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Thinking of buying a Newton!


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I've considered getting a small, PDA style computer to complement my 2G (which I am NEVER upgrading - if it's not broke, don't fix it) cellphone for some time now. As i've discovered, my weighty Powerbook simply can't be used in such a function, but hey, Apple already has a solution for me!

 

I just need something that can take lists of notes (I tend to be a forgetful person, so I plan on making this a habit), but I am aware that the Newton can do more than that. However, beyond that, I know little about Newton and the Messagepads. So what should I know and what should I buy?

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Notes in class: eMate.

Notes plus everything else: MessagePad 2000/2100.

Notes only: you'd probably get by with a MessagePad 130.

 

I wouldn't go any lower down than a 130 unless for a collection, and if possible, I'd go for a 2100. For the extra $30 or so, it'd be well worth it.

 

A keyboard is available for the MessagePads, but for the 2000/2100 you'll need a dongle to connect it — expect to pay nearly as much for it as for the MessagePad itself — or else wire a suitable serial port into the unit, which can also be done. There are guides out there for the finding.

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Don't bother with anything else bar a Newton 2000/2100 - eMates are too slow, too big to drag around. The dual PCMCIA slots in a 2000/2100 also come in rather handy for bringing the old world into "new".

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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.

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Keep in mind that no Newton is "small." They're pretty big, but still make great devices. I used mine a bunch the past couple years just because. If I could find a way to export spreadsheets from QuickFigure Works to Excel I'd use it even more. Like others have said, MP2000 or MP2100 are the only ones I would consider now. I started out with an MP100 and its just not enough. The extra CPU power and Newton OS 2.1 makes a world of difference in use. Also, the keyboards for the MessagePads are LOUD. Not something I would take to class and use in lecture as it would be quite distracting.

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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.

As an owner of an eMate 300, I concur with Beachycove's rebuttal - these eMates are relatively capable for primitive note-taking during lectures, and for drawing basic geometric figures if required. I doubt anyone would want to write a formal essay on a 300 (I've written the opening draft to a couple just for fun, but the keyboard is really too small to type on for extended periods of time), but do consider the eMate as a potential candidate, nevertheless. They're fairly inexpensive (I got mine for $30 last year with its original power adapter- it's in mint condition, and the original battery still holds an exceptional charge - about 20 hours, or so), and lots of fun to use. They also draw in a bit of attention as many people have never seen a Newton product before, so just be cautious if you plan on using it in highly dense public areas.

 

In regards to data transfer, I use my 5215CD as the recipient when sending notes over from the 300, which is fairly quick. Also, the Newton OS is compatible with a variety of word processing programs, such as Word, ClarisWorks, and WordPerfect, which is very beneficial for Newton users, and increases the functionality of the Newton PDA as a whole.

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Personally, I don't think the eMate will ever beat a PowerBook with More 3.1 installed when it comes to college lectures.

You'd be surprised what those little eMates are capable of. If you feel more comfortable using a traditional laptop for your lecture notes, then yes, the PowerBook is the better option. However, keep in mind with the eMate, you don't have to worry about hard drives, since everything is stored in DRAM, and the battery life is exceptionally longer in comparison to a PB.

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