Palm III: Yea nor Nea
April 9, 2007 5:14 AM   Subscribe

Palm III: retro or hopelessly obsolete?

Either my brain is shrinking or my life is expanding--either way, I can no longer hold all the detail and context I'd like to. Websites I want to visit, books I want to look for at the library, TV shows I want to watch and lists of numbers I want to track are among the things I've had to devise tricks to remember, such as setting timers or emailing myself at another location. The web of tricks is woefully inadequate on many levels, from not being portable to mortgaging my future attention to serve my current needs.

I finally remembered that I have a working Palm III that I stopped using a few years ago because I'd have to jump through a lot of security hurdles to use it at work. But it's reached the point where the hurdles are less annoying than the loss of information, so I'm going to pick it up again.

But will I be able to find applications for it anymore? Some of these needs can be met by a stock Palm III. But I'd also like some kind of generalized spreadsheet/graphing app and I will likely find other needs/wants. I googled around a little and found some crippled shareware--is that all there is anymore? Would I be better off just getting a small notebook (i.e. actual dead trees)?
posted by DU to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A palm III is still really useful.
You won't find much useful applications for it because of its low memory.
There are applications to open word, excel, pdf, etc etc. But your palm III doesn't have the space for it.
If you go to you'll probably find a bunch of useful free software.
posted by PowerCat at 5:31 AM on April 9, 2007

My wife uses a Palm III still, every night. For the usual Palm stuff; notes and games. She uses this in lieu of a later model Palm (Tungsten, I think) because the battery situation on the Palm III (replaceable AAAs, for which we use NiMHs) is way better than the Tungsten.

You should be able to use the Palm III for your needs, no problem. Just make sure you can back it up on your computer -- I think the Palm IIIs use serial ports not USB. And invest in those NiMHs and a charger if you haven't already.
posted by the dief at 6:07 AM on April 9, 2007

I've owned a couple Palms, and I have a smartphone now (a Sidekick), but I've found that for noting down numbers/to-dos/ideas/references/etc nothing beats a small notebook and a pen. Easy to write in, easy to read, and you don't have to buy batteries.

Plus, you can even get one with graph paper!
posted by myeviltwin at 6:26 AM on April 9, 2007

Yeah, I forgot to mention that I use the Hipster PDA, except mine is even more twee because I use old library index cards.
posted by the dief at 6:29 AM on April 9, 2007

Palm IIIs are certainly charming. I used one for many happy years. The two major concerns I had with it are the battery issue (must... change... in... 45 second or less.... arg!) and the random sporadic memory failures. Every now and then it would just lose its mind for no apparent reason. As long as I backed it up regularly (as long as you have a serial port on the computer, no problem), it didn't seem to have that problem- it only junked out when I went for two weeks without backing it up.
These days I've mostly given up on it, and stick to an unlined Moleskeine cahier notebook, which fits in the back pocket much easier. I almost brought it out of retirement to use for keeping track of appointments at work, but gave up when I found out it wouldn't sync to Work's preferred PIM software.
posted by leapfrog at 7:07 AM on April 9, 2007

I had a palm (I don't remember the model it was) a long time ago, and it was cool and all, but for my purposes a little notepad works lots better. A notebook is WAY more free-form, so you don't have to learn graffiti, and you don't have to find a certain program. Plus, my notepad never runs out of batteries and I don't have to wait while it boots up.

I use it for my to do list, scratch pad (for random stuff I need to remember in the short term) and to store my work schedule. I have more difficulty in what format to store my other, longer term plans and whatnot (including which books to checkout later). It was in a bunch of Word/Excel files, but then I moved them to a wiki, and now I'm strongly considering moving everything to LaTeX (using LaTeX2HTML).
posted by philomathoholic at 7:18 AM on April 9, 2007

Nth'ing the 'Yes' vote - I'm currently using a Treo 270, which is basically a III with color and a celphone mixed in. You can use the built-in 'To do' app to run 99% of a GTD-style management system (how The David does it, IIRC ), or you can go with something fancier like Progect.

There are spreadsheet programs for the palm that work on the III, but IMO, they're kinda painful. If you want a full/seamless desktop integration, you'd be better off with a newer/faster/larger-screened palm, like a TX.

The new-hotness for paper is DIY Planner, IMO.

I never really had Leapfrog's problem - and I was using a Handera330 (4 AAA's) - Just lay the new batteries out on the table before you start changing them. OTOH, if the backup capacitor is failing/dead, that time can get very tight - This is a Known Problem, and fixable with a soldering iron if you're of that bent.
posted by Orb2069 at 7:23 AM on April 9, 2007

Well, I also can't keep my mouth shut here about pen and paper being a better solution. The real issue isn't about getting the data down, most of us will do that. Reviewing it later is generally where most of us fail. Sure, we WANT to remember all that neat stuff, and we write it down, and then *POOF* we think "That's good enough! I got it. I'll look at it later." and we never have later, just a never ending and ever growing set of notes.

I found the only thing an electronic PDA is remotely useful for is going "DING! DING! DING! YOU HAVE MEETING IN AN HOUR!" Otherwise, I went through a Palm IIIc (from work) that I only liked due to fact that you could use a keyboard for it. I then bought a Sony Clie of the fliptop variety with its own keyboard. I admit, I love that thing, but that's all it took to finally realize that pen and paper are better. There's something about that tactile feedback and sensation that really works for us humans. (But, all of this has me currently working on an essay for an upcoming blog about how and when we make decisions about when to abandon a technology and to try a new one. I find this a fascinating area of though for some reason.)

It's funny that I actually use a Blackberry almost exclusively for having an updated calendar with me at all time (for work only, mind you) and that most of the clients I support are actually in a much different arena, which is that they use their Palms for medical applications/databases for drug interactions, etc. that have yet to be ported to either the Blackberry or to the huge variety of smartphones out there.

Frankly, if it is just notes and whatnot you want, and not calendar and address book, stick with pen and paper and a scheduled time to review your notes and input them into some sort of data management system on your computer (I've been using DevonThink myself since it can do some neat tricks). Address books make more sense to be on a mobile phone for me. And since I only care about calendaring for work mainly I just let the work supplied Blackberry handle that.
posted by smallerdemon at 8:04 AM on April 9, 2007

Response by poster: I don't think pen and paper will work for me, since I also want to track things (like mileage). And I like to graph them, do what-if scenarios and in general get all spreadsheety up in there. But thanks everyone for the assurance that I'm not trying to get (re)hooked on the Betamax of handhelds, plus the links to software sites.
posted by DU at 8:08 AM on April 9, 2007

I just bought a new Li-ion battery for my Palm m515. It's been over two years since I last used it full-time, and while my Hipster is nice, I can't use it without looking (for example, while driving) like I can text on my cell phone (to send a message to my email box) or do Graffiti on the Palm. Having a blind input device that's fairly accurate again will be nice.

I'm with you on the "I need digital manipulation!" front. All my Hipster notecards get put into a TextMate project on the iBook as soon as I get home. Nothing works better for me than lines of text.

Back in the day, I used PalmGear for finding most of my software. I don't know how good it is now, but I'll be venturing down this road over the next few weeks, so feel free to shoot me an email in a couple weeks with questions or suggestions.
posted by CipherSwarm at 8:21 AM on April 9, 2007

Yeah, there's plenty useful one could do with a Palm III... but if the expense isn't prohibitive I'd recommend upgrading. A new Palm Z22 is $99. A used m515 on eBay would probably be less.

The difference in stats is huge. Palm III: 16MHz Dragonball processor, 2M RAM. Palm m515: 33MHz Dragonball VZ processor, 16M RAM. Z22: Samsung 200MHz processor, 32M RAM. (All of these have 160x160 screens; the 320x320 screens on recent non-low-end Palms are amazing.)

You'll still be able to find lots of software for it. And there are several spreadsheet and graphing programs, some of them free, but a lot of modern Palm software has gotten too big to be usuably fast on old Palms, even where it may be strictly possible.

Don't get me wrong -- I've been using Palms since '97 and remain a fan of the old Palms (I only just moved on from the m515 I've been using since 2000.) But I think you'll quickly grow frustrated with race-against-time battery changes and the overall lack of power.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:53 AM on April 9, 2007

I think you'd still be able to use it, for just day to day notetaking its fine.

I've got a Tapwave Zodiac, and 90% of the time I'm just using the built in organiser apps, and when I'm not its just for a game!

Check out Freeware Palm awesome site for finding, well palm freeware!
posted by chrispy108 at 12:00 PM on April 9, 2007

I started using my old palm again recently. I had tried a number of pen-and-paper solutions but none of them worked for me. There's still a lot of old software available for older Palms. I keep running into new and unusual uses for old Palm devices too (probably not applicable to your particular situation though).

The motto of a tech recycler I used to volunteer at: Obsolescence is just a lack of imagination.
posted by lekvar at 1:35 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yes, the IIIxe is a fine machine, but as others point out you might find a 320x320 screen better.

I still use my Palm III xe when the battery on my Sony Clie runs out. The IIIxe's batteries (2 of AAA) last weeks, the rechargable Clie battery (despite a recent replacement) lasts barely a night of reading. The IIIxe with backlight is more restful on the eyes for midnight reading-while-wife-sleeps than the Clie (though newer Clies have better screen-dimming.)

Most of my pda-using-time is spent reading, but having initially got the IIIxe as an aide-memoire for a series of randomly-scheduled chiro appointments (which were paid-for when I went, but came out of my pocket if I missed them) I found that the thing became indispensable for the kinds of things pdas are sold for (and which I thought I'd never use a pda for.)

I run pretty much the same apps on each DateBook5 is the only one that cost me anything, the rest were all free. And there are thousands of free books available either as palm-specific books or as text/html easy to convert to palm 'plucker' format.
posted by anadem at 2:33 PM on April 9, 2007

Just remember, that with the older Palms, if the batteries fail, the data is toast. The newer ones don't have that problem.
posted by 4ster at 6:15 PM on April 9, 2007

"the data is toast" is true only of data acquired since your last sync with your pc/laptop/mac/whatever (what do is the generic work for "personal computers"?) Every item that's been sync'd is trivially easy to restore.
posted by anadem at 10:53 PM on April 9, 2007

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