After reading review after review of folks bashing the UMPCs for lack of a keyboard, I had to look deeper into it. Personally, I think these people don’t fit the definition of mobile users; their idea of mobility is moving their large laptop from one desk to another. As such, I don’t think they’re exactly qualified to judge the UMPC concept, but that’s just my opinion. They’re missing the paradigm shift presented first from the Tablet PC operating system and now extending further through UMPCs.
Having said that, I will agree with people that feel a keyboard is ideal for long text entry. Is it a necessity that should doom any device that doesn’t have one? Of course not, but there is a contextual "time and place" for a keyboard. I considered pre-ordering the Samsung USB keyboard for the Q1, but when I found out that the USB cable was less than a foot long, I quickly rethought my strategy to have a keyboard, yet still stay flexible and mobile. That leaves only one real choice: the Think Outside Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard which I purchased last week.
I picked this keyboard up for $99.95 from Amazon; a recent check had it showing a slightly higher price. The keyboard folds up into itself, which provides protection for the keys when not in use; power is supplied by two AAA batteries. There’s also a device stand that comes in handy for Windows Mobile or Palm devices, but I removed it in lieu of the Samsung’s integrated 80-degree stand.
Here’s a pic of the keyboard unfolded in comparison with the keyboard on my Toshiba M205 Tablet PC. You can see that the keyboard has four rows but is clearly smaller overall than the notebook keyboard.
Here’s another shot to show how small the keyboard is when folded in half. To unfold it, you simply press a button on the side of it to release the catch and then open it until it secures itself flat. To fold it, there is a small release at the top right, which unlocks it from its flat state.
There is an included case for the keyboard and I can actually hold both the Samsung Q1 in its case and the Stowaway keyboard in a single hand. I say this because I’m only 5’5" and about 125 pounds; if someone this small in stature can do this, I’d say that most everyone can carry "a mobile office" in the palm of their hand.
Pairing the device was completely pain-free as well. I just put the batteries in and opened the keyboard. After a device discovery on the Q1, I only had to enter a pairing code and I was ready to rock. Like other Bluetooth devices, the keyboard only needs to be paired one time; each time I need to use the keyboard, I just unfold it and start typing. Occasionally, there is a few second lag when I do this as the devices are getting "re-acquainted". ;)
Just to further illustrate the small nature of the keyboard, here are two pics comparing it in size and thickness to the Tablet PC pen from my M205:
Since the keyboard is smaller than standard, Think Outside had to make some concessions which could take some getting used to. In many cases, a single key can have three different functions. There’s the main function of course, say a letter, but there could be a number and a symbol function as well. These are smartly color coded blue and green to correspond to a blue and green FN key near the spacebars. It’s easy to see why Think Outside did this, but again, it can take some getting used to as you might expect a symbol to be somewhere standard only to find out it’s somewhere else.
So what’s the verdict after several days of use? A keyboard has it’s time and place; same conclusion as before. For lengthy text entry like this post, it’s appropriate to use a keyboard. I actually find myself moving "in-and-out" of input contexts; I’ll type something, then perhaps touch the screen for something etc….
If a keyboard is a "must have", then this particular keyboard is an excellent match for a UMPC, Windows Mobile or other portable device that supports Bluetooth. The small size but excellent functionality makes it a winner, so of course, if I keep the Q1, I’ll be keeping the Stowaway keyboard I purchased as well.