Smaller, Lighter, Better

Media Reader for iPodThanks to a still-valid half-price deal at, I bought myself a Media Card Reader for iPod last week — so that, during an upcoming trip my girlfriend and I are taking to Italy later this month, we’ll be able to offload photos from my digital camera onto the relatively spacious confines of her 15GB iPod. At its full price, I doubt I ever would’ve bit on it, because it seems like a kludgy solution to the problem of limited digital camera memory. Prices for a one gigabyte flash memory card are coming down, after all, and I’m not sure when I’ll ever take that many photos. So in all likelihood, I’ll eBay the gadget when we’re back and recoup some of the cost.

Size Matters

However, it’s worth noting that I bought the media reader to allow me to leave behind my 12-in. PowerBook G4. It may be the smallest laptop offering in the Apple lineup, but it’s still more hassle than it’s worth for a short holiday abroad. Which led me to think: what I really want is a sub-notebook. A truly lightweight, compact portable — less than 3 pounds and three-quarters of an inch thick — that’s rugged enough that I can throw into my backpack without worrying.

Below: child’s play. The seven-year old eMate 300 offers a glimpse at a form-factor that still makes sense today.

This has been a hole in the Apple lineup for years, and I don’t hold out a lot of hope for it to ever become a reality. Today’s Apple is focused on digital media products, and servicing every nook and cranny of the laptop market hardly seems of interest to Steve Jobs. There are Windows laptops that purport to fit this description, I know. But not only am I unwilling to switch operating systems, I also don’t really believe any of them will last longer than eighteen months.

eMate 300

Remembrances of Sub-Notebooks Past

What I actually want is a modern-day version of the eMate 300, that well-regarded but ultimately unsuccessful Newton OS portable that the old Apple released in the mid-nineties. Made of thick, kid-friendly plastic, it was rugged as heck, which made it ideal for younger kids. Despite having that target market, a friend of mine owned one and used it every day for work, mostly as a kind of super word processor, and it performed admirably.

I’ve often daydreamed about getting a device like that, adding some email and Web surfing features and a hard drive to it, and then toting it with me literally everywhere (something I can’t do with my current PowerBook). I suppose that, from a manufacturing perspective, adding those features to a device like the eMate is exactly the same as engineering a full-fledged laptop, only with greater size restrictions and more urgent durability issues.

If anything, what I have in mind would likely cost twice as much as my PowerBook, where the eMate cost less than a thousand dollars in its day. Which is pretty amazing, when you think about it — it’s obvious that Apple has done a lot of innovation since it shut the door on the Newton and the eMate, but in many respects, the company has pretty much been resigned to standing still when it comes to mobile computing.



  1. For a short while, Toshiba had a good thing going with its ‘Libretto’ lineup. I think you can still pick them up abroad, but they’re quite expensive. If I ever happen across one used for cheap, I’ll snag it and throw linux on it.

    The challenge of storing photos while traveling has been a major one for me for quite some time. I’ve tried various devices…most recently the Xs Drive II, which does the job in about the most spartan way imaginable. It stored around 19GB of photos during a trip to the Philippines, and I used a Palm T3 for email and posting to my website. It all worked rather well, except that one of the things I hate most about the “trend” in consumer electronics is the move towards proprietary power supplies–each device I carried had its own way of charging, and I don’t know that the bulk of the whole package was any smaller than my current powerbook.

    As such, I’m bringing my 12″ PowerBook to India this year. There’s a lot of downtime on such trips, and I look forward to being able to see the photos I’ve taken and write on a normal-sized screen. I plan to write a full post on this subject sometime in November.

  2. I did a quick search for Librettos, and the newer ones do look somewhat close to what I’m searching for. But, as you mentioned, they’re not cheap, just as my dream Mac sub-notebook wouldn’t be cheap.

    You’re so right about proprietary power supplies — or proprietary hardware accessories of any kind. They’re a real nuisance. One of the prime offenders is Sony, from whom I’m unlikely to ever buy another computer. As an aside, the iGo Juice looks like a workable all-in-one power supply.

    I’ll be very curious to hear how your 12-in. PowerBook fares on a trip around the world, especially if you put it through some real wear and tear.

  3. Sony has a widescreen 10 inch notebook sans optical drive and I think Apple should add something like that to their Powerbook lineup.

    And at the same time switch the 12 inch to a 13 inch widescreen so there’s a visual difference between PBs and iBooks besides material (and with the specs edging ever closer).

  4. I bought one emate and refurbished the battery pack. I bought 3 more and am refurbishing the battery pack. I would like to be able to get cards for them to read data from and put data on and able to use wifi card.
    The machines are amazing and they work with some of my older printers.

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.