Palm m500 vs. Pomera DM 30
We sometimes go with Kana for a hotel “day stay” to a very nice place near our house. This way, we can rest from our small apartment while not actually meeting anyone and keeping in line with the pandemic guidelines. I really like to read and write while in the hotel room, so I tried testing my new distraction-less writing setup—a Palm m500 with a foldable keyboard. This day turned out very windy and rainy, so even though it was not ideal for taking photos, it was ideal for writing!
Recently, this “looking for interesting and unusual devices to write text on” changed from a thing I did to improve my efficiency to an interesting hobby. Now I investigate new candidates just because it makes writing a new article for my blog or just any random piece of text I have to produce a new and fun experience. Also, just fixing, exploring old devices, and trying to coerce them to work in the way I want them to, turned out to be the most enjoyable part.
The next candidates on my list are the Palm company’s PDAs from the 1990s to about 2008.
I had a few of these and bought them second-hand in Poland while studying computer science in my high school years. Attending a computer and electronics school had the added benefit of no one looking weirdly at a teenager that used a business person-oriented already obsolete PDA even during classes.
I would use these to keep my class schedule and contacts list. I would also put my homework assignments into to-do list apps. I had the PDA set to sync with some websites every morning before school to read RSS feeds between (or sometimes during) classes or have the current bus schedule always with me. (These were times when my cellphone could barely do simple GPRS internet). Reading ebooks on my Palm and playing some simple games were also things I would do when I was bored. Overall I remembered these devices fondly, but they all had a huge downside—the data input was terrible. Nor the onscreen keyboard nor the handwritten letter recognition allowed for fast writing.
I don’t know why at that time, I did not consider buying a foldable keyboard for the PDA—it’s possible that I did not know these existed.
But now I’m a bit more tech-wise, and after some searching and a few won online auctions, I completed my first Palm PDA writing set comprised of a Palm m500 and a foldable Palm Portable Keyboard. I’m trying to pitch it against my current best standalone writing tool—the Pomera DM30 about which I already wrote in Part 01 HERE.
It actually took me some effort to get to this stage—the Palm hardware is aging, and I had to fix a working m500 from three broken units with the help of some ordered online parts and a new battery. Also, finding a foldable keyboard with the right type of connector was difficult.
From the start, I’m not recommending this to anyone who just wants to buy a thing that works.
OK, so how does this type:
I have a Palm m500, which was at its time a high-end model geared towards business users. This slots really nicely to a foldable keyboard, making a writing device that is actually really close in size to a folded-out Pomera (about as wide as a standard laptop).
Separated and folded up, this setup gets surprisingly light and compact.
Let’s compare! The advantages:
The Palm’s OS is supple and lean. Not a gram of fat on it. Even on this old hardware, it is surprisingly fast and snappy. Also, because it is a proper operating system and not just a word processor, I can install applications and customize many things. This is a huge advantage over the Pomera.
I installed a word processing application called Wordsmith. This is a great writing tool that was actually used as the base writing program for the AlphaSmart DANA writing tool. This app is surprisingly well-featured, allowing for simple font styles, justification, navigating by paragraph, or multi-paste. Being geared towards writing longer pieces, it also has word count tools and bookmarks.
Compared to the Pomera, the best thing is that the fonts used are not monospaced, so the text looks a lot less confusing. It’s easier to see if there are any unnecessary spaces and if the apostrophes are correct, for example.
Of course, the app works well with the touch screen to select text and, using a long press, modify it, copy, paste, etc. A quick tap on the screen to move the cursor’s current position is something I really miss on the Pomera.
I also installed a dictionary app which, even though a bit sluggish on this processor, allows me to check word meanings and look something up in a thesaurus when I need to. I still prefer my standalone digital dictionary for this, but at least I have the option while the Pomera only has Japanese dictionaries.
Thanks to the built-in SD card slot, it’s relatively easy to move the text files to and from a modern computer or even an iPad. It works even better than in the Pomera, though, because the files are in the right encoding (Pomera uses the Japanese SHIFT JIS standard), so all the letters and signs display alright.
The keyboard turned out to be really decent! I was a bit afraid that a keyboard that folds into such a small package would be awful to write on, but I was very positively surprised! Once the thing is properly deployed and on a hard, flat surface, it’s enjoyable to write with. The large keys have decent travel, similar to older windows laptops. Awesome. The keyboard even has some dedicated and useful function keys and a stand for the pen on both sides, which comes in handy. So far, I wrote more than 20000 words using this setup, and it works well—I’m able to type as fast as on my main computer.
Because the keyboard and the main unit are separate parts, you can still use the PDA without the keyboard (for example, reviewing a text you wrote). If one of the parts breaks, you don’t have to replace the whole thing.
After replacing the long-dead battery with a new one, I’m surprised how good the battery life is on this PDA. After writing this whole article, the battery meter is still 100%. The Pomera is also great in this regard thanks to the low-power e-paper screen but compared to an iPad or a laptop, they are both excellent.
The Pomera works on regular AA batteries, so it’s easy to replace them on-the-go, but the Palm m500 can be charged via USB, which is convenient enough.
Also, the foldable keyboard needs no separate batteries in this case which is awesome!
Well, compared to the Pomera, the screen is low resolution and really dark. It is still very usable, especially outside or in well-lit rooms, but undoubtedly this is the biggest downside of this whole generation of devices.
This screen’s small plus side on the other hand is the lack of that lag that haunts e-paper displays such as the one used in the Pomera. When writing on the Palm, the letters appear on the screen immediately, and the cursor moves fast also. The screen lag that irritates while writing on the Pomera is just not here.
Unfortunately, similarly to the Psion 5mx, the angle at which the Palm sticks out from the keyboard stand can not be adjusted, making the screen even more difficult to use in some instances.
The keyboard has a bit weird layout caused by the mechanism that it uses to fold. The SPACE key is separated into two parts, for example, but, what is weirder, the DEL and DONE keys are right next to the arrow keys, which causes some accidental presses before you get used to it.
Also, as far as I can tell so far, the Palm has no option to write certain punctuation marks necessary for more advanced writing—no en nor em dashes, for example. This is a bit of a bothersome thing to remember and fix later while editing the text.
If you are lucky, you can find a similar Palm PDA and keyboard for about 30$. You will need a new battery, though, which brings the cost up to about 50$. The Pomera is a lot rarer (it was sold only in Japan) and cost between 100 and 200$ used. But, a new device, such as the Freewrite, is even more expensive at 500$ (wow!)
The palm PDAs seem like a very viable choice for a distraction-free writing device. With a still strong community of fans, many PDA models, and applications to choose from, it’s an ideal family of devices if you want to tinker with and explore the thing you use. If you just want to write on a rock-solid solution, then I think a dedicated machine, like the Pomera or a Freewrite would be more suitable.
Personally, I’m having a lot of fun with the Palm PDAs and think that the people making the Freewrite and Pomera devices could learn a lot from the old Palms!