Best Toy Ever?

April 29, 2003

About a year ago, I decided to try using a palm-top.  I hadn’t really messed with them since having one of the original Newtons, and there were a handful of things I wanted to do.

Since I wasn’t convinced about how much I’d actually use the thing, I got conservative and bought a Palm M130, their lowest-end color at the time.  I tried the monochromes, and they were unreadable in most places I wanted to use them; the color added a backlight.

Over a year, I developed a love-hate relationship with the thing; it offered me some utility I really liked, but I wanted at least a little wireless access, I hated graffiti (at least the Newton pretended to learn your writing, instead of making you learn its), and most of all, the screen was just too small to be a comfortable e-book reader.

Last week, I sold the M130 to a friend who also wanted to try a ‘starter palm’ and bought a Sony NX70v. 

Damn.  This thing is just too cool; it comes very close to doing exactly what I want.  Of course, like any other computer, you have to add some hardware and software to take it over the top, but even still…

The 320 x 480 16 bit screen is stunning, and along with an add-on font pack (the original was a little light for my taste) is just ideal for reading e-books.  The clamshell design allows you to swivel the screen and fold it back closed with the screen out, and use the jog-dial for one-handed reading. 

The addition of the CF 802.11b card lets me drag it around the house, sync with my desktop to grab new mail from Outlook, retrieve POP3 mail and send SMTP mail directly, and browse the web, although 320 x 480 is still a little difficult for most sites (but it certainly works in a pinch).

The keyboard in the “reverse clamshell” (the “display” is actually the cover, so that folded open the keyboard is in front of it, much like a notebook) is perfectly “thumb-typable” for the graffiti impaired like myself.

The whole thing is exceedingly stylish, in Sony fashion, with a very nice magnesium case.

It also lets me keep most of my existing investment in Palm software (which was one of the things that steered me away from going Pocket PC this time). 

Other goodies include an embedded camera, full-fledged MP3 player (with remote), Flash support and the ability to play movies.

Of course, the proof is in the use…

I didn’t think I’d use the camera, but having it on-hand (and very unnoticeable), I took a fair number of pictures at a local function this weekend.  I was impressed at the quality—roughly similar to my original Sony digital camera from a few years ago.  It has no flash and limited resolution (640 x 480), but it’s handy and it’s discrete.

I’m struggling my way back to having a functional organization system based on Outlook (ala David Allen’s “Getting Things Done“), and the aftermarket “Beyond Contacts” does an amazing job of providing much of Outlook’s feature set, and faithfully moving all of my details back and forth. (I wish it took advantage of the full 480 pixel length of the display, tho).

This morning I was doing some chores around the house before settling in at my desk, and remembered a vital item I didn’t have on my schedule for today.  I quickly thumb-typed it in, and wi-fi synched with my desktop.  This also let me check through my inbox real quick for any critical items, and finding none, let me get back to getting my tasks done without worrying about having a crisis simmering that I wasn’t aware of.  A minute later, I was back on task knowing everything was under control, and when I got to my desktop I followed up on the reminder I’d left myself. 

Smooth, quick, and easy.

I’m very impressed—if I’d had this much functionality when I bought the M130, I’d have used it much more.  On the other hand, much of this functionality has just become attainable in the last 3 – 6 months. 

The price is hard to beat right now too; Overstock is selling “refurb” units (although many folks report getting units indistinguishable from brand new, as did I) for $399.  10% off coupons are readily available (try, among others), bringing it down to $360, with $2.99 shipping.

There are sporadic bargains on the mail-order sites on the CF 802.11 card.  I missed them, but picked up a new-in-package unit on eBay for $66 that should still qualify for the $50 rebate, making the wi-fi feature a cheap $16.

You’ll also want some extra memory—128 meg memory sticks are going for $28 on


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