Saturday, 31 March 2012

Portable writing gadgetry

Today I sent the full 457 pages of my manuscript off to a literary agent, at request--I've been cursed with printer cartridge woes over the last week so couldn't send it off as quickly as I'd have hoped!

On a slightly different topic, I thought it was about time I set down my thoughts on a favourite subject: portable writing gadgetry. For as long as I've been writing I have found ways to (electronically) write when away from my main computer. At first that meant a laptop, but as technology matured I looked for a more compact solution.

My current setup
I own a Nokia E7 running the fast, modern Nokia Belle operating system. It has bluetooth, it has wifi, it has full internet access and a sliding QWERTY keyboard, it has a large, vivid colour screen; you might be forgiven for thinking it would be the perfect writer's companion device. You'd be wrong!


Where the E7 excels is the research side of writing: gathering information, reading (it has an excellent Read It Later client, 'Sympaper') and note-taking using Simplenote. For writing actual fiction material it is less good. The keyboard, while excellent for a phone, is dreadful for long bouts of typing. There is no tab key. While a bluetooth keyboard can be paired, it is only partly functional and the tab key won't work there either. It lacks decent software; the Nokia Simplenote client isn't up to the standard of writing out whole chapters, and there isn't much else that works decently (forget about QuickOffice, it's useless!)

Enter the Palm m500:


This amazing machine was released a little over eleven years ago, in early 2001. It features a 160x160 monochrome LCD screen, a 33MHz processor, and a pitifully small internal memory of only a few megabytes. However, it has a number of advantages that trump anything else on the market today for the simple purpose of churning out words in the smallest, simplest package possible.
  1. It runs Palm OS, an incredibly lightweight and reliable operating system that never crashes and can happily tick away for a decade without causing any problems or slowing down the hardware it runs on.
  2. The battery can last for several weeks of continuous use between charges.
  3. It takes SD cards, and using a simple syncing app on your desktop PC you can instantly synchronise text files between the palmtop and your current project. The Palm text editing app I use is called CardTXT.
  4. The Logitech Palm folding keyboard is a masterpiece of simple, reliable, inexpensive design that seems to have vanished from the repertoire of current smartphone accessories. It isn't wireless so it doesn't run on batteries, it doesn't drain the battery of the device itself, and it's incredibly compact. The only downside is the slightly unusual keyboard layout which does take a few days to get used to (but you can touch type on it once you've figured out your way around).
In short this incredible device strips out all the shiny, dual-core bells and whistles of modern smartphones and offers a comparatively spartan experience. It won't go online with the technology available in this decade, it won't play music, and you can't take pictures with it, but for something you can carry around anywhere and just sit down and churn out the chapters with, in my experience it cannot be beaten. The immense battery life is a breath of fresh air in a modern world where phones last a day between charges if you're lucky. I also have a hunch it might keep working for at least another ten years.

Smartphone manufacturers, if you're reading this ... give us something new that will do all these things!
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