The PDA is dead, long live the PDA!

As I sit on the train, commuting, fiddling on my smartphone, I wonder what happened to the PDA. 

I’ve had a few different PDA devices in the past. Some had keyboards, some had handwriting recognition, but they were all designed specifically for helping organising with other things added on almost as an afterthought.

Now we have smartphones. They do all the same tasks, but they seem quite unfocused. On top of that, only blackberries now have physical keyboards. Every other device seems to think that touchscreen keyboards are acceptable for input. I think this is ridiculous, I hate using a touchscreen keyboard for anything more than a couple of words. There’s no real feedback, you can’t even attempt to touch type.  Yet I’m writing this with one, how am I managing that? I’ve resorted to using a touchscreen keyboard that doesn’t make me want to break things. Swype makes things a bit more comfortable, but not much.

What I really want is my Psion series 5 back. I actually bought a couple of “spares and repairs” last year in the hope of resuscitating my ideal PDA. What I would like it for is, on top of organising things, writing posts for my website and for She Wore White. I also occasionally have ideas of things I would like to code. Even if it’s just using bash scripting or something, just getting something for code structure. 

Unfortunately the fate of my pile of series 5s was not so happy.  I quickly realised that the 16MHz processor was going to limit what I could do on the device and the lack of any kind of connectivity that my phone would understand meant I would only be able to connect to the internet via dial up… No.

I recently had an idea. I don’t expect any manufacturers to jump on this as I doubt there would be a huge market for this. An Android in a Psion-like shell. Android devices have more then enough power, they have the connectivity, they have the flexibility.

It’s at this stage, our maybe even before that some people might say to get a laptop, a Bluetooth keyboard for my phone, or just to shut up and make do with what I’ve got.

Let’s start with the laptop. I have a little netbook, I’ve used it on the train, I’ve even tethered my phone to it before. It’s still a little too big for me to feel comfortable using it in sometimes crowded London transport. Also it takes maybe 30 seconds to boot, 10 seconds to log in, sure that’s not a huge amount, and I could tweak it to be faster, using suspend to swap out whatever, it’s still very heavy handed. There are a couple of times I’ve booted it to test some code and by the time I’ve got it running, I’ve forgotten what I wanted to do.

Next, the external keyboard. In theory this is a more workable solution. My phone turns on instantly, I have a large amount of programs I can use for just about anything and I don’t need another device. Have you tried holding two devices on your lap while sitting in a crowded train? Nope.  Not going to happen. 

Now, if I had the time (and money) then what I would do is buy a Pain shell (our repurpose one I already have) and something like the ZTE Blade (Orange San Francisco) and mount that I the case. I have already found a Bluetooth keyboard that I believe would fit. True, it doesn’t look anywhere as comfortable to type on as the original Psion one, but so be it. As they both run on li-ion batteries and are charged over micro-USB, it might even be possible to combine the power source and make the keyboard turn on with the device. Wiring up all the various buttons into the shell shouldn’t be too much of an issue, I would think.

Being able to use Android apps, I think, would cover 99% of situations that we would want. I would miss having emacs, but so be it.

Before I finish, I’ve just been reminded of the Asus Transformer. This definitely ticks a lot of boxes but in my opinion is a little on the large side. I’m never happy, am I?

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