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Portable Word Processors? 58

paulcole asks: "I am currently an English major and short story writer, who is in the market for a word processor. My laptop is a good enough tool, but I feel that it isn't quite what I need for a portable writing tool. Namely, I want something smaller, more portable, and easier to use. Right now, I am looking at the QuickPad Pro and the AlphaSmart Dana. Any insight on either of these products, or any others out there, would be very helpful." Do these 'smaller and more portable' devices necessarily justify the trade-offs in power and flexibility that a laptop with a full fledged word processor would provide?
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Portable Word Processors?

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  • by jfdawes ( 254678 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:40PM (#8710693)
    The first thing that comes to mind is, ta da! A pen. Or a pencil, you could try a pencil. Possibly a crayon, I hear some people even do legal briefs in crayons []
  • I'd opt for the Dana (Score:5, Informative)

    by almaon ( 252555 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:40PM (#8710694)
    Why? Palm OS, there's flexibility in the software choices. Choice is a good thing. Easier to sync with another computer, for printing, email, whatever. WiFi option could be a butt saver on occasion.

    I always thought there should be more devices similar to this. A full blown laptop is great, but you lose some qualities like stellar battery life, low cost, lightweight. It'd be cool to have laptops with grayscale screens (if anyone made them anymore to keep the cost down in volume). I think it'd be great to have even 20 hour battery life, the thought of 100's of hours on AAA's sounds pretty damn good to me.

    Exhalted dreamer...
    • by innosent ( 618233 ) <> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:55AM (#8711144)
      The only problem I see with the PDA approach is the keyboard size. If you're going to do serious writing, I would think that you would want a standard size keyboard, which puts you back in the realm of 12" notebooks. Personally, I would prefer something like an IBM Thinkpad X series, since you get extremely light weight (as low as 2.6 pounds I believe), and long battery life (up to 8 hours on main battery, probably more like 6 with heavy writing). Older models can be found cheaply on eBay, and you still have all the power of a laptop, just in a thin, lightweight package. I haven't used the 12" Powerbooks, but if you're an Apple person, that would be the obvious choice, though the battery won't last as long. IANAW, but I've done 8 hours of programming work on my old Thinkpad T23 (with an extra ultrabay battery) before, and even the T series is light enough that carrying it around is no burden.
      • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @01:27AM (#8711299) Homepage
        If ones gets the Palm Keyboard [] they can have a full size keyboard in much smaller and extemely less weigth than any regular laptop. The batteries also last for a great deal longer. I got an m100 and the keyboard. Covers all my word processing needs
        • I'll second this. The Palm (mine's an m515) and the folded keyboard easily fit in your pockets. This is particularly convenient on airplanes, as you don't have to get the laptop down from the overhead, or have it take up the space under the seat in front of you.

          Start up time through the power/PalmOS/keyboard/fileXXX.doc sequence(time to actually start typing, not just boot up) is a few seconds, a fraction of the power/BIOS/Win/Desktop/Word/fileXXX.doc startup cycle on a laptop, so it is much more convenien
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The Dana's battery life (25 hours easily), good keyboard, and "instant-on" (no waiting for it to boot up) are really awesome. You won't regret getting one for writing. Check the AlphaSmart forums for more feedback from writers -- there's even a subforum specifically for writers.

      As a geeky plus, there's a C compiler suite available for the Dana. Nothing like writing C code on a transatlantic flight and not having to worry about battery life at all.
  • by jkakar ( 259880 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:44PM (#8710734)
    You can get relatively inexpensive keyboards for most PDAs nowadays. The Palm ones fold down pretty small... not quite small enough to fit into a pocket, but close. The screens on newer devices are clear enough that you'd probably be able to work without too much discomfort.
    • I used to be able to fit my Clie's Stowaway keyboard into my pocket... Back when I, you know, had the keyboard.

      I guess it all depends on high tight your pants are.... ;)
    • That's what the Dana is, just a large Palm OS with an oversized screen and a keyboard. Plus it has Documents To Go built in and wireless. And USB ports, so it has more than a typical PDA for about the same cost. It just won't fit in your pocket.
  • Get a palm with a keyboard. Better yet, het a palm phone with a keyboard. You can type eveything out and then just email your work to yourself or sync it up. There isn't a need for a seperate piece of hardwar; don't waste your money.
    • by Bastian ( 66383 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:41AM (#8711061)
      But that's essentially what the Dana is. Except the Dana has a much larger (and wider) screen, which makes it much better than any other PalmOS device for serious writing. And the keyboard is much, MUCH nicer than any other keyboard for a PalmOS device that I've used - and better than many laptop keyboards. The keys have a much better response, and you can use the keyboard on your lap since you aren't trying to keep your PDA balanced upright on top of a flimsy foldable keyboard. It probably costs less than Palm phones, too.

      I got to help test drive an AlphaSmart Dana at a previous job, and seriously considered buying one for myself despite the fact that I already owned both a laptop and a Handspring Visor. The high-end model even has 802.11b, which is rare in PalmOS devices. For certain uses (having something to carry around with me at all times so I could work on text documents during down time in my case), they're really much nicer than a PDA (near-worthless for any serious work with text documents and has only an hour or two's battery life if being used continuously) or a laptop (darn heavy and also can't spend too much time away from a power outlet without dying).

      I've never used the QuickPad. It's much cheaper, but it doesn't run PalmOS - which I consider a major plus on the Dana. What's the point of having computer, any computer, if you can't install video games on it? Other than that and the more limited feature set it means for the QuickPad, it seems like the QuickPad provides better stowability at the expense of a poorer view of the screen by making the screen flat rather than tilted upward.

      Personally, I'd go with the Dana.

  • with the keyboard accessory. Fits easily into two pockets (or one really big one)

  • You mention you'd like something smaller and lighter. The QuickPad comes in at 11.5" x 9" x 1.5", the AlphaSmart Dana at 12.4" x 9.3" x 1.9", and, for comparison, a 12" Powerbook is 10.9" x 8.6" x 1.18. The Powerbook weights twice as much as the other two, but is actually smaller than the word processors. So, you can get a work processor that is bigger, but weighs less, but can only do one thing and has a shitty screen. OR you can get a Powerbook that is smaller, can do many things, a great screen, and
    • you could also try the x41 ibm laptop.. it's pretty small and light
    • I didn't look at the QuickPad, but the Dana can run on 3 AA batteries. Powerbooks do have good battery life, but with those extra 2 lbs. you were talking about, many more hours of battery life can be carried along.
    • Figuratively speaking, bigger is not always better. Sure the laptop is smaller and has a bigger screen. But the laptop carries a price tag up in the next order of magnitude (The cheapest 12" PowerBook costs $1070 more than the most expensive Dana) and an order of magnitude less battery life. That definitely counts as a huge loss in portability to me.

      One doesn't need to be financially constrained to think that the Dana is a better choice. Especially when one already owns another laptop.
      • Yes, but with an education discount the 12" iBook is only $500 more than a wireless Dana. It's just a shade bigger and about 2x as heavy. Sell your current notebook, buy an iBook instead of one of these little single funtion devices, and break even monitarily. Plus, you'll get a MAC out of the deal! HOw cool is that. Chicks dig Macs. You'll kick yourself in 3 months if you drom $500 on a Dana. Or, you could buy my Dell Axim X5 Advance, with cradle and memory card for the low low price of $200! :) Beside
    • The Vaio Picture Book C1VN gets 5 1/2 hours on a set of batteries, weighs 2.2 pounds, and fits in a tiny 9.8 x 6.0 x 1.14. It only has a 9 inch screen, but it is mostly horizontal space for easier reading of text. The processor is a dog and you will pay through the nose, but nothing beats a Picture Book for usable size. I would recommend having small hands and enjoying the extra speed of being %10 closer to all of the keys.

      I used to write on my Powerbook back in my days in college. Freed from the const
  • Model 100/200 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jhoger ( 519683 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:12AM (#8710895) Homepage
    I have seen some writers who like using the model 100/200 TRS-80. They are antiques (and unfortunately for the buyer, somewhat collectible), but they have really good battery life and an extraordinary keyboard.

    You can find some on Ebay.
    • Re:Model 100/200 (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jhoger ( 519683 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:28AM (#8710981) Homepage
      Actually looked around and there was also model 102, and the WP2/ WP3 that had similar ability to run off AA batteries, long battery life and low weight.

      Looks like you can buy refurbed WP2 or 3... seems like a good way to go. Those companies you listed are charging *way* too much for what today is an appropriate application for a microcontroller and a few cheap ICs.
  • by LeninZhiv ( 464864 ) * on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:26AM (#8710962)
    There's a good web column Writing on your Palm [] that's all about the topic of using a PDA as a writer. I recommend checking out the past columns for a whole slew of info on Palm vs. PPC, handy add-on software, and the like.

    It makes sense to use a PDA with a full-size keyboard, in my opinion (you get maximum portability plus word processor compatability), and with the same purchase you'll have an MP3 player and organiser (and portable web browser and e-mail client, if you get a decent one). Something to consider.

  • I know a guy who has the Dana; he likes it. It writes text to a flash memory card, which will then upload, by sending simulated keystrokes (not as a single text file) to a text word processor.

    Durable and cheap are it's selling points. But I missed having the resistance that an iBook gives, when I tested it, and it's really limited functionality--I guess i would rather carry something that weighs a little bit more, and be able to check email, surf, look at mapquest directions, and type, rather than one de
    • Re:AlphaSmart Dana (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bastian ( 66383 )
      The new Danas are much more sophisticated. They run PalmOS and store actual text files. You can use them to edit MS Word documents if you want. For $50 over the price of the basic version, you get Wi-Fi and can check your e-mail, surf, etc.
  • by Anna Merikin ( 529843 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:33AM (#8711004) Journal
    Small is nice, but I have used various computing devices for the past fifteen years to write/edit with varying degress of success. First, about keyboards: They are personal choices. Some writers have favorite instruments: some use a pen and yellow-lined paper, others like Vonnegut use index cards and a pencil. Me, I touchtype. If you don't, you will not be slowed down by non-standard keyspacing. If you do, however, getting used to a smaller keyboard may get in the way of the "creative process."

    I first used an old (even then, in 1990) IBM PC-II 8086 with the usual 9" yellow-on-black display. I discovered that the more of what I have written is displayed on the screen, the better I edit -- and write, too. Scrolling up and down looking for where a long sentence or paragraph started is no fun at all on a small screen.

    I then tried a Full Page display, which was tits, but I had a devil of a time getting WordPerfect to display the full screen on it.

    Then, about 1992, I bought a new laptop, my first new computer and a huge investment. Big mistake, as it had a cramped 8 1/2 in display on which I could barely make out the text.

    Small keyboards and small displays suck for me as a writer; they may for you too. My favorite road instrument now is an old IBM Thinkpad without the floppy or CD-ROM drives installed to save weight. Its 12-inch display is OK for editing and shows enough lines to keep the scrolling to a minimum.

    At home, I have replaced the old FP with a 19-inch monitor and I write/edit in 2-column in WP-8 for Linux at the smallest point size I can read easily. For displaying lots of text, choose a serif style as it is quicker to be recognized by the eye.

    Think thrice about the PDAs unless you don't touch-type and your stories are very, very short.

  • A couple of those devices look AMAZINGLY like the old Cidco MailStations. Anyone have any idea if these are repurposed Cidco IP or vice versa?
    • The Cidco ran on custom hardware, nothing that would even touch a Palm OS, so the only possibility is QuickPAD. But the Mailstation keyboard was also not full sized, and never understood 802.11b. They did / do have "wireless" connections, but in the context of the Cidco that means 2.4 Ghz connections to a base station with a modem. The QuickPAD does have folders and direct printing that sounds suspiciously like things the Cidco did. But the ram sizes are different, as are the internal voltages, the scre
  • palm os (Score:3, Informative)

    by image ( 13487 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:36AM (#8711032) Homepage
    try a palm pilot [], the palm portable keyboard [], and something like pedit []. seriously, for under $200 USD you can have a very functional word processing environment, and a whole lot more.

    i used the palm keyboard for a while and was constantly amazed at both how portable it was (folding up to roughly the size of the palm pilot itself) and how much like a real keyboard it felt like.
  • by Lumpish Scholar ( 17107 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:40AM (#8711051) Homepage Journal
    Charlie Strope [],a science fiction writer who just finished his eighth novel, and whose latest novel was reviewed recently on Slashdot, dreams about a hypothetical ideal solution [] ("a tablet iBook") but writes about [] the solution he uses:
    I still own a laptop for doing laptop-y things.... But when it comes to going away for a couple of days, travelling around and making notes or working on a short story, the Dana is far more portable/usable than the laptop -- and the Treo 600 is just about good enough to use for responding to email. Between them they weigh (and, if lost, cost) half as much as the laptop, not to mention having double or more the battery life.
  • Here []
  • I had the opportunity to test drive one of the original AlphaSmart K-12 editions back in middle school, they were the poor-man's (or schools) laptop for students. We'd have writing assignments on them and everything. The originals had a 4 line LCD screen, very small. They had a ps/2 & ADB port on the side, plug it into one of the classroom's 2 macs, push a button and *poof* I loved the suckers, i'll definatly look into this new line.
  • Apple eMate (Score:4, Informative)

    by sakusha ( 441986 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @02:20AM (#8711567)
    Sounds like the long-discontinued Apple eMate is just what you want. I saw a new-in-box eMate 300 on eBay for a buy-it-now price of $200, you could probably find a good one for around $100. It's basically a Newton with a keyboard, it seems designed for writing, good keyboard, basic B&W screen, good battery life. Zap your text over a serial cable to your main CPU for further work.
  • You could try this []. Here's another article (give it some time to load) [] on it.
    You can use any portable USB keyboard with it and it has full featured browser and much more and you can plug it into any phone jack to connect to web to send emails etc.
    Here [] and here [] are some features...
  • It doesn't get better than WordSmith [] from BlueNomad [] on a PalmOS PDA.

    I've used it for years and love it. It even works as a plaintext HTML editor! With an FTP client and some way to connect, you've got a mobile web publishing tool as well.

  • For a nice and cheap alternative, why not get a used Palm M500 or M505 with a Palm keyboard (both very reasonable currently on ebay) and you have a perfect Wordprocessor for less than 100 $.
  • A bit more expensive than other solutions, but very handy is the smallest VAIO notebook from Sony, the TR-Series. It is a Windows XP computer, which can almost fit in your pocket...

  • How about a Psion Netbook or Series 7? For that matter a series 5 has the best keyboard any PDA has ever had.

    They're not made any more, so there are support issues, but these are good products. I see them for about $300 on ebay.

    I myself find Palm + Palm Keyboard an excellent combination, although possibly you might want a larger screen if you were using it all the time, hence my suggestion of the Psions.
    • I can second this suggestion, If it was good enough for Douglas Adams [] then it should be good enough for anybody.

    • Yes! I used a Psion 3a for a year and a half and it is an excellent small word processor. Once I broke a hinge, I replaced it with a Psion 3c, but the screen just isn't as sharp. I've tried a Psion 5, Windows CE, and Palms, but none of them could replace a Psion 3a (no backlight) for writing.

  • I'm also a writer and I thought about the dedicated word processors for about 12 seconds, and realized that they're over-priced and underpowered.

    I'm currently using an old Palm IIIc with a folding keyboard that would only cost you about $80 off of ebay and would serve the purpose, but not be nearly as satisfying as a laptop. If you're only looking at word processing on it, you can get an older G3 iBook for about the same price as one of those dedicated word processors.

    I'm saving for a 12" G4 iBook (the m
  • Tools. (Score:3, Informative)

    by saintlupus ( 227599 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @09:19AM (#8712909) Homepage
    When I was working on my BA in English, my preferred writing implement was a Pilot Precise pen, Very Fine tip, and a stack of legal pads.

    When I started working on my thesis, I bought a Powerbook Duo because it weighed less than most of the books I was toting around already.

    Since your laptop seems to be unsatisfactory for some reason (too heavy, maybe?) you might want to look at either an older subnotebook (a Duo, or perhaps a Toshiba Libretto or a Sony Picturebook) or something smaller. Apple made a Newton with a built-in keyboard called the eMate that was pretty nice. Fantastic battery life, decent screen, and designed for elementary school kids so its damned near indestructible.

  • Pick up an eMate on eBay - it's a Newton in a clamshell case with built-in keyboard. Compact, weighs about 4 pounds, reasonable screen size.
  • I've tried a lot of options, looking for the perfect combination of attrbutes. There is none. It depends on what your priorities are.

    For typability, battery life, and moderate weight, it's hard to beat a Model-T: the 20-year-old TRS-80 model 10x line. The main downside is that its wp app is just a text editor and the display is a quaint pixels-so-big-you-can-measure-them LCD that shows only a few lines at a time. But the keyboard is probably better quality than the one on your desktop. Transferring t

  • Get an old visor [], and add a portable keyboard [].

    This one, while a bit pricey, feels like a regular keyboard while in use, but folds up to about the size of a wallet otherwise.
  • Being a writer, I always struggled with this issue. I tried the palm with a keyboard, and while theoretically a nice solution, ergonomically it's not. The screen is too small, it's awkcward, and there is a serious lack of word processing software available for the palm platform. The builtin note pad application has a 4K limitation on entry.

    Lets face it, when you write you want to be able to enjoy it. This means the screen is pleasant to look at, the keyboard feels nice to type on, and editing and organizin
  • I'm a writer too, and I'm puzzled by your question. A writer's tools aren't governed by technology and price points. Find the tool that feels right, both physically and emotionally, and use it.

    Your question is like asking what brand of condoms to use. Just buy what fits.

  • My solution has been a folding keyboard and a Palm compatible with wordsmith. At present I use a Clie TJ-37 with the KB100 keyboard. It's very comfortable to work on especially in the cramped confines of an airlines coach seat. The overall price of the system is $380 the same cost as a Dana. The integrated wifi vga camera and color display may compensate for the display size depending on your temperment.
    A neat feature of the KB-100 keyboard is that it accepts a sony power supply jack (the annoying 3 pin ty
  • A few years back, my mother bought a computer like item for me from a charity shop. It turned out to be a Canon word processor. It was so easy to use that in the space of two minutes, I had plugged in the wall adaptor, switched it on, typed up a test page and printed it.

    Two minutes! It seems crazy that many GHz PC's take longer than that to boot up.

    Do not underestimate functional simplicity when it comes to getting real work done. I'd also consider a Psion 5 myself. My one concern is a question of their r

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