Writing on a Palm Pilot
OK, they haven’t been called “Palm Pilots” for years, but I find it helpful to distinguish between the electronic device and the inside of the hand, so I say “Palm Pilot”. So sue me. Meanwhile, let’s talk about writing on your Palm brand personal digital assistant device thingy, ok?
I’m a longtime Palm user. I got my first one back in 2000 when I was working for a dot-com startup (that went dot-boom later on) while going to graduate school, full-time. I desperately needed to get my schedule in order.
But I soon found that the Palm was really well-adapted to writing on the go. The handwriting-based text entry was useful for writing on the New York subways — I could write a whole 3-4 page essay on the way to work with one elbow wrapped around a pole or hung through a handstrap. And for longer sessions where I could sit down, a couple of companies made nifty foldable keyboards you could attach to the Palm.
Although Palm’s heyday seems to have come and gone, a Palm is still a useful little writing device. There are excellent word processors available, such as Documents to Go, which allows you to write fully-formatted documents, save in Word format, and swap files back and forth with any version of Office. The PDA-only devices (like the Palm TX) still have handwriting support (Treo users like me have to use third-party software like MobileWrite). And there are both infrared keyboards like the Palm Universal Wireless Keyboard and Bluetooth keyboards like the iGo Stowaway that allow you to have a full keyboard to work on wherever you can find a flat surface to write on.
Palm’s can be easily extended with all sorts of third-party software that you might find useful as a writer, from bibliographic reference managers to full relational databases to outliners to memopads. Most of them can also access the Internet, via either a built-in cellphone, an external cellphone connected via infrared or Bluetooth, or built-in Wi-Fi, which means you have access to online resources like Wikipedia, too.
I wouldn’t recommend using a Palm for writing that Tolkein-esque fantasy trilogy you’re working on, but for short pieces (or parts of longer works) it’s pretty handy — easy to carry, easy to use, and with a better battery than most laptops. Jeff Kirvin used to maintain a site for Palm-based writing; the site’s been gone for years now, but the Writing on Your Palm archives are still up if you want some useful tips. There’s also a fairly active Writing on Your Palm Google group committed to mobile writing (including writing on Windows mobile and Apple devices). Check them out if you’re interested in using a Palm to extend your writing life.