Small, cheap, comfortable text entry/recording?
July 1, 2004 4:21 PM   Subscribe

Small, cheap, comfortable text entry/recording? I'm traveling for a month in August, and I'd like to keep a journal. Handwriting is pretty much out of the question, so I'm looking for the best way to be able to type it. [more]

I'd like to be able to type up my journal entries each night and store them until I can export them to plain text on my PC when I get home. The main requirements are a keyboard with full-sized keys (such as a Stowaway model) and simple plain text exporting to a PC. I don't want to deal with a thumb keyboard or anything else. Beyond that, I'd like it to be cheap (less than $100 total, because I won't use it for much other than my journal), as small and light as possible, and able to get power somehow (batteries or recharging) in Eastern Europe.

The best solution I've thought of so far is a used PDA from eBay and one of the foldable keyboards. I'm sure I could find AAA batteries wherever I am, so a model that uses those would work; otherwise, I'll need an international-voltage recharger. I was thinking a linux-based PDA would be nice, because I could just fire up vim to type things and not have to worry much about file formats or transferring. Plus, I could play with it (hack) a lot more. Any recommendations on brands and models to look for?

And I'm sure that's not the only option. Anyone have any more creative ideas?
posted by whatnotever to Grab Bag (11 answers total)
Troll eBay for a TRS-80 Model 100 from the 1980s. Seriously. They're ancient, but the keyboard is fantastic (it's a Real Keyboard, not some flimsy folding crap), they're indestructible, run on AA batteries, and perfect for portable data entry. It'd be trivial to rig up file transfer to a PC.
posted by majick at 4:33 PM on July 1, 2004

Get an m100 and a stowaway, most definitely NOT "crap", my wife has that combo and uses it all the time for her work (as a film critic), fits in your pocket, reliable and feels like a real keyboard.
posted by signal at 4:51 PM on July 1, 2004

Try a QuickPad. It's basically a small word processor built into a battery powered keyboard. It runs for 400 hours on 4 AA batteries.
posted by 4easypayments at 5:01 PM on July 1, 2004

The TRS-80 Model 100 only seems to have 24K storage and the 102s have 32K. Wouldn't that make for a small journal? The QuickPad looks really neat . . . same thing plus lotsa features, capacity.
posted by littlegreenlights at 5:59 PM on July 1, 2004

Ever type 32k of text? It's huge. Couple hundred pages. Also, there's a tape drive. You won't need it, though. Don't let word processor and HTML file sizes fool you -- 32k of plain text is vast.
posted by majick at 9:57 PM on July 1, 2004

majick, actually one page of text is about 2 or 3 kilobytes. My previous diary entries (stored in plain text) are 6.3 kilobytes each, on average. So 32k wouldn't last me long.

The Quickpad looks like a nice product, but it's really too expensive. The parts can't cost more than ten or twenty bucks, honestly, and it's not worth more than $50 to me, personally.

signal, does your wife transfer what she types to a PC? Does the m100 or any other Palm come with software good for typing and editing a few pages of text at a time? The used Palm option is looking decent. If I'm careful, I could probably come in at under $50 for the PDA and the keyboard combined.
posted by whatnotever at 10:10 PM on July 1, 2004

WordSmith for a text editor, perhaps?
posted by calwatch at 12:58 AM on July 2, 2004

A friend of mine swears by the Alphasmart. It seems to be frequently used in K-12 classrooms, so it's got to be fairly sturdy. Runs off the Palm OS, 16 MB of memory, batteries seem to last a long time. They're not exactly "cheap" by my standards--$380 for a basic model--but might be worth checking out.
posted by Kat Allison at 5:19 AM on July 2, 2004

I second the AlphaSmart. The 3000 model actually goes for US$199, and probably does everything you want in basic text entry. Autosaves every keystroke. Runs off 3 AAs for ages and ages. Works just like a regular keyboard when hooked up to PC or Mac - and it's a proper full-sized keyboard, not some fiddly PDA accessory. Weighs about two pounds. Stores "approximately 100 pages of single-spaced text" (about 200K). Fits in any bag that holds US Letter or A4 pages.
posted by rory at 6:50 AM on July 2, 2004

w.n.e.: She uses Wordsmith, which is a fairly decent wordprocessor, with basic formatting and unlimited document size, and installs a menu in Word to easily synch your documents to and fro. It works great for her, especially as she can take notes in the dark (with graffiti), then head over to a cafe and type up her reviews.
posted by signal at 8:38 AM on July 2, 2004

Ooh, thanks for the tip on Wordsmith. Now all I have to do is simultaneously find a few good deals and convince myself to buy things.

Those Alphasmarts and Typepads and such really are a nice physical design, but other than that they don't have much. The price is far too high, and the capacity is far too low. One of my journals is over 200k. And you can get a 2MB flash memory chip for less than two dollars, or even a 16MB chip for less than four on Digikey. Oh well.
posted by whatnotever at 12:05 PM on July 3, 2004

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