Better than a PDA?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

It's been awhile since I blogged about the time management techniques of David Allen, "life hacks", or personal productivity technology, but these topics have never been far from my mind. Regulars here will note that from the my initial encounter with Allen's methods, I have opted for a low-tech implementation of the suggestions in Getting Things Done.

I have done this for several reasons. First, PDA's and some productivity software cost money, which I don't have quite enough of to toss around, or too much time to implement. To jump right in with a buying spree before I knew my actual needs would have been counterproductive. Second, I wanted to focus on productivity rather than on getting something to work -- or even playing with some neat gadget. (Although Allen suggests putting that last urge to use, I know myself well enough to realize that the suggestion would be almost useless to me.)

But now I am more aware of my needs and have taken "low-tech" just about as far as it can go. Since I am normally near computers most of the time, I have been able to get by well enough with a nice leather organizer (which allows me access to copies of the week's calendar and my lists, as well as to have ubiquitous capture), and a "pocket office" on a pen drive.

But what about when I am away from home or work, or traveling? Furthermore, I have found there to be something of a barrier between the easy access (but inflexibility) of paper copies of lists and the flexibility (but requirement for a computer) of my electronic files. I even have a nickname for it: the digital bottleneck.

Off and on for awhile, I have been contemplating PDAs, even though they strike me as not quite flexible enough for my needs, over and above the various hassles that come with proprietary computer technology. But there is another option, which I learned about on a trip to Instapundit yesterday: A cheap, very portable laptop. This one is very close in size (picture at link) to the leather binder I currently use! (See Wikipedia and this personal account for more information.)

At 2 pounds, it's easy to tote.

At about $350, it's incredibly cheap compared to, say, my old Vaio laptop.

I decided not to install Windows. [That one's a no-brainer. --ed] The Linux software suite is very capable and loads a lot faster than Windows. The Open Office word processor handled some short edits of the speech I'm giving tomorrow.

The whole thing is incredibly user friendly. Open the box. Power it up. Everything's loaded and ready to rock and roll.
The bonus for me is that I normally use Linux, anyway! No "new gadget" learning curve. No software incompatibility issues. No vendor lock-in. Oh yeah. Its "hard drive" is actually flash memory, so you don't have to worry as much about damaging your computer if you drop it. The company's web site even touts it as "shock-proof".

One big drawback -- and this is only after a cursory web search and some frantic skimming, so I could be wrong -- is that I can't seem to find this on sale in a brick-and-mortar store, including Fry's. I don't really want to buy one without trying it out, because the small keyboard could be an issue. This is especially true if I want to use one of these for more than just a travel computer. I don't travel quite enough to justify buying one of these strictly for that purpose, and we do already own a normal laptop.

A long out-of-town trip looms in the near future. If you know who sells this from actual stores or use it yourself, I'd be grateful if you dropped me a line.

I just love capitalism!

-- CAV


Raman Gupta said...

Hi Gus, I just received delivery of an eeepc yesterday. My initial:

1) Yes it is very small and is very easy to carry around. Its about the size of a portable DVD drive.

2) The keyboard definitely takes some getting used to. The number and function keys are a little shifted from a standard keyboard, and the right shift key is in an unusual position. However, some linux key mapping magic can move the shift key if you really have a hard time with it.

3) Its user interface and general ease of use is excellent. And of course, being based on linux, is customizable to the nth degree.

4) Very useful information and customization tips to be found on the forums, and the wiki, here:

5) If you're anything like me, you *will* "waste" some time on customizing it :-)

Raman Gupta

Dismuke said...

"I don't really want to buy one without trying it out, because the small keyboard could be an issue."

As long as the thing has a USB port, one option is to get a cheap USB keyboard, plug it in and bypass the keyboard that comes with it. Same is true for the mouse as well.

I have a regular laptop and really dislike having to use the keyboard and ESPECIALLY the mouse on the thing. Using them is very awkward and slow for me as years of standard keyboard and mouse usage have been thoroughly automated.

When I travel - which isn't all that often - I usually just throw a keyboard and a mouse in my suitcase. They don't weigh that much or take up room. When I am at the hotel, I just plug them in and basically use the laptop as a compact desktop/monitor.

Even when I travel, it is very rare for me to need to use my laptop in places where lugging a regular keyboard along would be inconvenient. I HATE flying and will resort to it ONLY if a trip is important to me and it is the ONLY viable way for me to get there - so I have yet to use one on an airplane. And I have yet to take my laptop into a restaurant or coffee shop. But for those who fly/travel alot and need a lot of portability, you can also purchase a virtual laser keyboard which is the size of a Zipo lighter and projects a full sized keyboard on to any flat surface. Here is a description of the product:

The things are not cheap - and on this particular page the pricing is in Euros. But I suspect there are others who manufacture something similar and sell them in the USA.

The computer you describe in your posting might actually be something of interest to me. There are occasions when I find myself away from easy access to a computer for several hours at a time right here in the Fort Worth/Dallas area. And there are instances when there will be some sort of burp on the server from which Radio Dismuke originates that I need to go in and fix. And on occasions when I stop in a restaurant and dine alone, if I don't have reading material or something along with me, just sitting their waiting is very boring. In such situations, I find myself wishing for Internet access.

My laptop is a bit too large to comfortably lug along everywhere I go. I have been contemplating those so-called smart phones that have the Windows Mobile operating system on them which would supposedly allow me full remote access to the Windows server Radio Dismuke is on. (I can't use Linux as most of the specialized software programs I use ONLY work with Windows) Plus Live 365 is now set up so that premium subscribers can access all of their stations with a Windows smart phone which effectively puts Internet radio into cars of anyone who has wireless broadband service. But if the computer you mention has a soundcard, it is small enough it might be able to handle everything I would want to use a smartphone for and more. If it were just the matter of the price of the smartphone or the computer you mention, I would get one or another without hesitation. But as of right now, the price of wireless broadband service is a bit more than I can, in good conscious, justify for listening to Internet radio and the very rare outage on my station. At this point, I am kind of waiting for the price to go down - which I hope will eventually happen.

I suspect at some point we will see computer/cell phone combos about the size of a deck of cards or smaller what will have more power than today's desktop PCs - and that will replace our cell phones, desktop and laptop computers, PDAs, radios and televisions. One will simply plug in different sized monitors and things such as keyboards, mice, external drives, scanners, printers, etc. depending on how one wants to use it.

Gus Van Horn said...

Raman and Dismuke,

Thank you both for your comments, which both contained some really good information.

Between the customization tips and the suggestion for USB keyboards for travel, this thing seems a lot more viable as a travel laptop than even before.

In considering how I'd use this other than for travel, I keep running into the notion that writing is easier than typing for many of the things I envision using this for, and the digital bottleneck rears its ugly head again. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?)

Of course, if this is small enough to fit INSIDE my leather organizer (or something like it), I'd get the best of both worlds and camouflage for the computer....


Kevin Whited said...

The Micro Center in Houston has them.

I played around with the demo model a week or so ago and was impressed.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks, Kevin.

That's especially good news to me, because if I decide I want one of these, I just happen to have a gift card for that store!

Martin Lindeskog said...


Have you heard about One by Elonex? It is a laptop computer for £99!

Gus Van Horn said...

I had not. According to Wikipedia, it's due to be released in June.

The dollar is worth about half a pound at the moment, so if it doesn't crater by June, waiting could pay off.

Sunnan said...

1. Reportedly, the battery life is kinda on the low side.
2. What's capitalism got to do with it?

Gus Van Horn said...

1. Thanks. I've heard as much.
2. Good one!