard to fault. I’m actually touch-typing on my mini-8100. The Starbucks crowd is agog watching. That alone … . Using the fancier multifunction keys will take some effort and learning to call up all the system commands will take even more. But this is definitely a joy.
Its minor faults aside, this isn’t an optional toy. Use it for 20 minutes and you’ll know it’s an essential. It means I can write real letters using my cellphone, without much effort. That alone is worth the time it took to unstick all that glue.
Yep, this one goes in the toolkit and comes to work with me. If you have to answer emails and write reports on the fly, from the road, it belongs in your toolkit, too.
iGo – Mobility Electronics
The iGo Stowaway Ultra-Slim Bluetooth Keyboard retails for $150.
Written by Norman Berns