What's a good handheld electronic device to replace my Moleskine notebook?
July 2, 2007 7:35 AM   Subscribe

What is a good handheld electronic device to replace keeping all of my notes split between my Moleskine notebook and a word doc on my desktop? I need something that I can enter notes into directly and also import information into from my computer (and export a backup copy back to the computer).

I'm an avid note taker and have my Moleskine with me at all times, but I just filled up a notebook and am starting a new one. It dawned on me that I'll no longer have portable access to all of the old info unless I decide to carry TWO notebooks with me. Which isn’t going to happen. I love my Moleskine, but I think I’ve outgrown it.

I write lots of info almost every day into the notebook (restaurants I want to remember, albums and books I want to check out, phone numbers, a few lines of an article I want to remember, websites I want to check out, cool words and phrases, best-of lists, and other assorted nerdery). I also keep a similar list in a word doc on my computer that I cut and paste into as I see things online that interest me. I end up writing a lot of that info from the computer into the notebook, which is starting to get old.

So I’m looking for a portable device (pocket sized) that I can type info into as well as import information into. When I research these devices online most of the reviews and comments are targeted towards the wireless, phone, and internet features – none of which I’ll use since I won’t be paying the monthly fees. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to pay for a a device with lots of features I don’t need or use, but I want to make sure it’s actually good at what I need it for. I just need to find a reliable electronic handheld notebook. Bonus points if the entires can be tagged and searched by tags. I'm not sure if what I'm asking is just for an electronic device, or for an electronic device and a corresponding software. I'm a pen and paper guy, so this is new to me. Is there one that you’d recommend or any warnings before I shell out the money to buy one?
posted by Slack-a-gogo to Technology (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have a Palm Zire Z22 which I bought to replace the Blackberry I won't have next year, because I too didn't need the online features (or at least I couldn't justify paying for a data plan).

The screen on it is pretty meh compared to the $500 phone-and-web-and-everything PDAs, but that's fine considering it cost me $79 Canadian on sale. I think the MSRP is US$99.

It doesn't have a keyboard -- you use "graffiti", a specific way of writing letters that shouldn't take more than a couple hours' practice to learn and a couple weeks to get really fast at.

If you remember the old Palm III from the 90s, it's basically the current incarnation of that. Palm's losing the handheld war because their Treo doesn't hold up great against Windows CE and Blackberry devices, but you can happily ignore that on a Zire.

As for software to run on it that does tags like you describe, I'm not sure, but there's lots of Palm software.
posted by mendel at 8:18 AM on July 2, 2007

I'd start here: Palm vs Pocket PC just to get the basics down.

But what you'll really want to do is choose your software and let that inform your hardware decision. Try Pocket Gear or Palm Gear.
posted by happyturtle at 9:01 AM on July 2, 2007

(There is no $100 Pocket PC, though -- but if you're going to Pocket PC prices, stay away from Palm because they're losing the PDA war.)
posted by mendel at 9:31 AM on July 2, 2007

If I understand you correctly, you pretty much want to keep all that information in a free-form text document.

I personally have used several handhelds over the course of the last years in order to do that. The first one was a IBM Workpad c3 (constructed in the same way as the Palm Vx) in conjunction with a portable keyboard by palm. While the Workpad itself was very portable, it quickly became annoying to me that I also had to carry the keyboard with me, although it facilitated enormously the data entry process. Using a stylus is a pain in the ass, believe me. After a short time I was fed up with the palm, because the text I entered with Sied (text editor for Palm OS) contained so many line breaks, and dumped it for a Psion Revo, which on his part was quickly replaced by a Psion Series 5. Ever since, I have been quite happy with it. Although it is not as leightweight as the Psion Revo, it still is very portable and features a way better keyboard, that - at least from my point of view - can even keep up with most notebook keyboards. In addition to that the built-in applications offer practically the same functionality as their desktop counterparts. The word processor can do everything I want him to do. It even supports spreadsheets, graphs and imbedded images. I use it daily to store all my personal info in a big-arsed text document, which can be synced to the PC by means of the provided software.

The Psion Series 5 is already 10 years old, but I have stuck with mine despite its age, because it does the job for me and probably will do so for many more years.

=> If you can get a hold of one, buy it.
posted by pu9iad at 9:41 AM on July 2, 2007

You needn't carry something new. You have a cell-phone, yes? Sign up with Jott (free), and when you have an idea, hit the speed-dial number on your phone, and speak for up to 15 seconds. A transcript and MP3 file will be emailed to you.
posted by cmiller at 9:51 AM on July 2, 2007

I had similar requirements (free formish note taking throughout the day) and settled on using a blackberry and outlook.

When I'm out I use the memo application on my blackberry to capture notes, and this syncs back up with Outlook notes.
posted by roofone at 11:33 AM on July 2, 2007

I know it's a bit daft and fetishistic, but I use a Newton for just this purpose.
posted by jack_mo at 1:56 PM on July 2, 2007

I use a Treo for this. The Palm memo software is great (it allows you to tag memos, though I don't think you can search them on the device), it syncs with my Mac, and the Treo has a qwerty keyboard (none of that silly graffiti).
posted by chickletworks at 3:47 PM on July 2, 2007

I know it's a bit daft and fetishistic, but I use a Newton for just this purpose.

Me too. It may be a little harder to sync than more modern devices, but it's worth it, IMO.
posted by panic at 7:21 PM on July 2, 2007

I'll also recommend a low-end (but color-screen) Palm device, with one caveat: you must make sure the model you're buying runs OS 5 (anything released within the last few years should be fine, but check the specs to make sure). OS 5 is the first Palm OS in which the insanely tiny limit on text-file length (4K) was replaced by the decently roomy limit on text-file length (256K).
posted by allterrainbrain at 9:36 PM on July 2, 2007

For example, a used Zire 72 is very capable (with a high-resolution, high-contrast screen -- important if you're going to use it a lot for text), and you can easily find one under $100.

To get the most use out of it, you will probably want a smaller font than the smallest font naturally available on the devide -- easily accomplished with this excellent software.

(And in case you're interested in also carrying around video, the free TCPMP video player for Palm OS is more capable and plays more formats than any smartphone or iPod...)
posted by allterrainbrain at 9:51 PM on July 2, 2007

It may be a little harder to sync than more modern devices

I find syncing using NewtSync 'just works' (though I'm still trying to get the apparently superior NCX to work). It certainly works perfectly as a 'reliable electronic handheld notebook' for me (and, of course, the opportunities the Newton provides for 'assorted nerdery' are vast).
posted by jack_mo at 1:31 AM on July 4, 2007

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