Ah, now that casts aspersions on one of my absolute favourite Apple products, and calls for a response!
I have used a MessagePad 2k more or less daily since they were sold new, but I bought a couple of eMates (one as a spare) a few years ago for certain practical reasons, since which I have used the eMate a fair bit also. I'd say that each machine has niche uses, and since the units are so cheap, such niches are easily explored.
In favour of our little green friends: eMates are not at all slow at doing what they are designed to do (it helps here to have the memory upgrade, mind you, which widens the data path to 32-bit, gives you more storage, and makes the thing a good deal more responsive). They are excellent note-taking devices: you have a keyboard, 24-36 hour battery life with half-decent cells, the capacity to add a sketch in the middle of a note-taking session (e.g., copying from a blackboard) — and upload it all seamlessly to a desktop, sketches and all.
The eMate runs at or about the speed of a MP130, which was admittedly slow at cursive handwriting recognition. The handwriting test is how the Newtons were measured in reviews back in the day, and cursive was where the need for speed really entered in. Thus, methinks, the eMate gained its reputation more by inference than experience: reviewers, and people generally, thought that the 130 was slow at handwriting recognition, so the eMate must be just as bad (eMates were not widely available outside of schools). But in fact, an eMate is not designed for writing with the stylus, because it has a keyboard. This has the interesting implication that, despite running NewtOS2.1, an eMate actually doesn't "do" cursive handwriting recognition; that feature is disabled, despite its being native to the system the machine runs. An eMate does recognize printed text, however, and there the print engine is snappy enough for the real-world uses to which it would be put, in say, correcting a word in a paragraph or whatever.
I would have to admit, however, that for some reason, a largish spreadsheet on an eMate is something best avoided. Think long and hard before going there....
That said, I can write all day if I want to on my eMate in the garden or on a mountain or out in a boat. Using a solar charger, even on a cloudy day, it will recharge its battery at the same time, so the slower processor has certain advantages. There are utilities that provide features such as autotext in NewtonWorks (i -> I, teh -> the, etc.), operation of which is instantaneous on the little eMate. With other software add-ons, an eMate will read an article written on it back to you, and with no hesitation. It can run a very capable graphing calculator as a NewtonWorks module (this does not work properly in the other MP machines, as it was designed specifically for the eMate). The graphed output of a complex function can thus be incorporated into a Works text document, which is quite something — and uploaded to your desktop. The screen is much easier to read than any of the other Newtons, precisely because it is that little bit bigger.
An eMate keyboard (unlike the add-on keyboard for the MP series) has Newton-specific keys. The keyboard by comparison is a PITA to use on a MP2100. An eMate contains a genuine localtalk port, which is really all it needs for networking, the files being so small. However, an eMate also has one PCMCIA slot. It will thus handle ethernet, or wireless (but not two PCMCIA cards at once, unlike the MP2k models). The real problem here is storage, though this is less an issue if you have the internal memory upgrade.
There are real assets in the eMate's favour when used in some situations. But yes, a 2100 is still truly the pick of the litter, followed closely by the MP2000.