Why a Psion in 2015?

The lure of the Psion 5MX, a 16 year old gadget that I've wanted to try for as long, offering 25-40hr battery life (from 2xAA batteries), no distraction writing and a touch-type keyboard, has proved too tempting. Sitting somewhere between phone (much shorter battery life, distractions etc.) and laptop use it ought to be available for longer writing sessions (like the laptop) when not at my desk (like the phone). I'm just surprised that nobody has created a device that can cover this gap yet, such as a phone or tablet with a decent keyboard, for example, provided the battery life covered a working day. Even if they did, I wouldn't be able to buy it for £25, I'm quite sure. 

In a classic bit of 'overthink, underdo', my questions before the purchase, hoping to avert any wasted gadget spending, were along these lines:

  • Would I *really* do any serious writing on it?
  • Would I do the same kind of writing I might do on my phone? Sparse note taking and todo list updating.
  • I have a bluetooth keyboard I used with my old phone, I could use that to write small amounts.
  • Could it beat the all-day staying power of a laptop plugged in to write decent amounts and carry out other business?

Using a Psion would at least be distraction free for the most part. I could stick it in my pocket or bag, handle emails and comms on the phone and do actual writing on the PDA, not worrying about battery life or pairing keyboards, hopefully able to churn out half-decent website content and book updates, among other things.

What would I write?

  • Articles for magazines and news, for-publication things
  • Blog posts for business and personal subjects
  • Always-on note-taking, digital, thus searchable, files (pw protected)
  • Book updates, additions
  • New books, guides etc.

This list of potential writing targets seems solid enough, so I at least had a reason to look into a writing tool.

Practical questions then followed: 

  • How much would I pay for one? Value to me = more writing = potentially £1000s in work. Spend of up to £50 not crazy, then.
  • Actually try to get one for £25 as a punt, because not convinced it will revolutionise my ability to write - I have all the tools I need already. Although a portable, encrypted digi diary/jotter would be interesting... It’s another thing to forget to carry.
  • See if I can get a CF to SD converter, if not a normal multi-card reader
  • Compare writing on the Psion to a laptop - the laptop can do serious work and lasts forever when plugged in.
  • The Psion would let me write anywhere, but how often am I somewhere that isn’t sitting and working?
  • In a town or city I'm usually at a workspace. With a desk. And power. And laptop.
  • Socialising? Well, socialising time is not writing time.
  • Evenings and weekends? Maybe that’s the best time. Although it will be potentially annoying to others and I won’t be spending quality time with the family.
  • I don’t commute, which would have worked well.
  • Alternative to consider: record your voice for later transcribing. A much more productive and perhaps fluid way of ‘writing’. But must be alone out on walks. Not very practical. Plus it's not a great look.
  • Day to day I don’t think I’d get that much opportunity to use it over the laptop, but could it create new opportunities? Could I go sit in the pub and work that way? The laptop would be better suited to that in most cases, unless I knew what I wanted to write and didn't want the distraction.
  • A combination of phone + dictaphone might be best in the end for writing out decent chunks of text

So after all that, what do I really want it for? 

  • Am I looking for writing motivation? I love doing it but find it hard to get started. Particularly with little pay off except practice, for the most part.
  • I have wanted one for years, back when they were £500+ state of the art writing tools.
  • It is nice, timeless tech. Appealing on its own merits.
  • People have written whole books on them over the last 20 years (the 3 Series was also very popular), so there must be something to them.
  • There's an outside chance that it might spur me on to write more, even if only for a while. Many things have and haven’t done that. Writing output is probably as low as ever right now. I can’t guarantee that it will boost writing output but it is certainly a more professional, organised tool than kludging the ‘phone’ though.
  • It’s still so easy to switch desktops and read/do something else on the laptop, despite using distraction free writing software. Psion fixes that. Same problem with phone.
  • I would have to schedule writing time for posts/book additions in order to stay productive.
  • Last resort: I could always resell it without a loss if it doesn’t work for me.
  • Aim for one at around £25 as a punt, as I said above. If it ends up being better than ‘notes’ on the phone or ‘laptop to do everything [but must have monk-like discipline]’ then it’s a keeper. It does seem to fall between the two, but not worth risking too much on the outlay. I’ve already spent time typing these thoughts up. But I usually don't think as thoroughly without writing things down though... I can't hold every one of these points in my head at once, so maybe writing thoughts out has that value too... deeper thought = more value of thought.

And then, after losing three bids to highly competitive Ebayers, I finally got hold of a good example, with 90s style organiser case. I've no issue with last minute bidders by the way; if my highest bid is exceeded then I wouldn't have wanted to pay any more anyway. Although it is annoying to be beaten by under £1, it just shows their maximum bid was probably a fair bit higher than mine.

First thoughts after delivery

After an hour of use: 

  • Satisfyingly quick to boot. Basically instant. Password protected.
  • Spacebar sticks when right thumbed, as I do. Changing to left thumb, still quick on other keys though. Felt very sluggish at first. Thought it’d be lighter action.
  • Can I see myself writing much on it? Time will tell. Must get used to it first. Find the right times.
  • Old 1GB CF card from Dell PDA works nicely, needs new backup coin batt (seller said it was already replaced?)
  • Password protection works fine. Backlight works fine, although gives out a bit of a whine at times. Screen trickier to see than expected, not quite e-ink quality.
  • Worth a punt for £25? Absolutely. Should let me type up longer thoughts on the go. If it doesn’t work out, can go back to phone/laptop combo, try to resell it.

After two days of use:

  • I've managed to write up a blog post (not this one! This was written mostly pre-Psion on FocusWriter on the laptop...) in an evening, no distractions to anyone else, all very satisfying.
  • The agenda that I'd heard about is surprisingly good. I am considering switching to testing it for a few weeks over the TkRemind system I use on the PC.
  • I've also started a 1000-word a day challenge to myself in order to test out my set up across all three devices and to help me to get motivated in all aspects of work.

So there's more than you ever wanted to know about my use of a cheap old gadget in an age of shiny, interconnected distractions. Hope it was an interesting way to spend your coffee break :)

Thanks for reading. I do translation from French and Swedish to English, so if that's useful to you, feel free to connect and message me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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