Monthly Archives: January 2011

Newton v. Air

I have long struggled with finding the right way to keep track of
calendars, lists, plans, etc, while on the go.  I was an “early
adopter” of the whole “Personal Digital Assistant” (PDA) thing.  I
had one of the early (though not earliest) Apple Newtons, and bought a
final generation Newton
MessagePad 2100
in 1998, just weeks before Steve Jobs announced
that Apple was dropping the whole product (and screwing over thousands
of 3rd party application developers — you’d’ve thought they’d learned
a lesson? I doubt many of them are writing iPhone apps). 

The Apple Newton was cool.  It was quite powerful as a digital
assistant, and even occasionally useful for things like taking notes in
meetings, when you didn’t want to bring a luggable notebook (if you
even had one).    But, it wasn’t a fully-fledged
computer, and had challenges sync’ing seamlessly with your desktop
applications.  The Palm got that part right — drop  your
device in its cradle and press a button to sync. 

After the Newton, I went through several generations of Palm devices
(only some of them died from
deceleration trauma!), and my last one, the Tungsten T3, is still
sitting in its cradle, plugged into my computer.  I stopped
carrying it around last year when I finally found an iPhone app that
could do the T3’s last remaining task:  manage my grocery

Which is not to say that the iPhone does all the things I used to do
with the Newton.  I suppose I could download a Libertarian quiz
app for it.  But, mostly, I gave up on using these small devices
to manage my increasingly complex (and possibly indicative of neurotic
leanings) ToDo lists, etc. 

It all kind of felt like reverse progress.

So — when I saw someone with an 11″ Macbook Air, the week before
Christmas, a number of threads wound together in a momentary
flash:  here was a device that was not a lot bigger than the
Newton, and only fractionally bigger than an iPad, but which could
support all those new lists and calendars and applications as well as be a reasonable sole
compute platform for a week’s business trip.  YMMV, of course, but
this made a lot more sense for me than an iPad, cool though they

Enough about me — let’s compare the MessagePad 2100 and the 11″ Air,
shall we?

Okay — the Newton has a smaller surface area:

top view

top centred

But it is at least twice as thick as the Air:

side view

The Newton (sans keyboard) is most of a pound lighter than the Air:

newton weight

Air weight

And it has genuine PCMCIA slots for expansion!

Newton adds

But, when it comes time to set up for work, while the Newton’s keyboard
has a much nicer feel (key travel), frankly the Newton/keyboard combo
is a lot harder to balance in your lap:

open for work

Why, yes, the Newton does still work!  (Battery is fried, though):

still alive!