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back to article Where are all the decent handheld scribbling tools?

As the market for computerised devices grows ever bigger and the internet takes over its users' social lives, it's a good time to be a gadget fan. They're everywhere, from smartphones and fondleslabs to pocket games consoles. There are notebooks of every size and shape from netbooks to desktop replacements. What were once mere …

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Can I be the first to say ...

Microwriter

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Absolutely. The AgendA keyboard really did take less than an hour to learn.

But the software was weird and non-compatible, and it had almost no publicity. I had to specifically ask for one at a store that I knew stocked it, because it wasn't even displayed.

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Just found this: http://www.cykey.co.uk/

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Linux

I'm typing this on a Cykey right now - my fave device for input. Chris at Cykey has tried to get the interface working on a fondleslab, but it does need a degree of tactile feedback.

Tux, 'cos I reckon I was probably the first person to use a Cykey on Linux...

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Anonymous Coward

Handheld scribbling tools

I got an iPad myself. Great little toy.

But horrible to work on if you need to bang out some documentation etc. I tried it, it just doesn't work. You either have to put the fondleslab on a table, or on your knees/lap and risk said fondleslab sliding off your lap and breaking its precious screen...

And a laptop, as said, take ages to get up to speed (waking up, etc), and in between there's horrible WindowsUpdates waiting to catch you unawares when you want to do a shutdown... Also, screen breakage is a problem. Happened to me. Sad.

The screen on a cellphone (or mobile) is just too small for reading emails comfortably.

So, therefore I agree with most of the points as stated in this column. Make it a hi-res LCD display though (so that it's able to display the most basic word formatting, such as bold, strikeout, underlining etc). And with today's technology, battery life should be well in excess of a week.

LCD displays should be really cheap to replace.

Just one note : add a VGA adapter as well, so that you can plug in an external monitor. Or, failing that, an USB monitor (if such a thing exists).

And a lovely, proper keyboard with proper spacing. Not a dinky Crackberry keyboard though. Or an unresponsive fondleslab keyboard.

Bonus points for making it waterproof, dustproof and, in general, poo-proof.

Connectivity via USB, Bluetooth, Wifi, 3g etc.

And memory slots for quick and easy expansion.

I will stop here.

Thank you for listening.

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Weird.

One of the first things I bought for my (first generation) iPad was the keyboard dock.

It works like a charm, although it took a few iOS updates to iron out the wrinkles. There was a response lag issue for the first couple of months. but it's cream now.

("Why take two items into the shower? Surely that defeats the point of the iPad!" I hear you ask. And you'd be right-ish, but as I tend to carry my stuff around in a rucksack, that keyboard dock doesn't really make much difference. Even so, I'm considering one of those roll-up keyboards.)

I do agree with the original article however: there is most definitely a market for a simple portable computer that focuses on getting work done rather than procrastinatory activities. One possibility is to take advantage of the rise of HD televisions. These have high-res(-ish) displays and many can accept streaming video sources, so why not use that combination to provide the "screen" of your device? All you'd need to carry around is the keyboard and the processor.

We'd need to standardise the connections though, otherwise you'd only be able to connect your (say) "Sony WriteStation" to a Sony-branded TV.

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Pint

PCMCIA

Is it wrong that the only definition of PCMCIA that I can remember is...

People Can't Memorise Computer Industry Acronyms

...?

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Psion

Series 3, Series 5 or indeed Series 7 / NetBook.

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Anonymous Coward

Series 5

Psion Series 5... what a great bit of ARM-based kit. A pal of mine wrote his entire thesis on one in Latex markup. They are still worth decent money second hand even now.

A modern version with Wi-fi and some decent processing power would rock. OpenPandora would come close if it had a usable keyboard. Perhaps someone will cobble something together with their Raspberry Pi once they're available. Sharp have just introduced a new line of LCDs without polarizers which look like the closest thing to e-ink without actually being e-ink. They would be perfect for a use-anywhere handheld.

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Gimp

Psion Series 5

Lovely bit of kit. However like the Series 3a I had my unit suffered from hinge problems. However unlike the 3a the hinge problem ended up being fatal. And even with light use the rubberised covering was peeling away after 6 months .

Shame really.

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I still use my 5 on occasion...

Decent keyboard & screen, fits in a jacket pocket, and a battery life of several million years. And when the batteries do finally die, they are AAs - available justy about anywhere for a couple of quid.

Plus, it's still working after 10+ years, which is more than I can say for a disturbing number of laptops...

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Headmaster

Amstrad NC100

It's important to note that although the NC100 has similarities to the Z88, it's not an upgrade. Clive got to keep the still un-released Z88 after the Amstrad buy-out and released it under his new Cambridge Computers name.

The NC100 came along much later, 1992 or 1993 IIRC and was designed in house by Amstrad. The NC100 owes just as much to the CPC and PCW as it does to the Z88 (colourful keys, friendly user manual, a port of Protext from the CPC, etc).

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Anonymous Coward

Galaxy Note?

Pen input may be on it's way back with this sort of thing and I personally still like actual scribbling for note taking on the move.

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WTF?

It is easy to find a decent handheld scribbling tool

http://www.whsmith.co.uk/CatalogAndSearch/SearchWithinCategory.aspx?cat=%5CStationeryAndCards%5CPaper+products%5CNotebooks%5CA5

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Anonymous Coward

"notebooks are ...

... expensive, fragile things that scorch your lap and last a day if they're doing exceptionally well"

Buy one with more pages, and stop setting fire to them. Sorted.

(probably not first with this)

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Stop

Or

Just buy a bluetooth keyboard for your smart phone. Why make life so complicated?

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Holmes

Because it would be impossible to read while writing?

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Go

I agree with Audrey S. Thackeray

If someone could take the exact form factor and *keyboard* of the Psion 5, but put Android (or other suitable OS) on a fairly high resolution screen then I would buy one tomorrow.

Honestly, I have money in the bank *waiting* for it!

Anyone? Please? The nearest I can think of is the Asus Transformer but it's a bit big.

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Why wait 'til tomorrow?

I'd buy one this afternoon (providing they can somewhere close to Psion battery life).

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Here you go - viliv n5

http://www.dynamism.com/viliv-n5.shtml

8 hour batter life, runs windows 7, fits in your pocket reasonably well

I reading this page on one now

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Unhappy

Viliv RIP

The Viliv S5 is *exactly* the machine Liam's looking for -- the reincarnation of the Psion 5 form factor (even fits in a Series 5 case!), only with the specs of a Win7 netbook.

Alas, Viliv went into liquidation in July due to, er, a lack of sales -- seems everyone was buying tablets instead.

Thus illustrating the perils of going for a minority market ...

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Minority market?

It's lovely and small, but... is it small enough that people might use as a mobile handset?

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Z88 - so near...

I used a Z88 when they were new, and bought myself one a few years back with a view to having something I could use for typing and notes. Long battery life, famously quiet keyboard to type on, lovely bit of kit. I used it about twice, because it was huge in comparison with my Libretto (whose hinge never, thankfully, broke) and therefore never got taken anywhere to justify the inconvenience of transferring content.

One of the tablet/keyboard combos might be a better modern equivalent, although swype is actually almost decent enough on a mobile that you really need to be writing something big for it to be worth something with a full keyboard. I've yet to try the bluetooth keyboard route (they were horrible under Windows Mobile), but I'm certainly going to.

It doesn't solve the "I want a battery that'll last me going on a writers' retreat in the woods" problem, but you could get a lot of spare battery (or solar charger) alongside a mobile without getting to the bulk of a z88.

There was a time when I was involved in a long chat about the "Psion FX" - something in the Psion 5 form factor, but with an Atom in it. I think this got killed by the (x86) netbook fad, which the discussion predated, although a netbook is really not the same thing.

Cheap enough and small enough (but how do you make a keyboard and screen small without having a hinge and ending up with a Vaio P?) and I'd still find the idea tempting today.

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Meh

Somewhat contradictory?

Compare and contrast....

"Both machines demonstrate one of the critical blunders of the designer of low-end kit: don't lumber it with gratuitous limitations. Give its users the ability to make the best possible use of it by making it as good as you can for its weight, form-factor and price, and they will find uses for it that you never imagined."

with...

"Worse, the more capable they are, the more distractions there are from getting on with bashing out the words."

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Kindle with a better keyboard

I like this plan. Oddly enough I think the old Kindle is a step in the right direction. The E Ink screen gives it a long battery life. The "Whispernet" 3G wireless sync means you could type up a document on the train, get to work, and have it automatically appear on your desktop, no fiddling around with memory cards or USB cables. All we need is a decent keyboard, and of course good software. There's no Angry Birds to distract you.

However I disagree with the laptop lid issue. When the keyboard is flat on a table, you need the screen to be tilted towards you. Otherwise you end up hunched forward like an old lady. Short of having a fully detachable keyboard and screen (think iPad + Bluetooth keyboard), the best way to implement this is with a hinge.

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Ne'er-do-wells

And make it as unattractive as possible so ne'er-do-wells won't take your clickety-clack fondleslab with them when you're not looking....

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Anonymous Coward

Dare I say Apple emate?

There - I did.

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@Andrew Garrard

Hope you're speaking of the Toshiba Libretto - brilliant little machine with everything you need (admittedly small full colour screen, nearly full size keyboard, hard drive, proper 'hibernate' mode that actually worked) in a case just bigger than the original Nokia Communicator. Had it as my main machine for years until some b******d nicked it. Could use it as a full laptop (used to configure routers/switches/muxes with it) or as a note taker / word processor. Wouldn't mind another now.

Oh, and then Nokia got it right with the next 2 Communicators - 9000, 9100 - which, once you got into the keyboards, could be very quick for typing (and had a fax machine built in! - amazing how many times you need to send a test fax when installing these Multi purpose printers! Got a new E7 now but it's not quite the same ......

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And while we're at it...

I really don't like this touch screen phone nonsense either.

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TRS80 Model 100, yes...

I had one of these some years ago, and it was indeed a fine machine, light in weight and with a pleasant, properly-spaced keyboard whose principal faults were a US layout and a total absence of rake. A set of AA-size batteries lasted days.

The interesting feature not mentioned in the article is that the display, although fairly low-resolution and cobweb-growingly slow, was pixel-oriented rather than character-cell oriented - the BASIC included commands for drawing lines and circles.

I used to use it to type out random stuff, and then feed it to my PC via the serial port.

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TRT
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Fond memories...

I used to sell these (amongst other things)!

I've come over all nostalgic.

*sniff*

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So did I! Been a long time since I've seen one.

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Nostalgia...

I spent a happy summer typing up my A-level Chemistry notes on a TRS-80 Model 100. Far further back than I care to remember. I'm pretty sure it's still somewhere in my parents' attic. Must hoke around for it someday. Gorgeous machine...

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@Andy 97

I just wish you could get a mobile with the screen and thickness of an SGSII and a keyboard. All the phones with keyboards either seemed to have too smaller screens (Nokia E72 and most Blackberries) or had a foldout keyboard and where then too thick (HTC something or other)

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Boffin

Scribbling on the move

For those who want to scribble on the move, Amstrad Penpads can be picked up on Ebay. However the bad news is that not only don't they work, but the ravages of time mean even if you find one unused the rubberised casing has turned into a gunky chemical mess.

Gadget geek Dr Ashens did a video review of one a few weeks back. Quite interesting. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQ38F9GnDQM

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all U need is a Dictaphone and a secretary back at the office

the try and tested method for years:

a Dictaphone+a secretary

never fail ...

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MJI
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Can I borrow your DIctaphone?

No, use your finger like anyone else.

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MJI
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Husky Hunter

I have used them quite rugged but still able to be broken

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fix

Transformer

No, not a robot in disguise!

Asus, with detachable keyboard, a tablet when you want it, a laptop when you want a keyboard, and with the keyboard, excellent battery life.

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Loving the typo.

[quote]They're lovely but sadly not quite up to snuff in 2011[/quote]

Has El Reg been out killing tramps again :)

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FAIL

What typo?

"Up to snuff" is a perfectly good phrase.

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Happy

@sugarbear

"They're lovely but sadly not quite up to snuff in 2011"

What typo?

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My solution(s) and requirements

My Ben Nanonote never leaves my pocket, very portable but the keys lack travel for comfy typing (does fine for a quick note or an on-the-go Quake or Nethack game though). Whenever I carry a bag, I tuck my 9' EEEPC 900 in. The keyboard is just about decent and the display large enough for most on-the-go tasks. I've been trying to replace that with a more current machine but everything is 11' these days, and that's much too big.

Ideally I'd like a cheap, light 7' clamshell machine, passive cooling (no need for a powerhouse anyway, a 800MHz ARM should do just fine), a SSD (16GB would be more than enough), some RAM (1GB would be plenty), SD (2) and USB (3?) slots, and a physically switchable wireless adaptor (no need for n either, b/g will do).

Any of you spotted such a thing?

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Coat

Hmm

I really don't think you would like a seven *foot* (= 2.1 metres) clamshell machine.

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re: Hmm

... at least you can understand why I think 11 feet is too big for a pocket computer...

And I just discovered that my right shift key is broken. Time for a new keboard.

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I actually smashed my trusty Ben a few hours after my first post, so I will be ordering a new one in the coming days. If someone in the Montreal.qc.ca area is interested we could share the shipping costs.

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A real pocket computer

"My Ben Nanonote never leaves my pocket, very portable but the keys lack travel for comfy typing (does fine for a quick note or an on-the-go Quake or Nethack game though)."

And you do all that, without even taking it out your pocket? Amazing!

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Psion, of course

I was going to say the Psion Netbook/Series 7, but in fact its predecessor was even more astonishing in its time. Behold the MC400: http://justwebware.com/mc400/mc400.html

A fantastic beast which drew admiration wherever we took it, it had an amazing user interface, 60 hour battery life and superb industrial design. It was fantastically expensive, but worth every last penny.

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Go

not hard

galaxy tab + bluetooth keyboard. The keyboard folds up and is "large pocket" sized easily slips in a normal bag.

No issues for me so far.

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An enlarged version of the Nokia E series, with a decent sized keyboard, slightly bigger screen and with the built-in Quickoffice app sounds like it would do the trick.

The problem is convincing the likes of Nokia to build such a beast.

MS want them to target the iPhone-wannabie owners, and are unlikely to build a sub-tablet/super-mobile device for specialised uses such as note-taking, journalists, network device terminals etc.

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