A few weeks ago, spurred by my continuing facination with technology that we have otherwise left behind, I purchased several small, touch screen, pocket computers manufactured by PalmOne. Calling them ‘palm pilots’ is a bit of a misnomer, but it’s close enough. Specifically, I got a tx, an e2, and a lifedrive. What follows are impressions after several weeks of hands on use.
The first device I recieved was a Lifedrive. It’s a 4GB external HDD with a screen. I paid about $12 for it. Can’t beat the price. I followed that up with a TX and two e2s, all in great working order, for an average price of $15/unit. I carried one of each for at least a week, before landing on the TX as my model of preference.
These are fun little devices, and they have a lot going for them in terms of utility:
- In standby, the battery lasts weeks
- In active use, the battery still lasts several days
- There is a surprising amount of interesting and useful software still available (and almost always for free)
- The TX and the Lifedrive make solid little video players, all three make passable music players
- Did I mention the battery lasts for days? We are talking about batteries that are well over ten years old, and they still last for 3-4 days of multiple hours per day use.
- Palm desktop is a treat to us, and is very well thought through.
- The lifedrive is the slowest of the three devices, and even it was often more responsive than a modern PC. The e2 and the TX practically sing.
- Games! Zork and the infocom library work a treat. Emulators exist for Gameboy and c64.
It isn’t all roses. Some stuff doesn’t work well, or takes some extra work to set up:
- Bluetooth is available on all three models, but it is hit and miss. I managed to get one keyboard (out of four) to work, and I haven’t had any success with networking or audio devices.
- Hotsync was a pain to set up, but works well now that it is configured (and even works wirelessly.)
- Finding the right tuning for video encoding has been an exercise in frustration.
- Most of the best software is very hard to find. I frequently had to resort to delving deep in to the wayback machine.
- Low resolution screens with resistive touch overlays.
- Propritary power and accessory connector that is no longer manufactured (though widely available for a few dollars)
- All three have SD slots, but they only support classic SD in sizes up to 2GB. 2GB SDHC cards are not supported. These can be hard to find.
- Handwriting recognition is worse on these later models than on earlier models for patent reasons.
Some things don’t work at all:
- WiFi is WEP or WPA1 only. Useless.
- Many peices of software are frustratingly unfinished, and others are only available in shareware versions with bizarre limitations
- Bluetooth rarely works as expected
- Even if I could get networking working, no modern encryption protocols are available that I am aware of.
I’m using palm desktop to manage my address book and appointments. I configured a simple script to download my RSS feeds and convert them to a format the palm can understand (plucker), which I sync wirelessly every morning. I recently started managing podcasts on the device with gpoder (also syncing wirelessly.) I have a small ebook library, and a small game library. Once a week or so, I load an SD card up with 1 or 2 films and a few TV episodes from Archive.org, to watch in my idle moments.
The devices show their age in myraid small ways, and not all of them are negative.
All in all, I find myself reaching for my palm more often than I read for my phone in my spare moments.
Once I figure out how to get my email on to and off of the device, and I get it reliably working with a wireless keyboard, I could see the palm (and the slower, asymetric workflow it demands) replacing my other mobile devices in many situations.
It’s not for everyone, but it has made for a nice change of pace for me.