I'm Andrew. I write about the past and future of tech, music, media, culture, art, and activism. This is my blog.

Palm Pilots

Posted: July 9, 2018

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 Good

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.

The Bad

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.

The Ugly

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.

In Conclusion

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.

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