I'm about five minutes from breaking down and getting a damn typewriter.
December 3, 2006 4:19 PM   Subscribe

As much as I'm sure Ask Metafilter is already sick of being Regular Metafilter's personal shopper this month, gosh if I wouldn't appreciate you helping me buy a PDA.

I'm a college student who can't really properly manipulate a pen - I very badly need some way of word processing in class.

Buying a PDA is a pretty intimidating experience, however. My options for resources are either outdated corporate shills or well-maintained blogs that I'm sure are a blast to read each morning but of no use to someone like me.

Could you guys recommend something? I'm on a pretty tight budget, and I have no need for a touch screen, or a phone, or for my device to be the slimmest, coolest thing in the club. If it were capable of playing mp3s or even connecting to the internet, that would be neat. But really, all I'm looking for is something that I can hook a keyboard up to. I thought I'd buy one of those bendy ones.

This isn't too much to ask, is it? Can you help me, Metafilter?
posted by Simon! to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You might want to look at an AplhaSmart. They can be very cheap on eBay and are designed exactly for what you want.
posted by cillit bang at 4:51 PM on December 3, 2006

Those flat keyboards are pretty miserable to use... trying to do full text entry on a PDA is just not a lot of fun no matter what kind you have.

Have you thought about just recording the lectures? You could transcribe the notes when you get home, on a nice, full-sized, comfortable keyboard. You'd still need to keep pen and paper with you for making sketches if necessary. I'm assuming you can handle a pen well enough to make diagrams and stuff... and if you can't, sketching on computer is harder than doing it on paper anyway, so a PDA won't be much help.

Many of the small MP3 players have voice recording capability, and you can buy most non-iPods very cheaply. They're often very tiny, so you don't have to be particularly obtrusive about your recording, if you professor gets uptight about such things. (if he or she does... keep the recording only long enough to transcribe... don't give out copies of the recording.) If you get a player that supports recording onto SD cards, you could probably get one plus a 512-meg or 1 gig card for like $75, and the whole thing will easily fit in a coat pocket or clip to your belt.

On preview: that Alphasmart looks like it might be even better. Just keep that pen and paper handy for sketches. :)
posted by Malor at 5:01 PM on December 3, 2006

You might be interested in a HP Jornada 720. They came out in 2000, but are still very functional. You can store music on a compactflash card (since the Handheld PC only has 32mb) and you can surf the web either dialup (built in modem), or by network or wirelessly if you buy the right PC card. It comes with Pocket Word, which is basically like Notepad, but you can buy the more Microsoft Word featured Textmaker. It also has a built in microphone, which I used to record lectures, and it worked out pretty well.
posted by daninnj at 5:02 PM on December 3, 2006

Oh, I should say the screen sucks using it outside, but is very usable inside. It runs Handheld PC Pro 2000, which is a version of Windows CE. Uh, what else? Battery life is eight to ten hours and the machine is instant-on.
posted by daninnj at 5:05 PM on December 3, 2006

Maybe you should look into a used laptop (assuming you don't have one already). Perhaps something like an old clamshell iBook? They have a nice handle!

If you're dead set on the Palm idea: my dad had an old Palm V with a Palm brand keyboard that he liked, and found it pretty easy for taking notes on. FWIW, he has terrible eyesight and wasn't too bothered by the smallness of the screen.
posted by rossination at 5:20 PM on December 3, 2006

Save your money and invest in a Hipster PDA.
posted by plokent at 5:31 PM on December 3, 2006

I understand the keyboard for the hipster PDA is still a little buggy. You could probably find an old Newton eMate 300 on eBay very cheaply. No external keyboard needed.
posted by willpie at 6:13 PM on December 3, 2006

If you can find a very nice affordable portable then sure, break down and buy a damn typewriter. I have used one for notes on a couple of occasions and they're great except nobody wants to sit near you because you are making a clickety clickety noise the whole class.
posted by shanevsevil at 6:22 PM on December 3, 2006

I type much faster than I write, so I used something like this keyboard with a Palm Vx to do exactly this throughout high school. I'm sure there are models with more shiny things now, but I think that keyboard's about as good as possible. It makes very little clickety noise -- much less than my desktop's keyboard. It folds, so it takes surprisingly little space. I don't think the noise bugged people near me, but I do know that everyone wanted to watch while I unfolded and refolded the keyboard.

The trouble with recording lectures is that first you sit through the lecture in class, and then you have to spend at least 1.5x that amount of time typing up the notes. Let's say you have a one-hour lecture; you'll have spent 2.5 to 3 hours listening to it by the time you're done. It's fine if that will help it stay in your memory, but it drove me crazy. And I'm guessing you have much more than one hour of lecture time a week.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:59 PM on December 3, 2006

I used to type a fair bit on on an Axim X3i with a folding keyboard. The keyboard was pretty cramped. I would go the used laptop route. Ebay shows lots of completed auctions on older machines for under $200.
posted by LarryC at 8:08 PM on December 3, 2006

I've also typed quite a bit on an Axim X3i keyboard (well, X30 to be accurate), and I got sick of it right quick. In addition to being cramped, the keyboard was rickety and noisy. Not a joy to use.

So I would also advocate the used laptop route - try a G3 iBook. They're cheap used, they weigh less than 5 lbs, and you'll get 4-5 hours on a charge if you have a newish battery. Plus, you can use full-fledged, full-screen word processing applications, instead of the second-class apps you'd be using on Palm or Windows Mobile.
posted by aparrish at 10:29 PM on December 3, 2006

I still use my Sony Clie SJ-20 with a Belkin keyboard and word processing software called Wordsmith. You could probably buy both of these off of eBay pretty cheaply. It's certainly not cutting-edge, but the battery life is outstanding (it's measured in weeks, not hours) and the keyboard is quite usable.
posted by gwenzel at 5:06 AM on December 4, 2006

I second the AlphaSmart. We use them at school and it works wonders for some of the kids. Best of all, it only does word-processing preventing misuse (if you're anything like me, having a gizmo in class is a recipe for disaster).
posted by jmd82 at 6:35 AM on December 4, 2006

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