Targus Stowaway Keyboard for Compaq iPAQ

January 1, 2003

Until now, few mobile computing solutions have struck me as truly practical for the lawyer on the move. Like most partners in commercial firms I have been provided over recent years with a series of laptops, gold cards and other mobile peripherals by the firm’s IT department. Yet all of these conventional solutions have seemed too bulky, too power-hungry or just too obtrusive to use in many client meetings and conferences.

For quite some time I have been looking at getting a PDA of one form or another but have been put off, particularly by concerns as to how well a PDA could be used to capture notes of meetings or carry out any of the other tasks (eg more complex calculations) for which a laptop would usually be required. They may be good for diaries, I thought, but how am I going to record discussions at a meeting, when I have to enter all data using a stylus on the screen?

Acquiring a PDA

When our IT department recommended a particular model of PDA (Compaq’s iPAQ) to all partners and committed to support those as part of their wider services, I decided to take the plunge. A number of us were provided with Compaq’s H3870 iPAQ.

The iPAQ on its own is an amazingly useful device with the usual combination of Pocket PC and pocket versions of Microsoft Office applications. The iPAQ also has a built in digital voice recorder which can be used for the creation of .WAV files which we can then import into our Total Speech digital dictation system. Finally, the use of ActiveSync software allows me to move files seamlessly between desktop and PDA, with most Outlook files being synchronised automatically.

New Dimension

All of that is fairly standard stuff for PDA users. What has taken mobile computing to a new dimension for me is the addition of the Targus Stowaway keyboard for iPAQ (full details on www.targus.com/accessories_pda.asp).

The keyboard comes in its own hard fold-up case measuring approximately 9cm by 13cm by 2cm (about the size of two packs of playing cards next to each other). From its case, the keyboard folds out to a full-sized, properly spaced, QWERTY keyboard. The iPAQ then sits directly on the keyboard with no need for any cables. The connections configure so that the screen faces up at the user at a convenient and readable angle. As well as having a full size QWERTY layout, the keyboard also has special quick function keys to take you direct to the pocket versions of MS Word, Excel, Notes and Money (if installed).

I now carry my iPAQ and its keyboard to more or less all of the meetings, conferences and seminars that I attend. The whole set-up can be arranged in under a minute and then notes can be taken directly into the iPAQ (it helps if you are a touch typist, as I am).

The iPAQ/Stowaway is much more usable than a laptop in a number of respects. Firstly the set-up is much more portable and can effectively be carried in one’s pocket rather than any sort of case. The battery life is considerably longer and will easily see you through the average client meeting or conference with counsel. Perhaps most importantly the dimensions of the iPAQ itself mean that it does not create any sort of barrier between you and the person you are speaking to in the course of the meeting. The impression that laptops can give is I think one of the user being behind a barrier, possibly not even working on the topic that is being discussed. By contrast the iPAQ/Stowaway is so low profile that you appear to be fully engaged with the client or other parties in the meeting (even if you are in fact catching up on your e-mail).

On return to the office, all information in Pocket Outlook synchronises directly with my desktop using the MS Active Sync application. Other files (for example Word documents) can be uploaded simply by cutting and pasting to the desktop and importing into our document management system.

Toyjoy and the Glory of Design

Standing back from the impressive functionality and ease of use, the real joy of this set-up is as a piece of pleasing and highly usable design. Even the grandest of barristers, the most dynamic of clients and the toughest of opponents have paused in recent meetings to comment on the kit and to ask about it, almost incredulous that the full-size keyboard could come from such a small case. As an IT/IP lawyer, I have long since become used to other lawyers wheeling out their latest toys at meetings, but this set-up is, at least for the moment, seemingly well ahead of the pack. The act of assembling the kit from its miniature component parts and then starting to take direct typed notes as others speak is, I am sorry to say, as near to a Bond-style gadget moment as it may be possible to come in the course of a professional interest group meeting (SCL excluded, of course!).

Whether just another boys’ toy or a genuine advance in mobile solutions for our profession, you will have to judge for yourself. For my own part, I would definitely be happy to recommend the combination of iPAQ and Stowaway for any lawyer who is a touch typist, likes to take contemporaneous meeting notes and whose IT department are ready to support the device so that it synchronises with the firm’s main networks as quickly and easily as possible.