I have a passion for portable electronic writing devices. It began in 1983 with the purchase of a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100, later dubbed Tandy 100. By the standards of the day it was quite advanced: 32K internal RAM, modem software (via the serial port), MS Basic, calendar, text editor built in, and an amazingly typeable full-size keyboard. The display was a small LCD panel of 8 lines of 40 characters. Back then I was writing a lot for computer publications and I once estimated I’d written 100,000 published words with the machine.
The text files loaded, via a null-modem cable, into my Osborne CP/M computer and later my IBM PC. I used the Mod 100 for years beyond its relative shelf life mainly because nobody ever came up with a newer machine that duplicated its functionality.
In the past year I’ve discovered AlphaSmart machines and really enjoy using my Neo, which resembles the Mod 100 quite a bit. It has a slightly larger LCD display, and it’s more readable in dim light, but it too has a magnificent keyboard. I squirt my files from the Neo into my Windows or Linux word process via a USB cable. Plus ça change…
While I love the Neo, I think I’m even more affectionate about my new Palm TX with its matching Palm BlueTooth wireless folding keyboard. The bright colour LCD display on the TX can be expanded and flipped sideways, giving a really good view of what’s being entered. It sits in a little holder that is stored in the keyboard and unfolded during use. Because I already owned a copy, I use WordSmith, an inexpensive text editor for the Palm. I also have it loaded with eReader and have several Gutenberg eTexts on the Palm’s SD card.
Typing on the folding keyboard is not bad. The only quirk is that the right shift key and the slash/question mark key are reversed. I’m a touch typist so I always get a surprise when I type a slash or question mark. For the rest, the keyboard is decent and because it’s a four-row keyboard, I’m not required to use a function key to type numbers.
I’ve become quite speedy with this little setup, and I can see it under nearly all lighting conditions. The setup weighs less than half a pound or so and I can easily carry the two components in my coat pockets. With this, and an ultracompact digicam in my belt pouch, I can bring my main two interests, writing and photography, with me everywhere I walk.
My relative success with PicoWriMo was largely because of this gear. The only downside I’ve discovered is that the BT keyboard drains the TX’s battery fairly noticeably. I doubt I could get more than 3, maybe 4, hours out of it starting with a fresh charge. But most days I write an hour or two at the max, so it’s not been a serious issue for me. For a more prolific writer, the battery life could be a show stopper.