While I was writing my previous post on the Kindle about a highly portable yet low-rent reader client that I could synch daily with periodicals and feeds, and drop the odd e-book onto when necessary, I felt a gnawing feeling of familiarity. Later that day, I realized that rather than imagining an ideal future, I was recalling the fading past... I was doing exactly what I described in the ancient era of 2003!
Back then, I had recently relocated from Los Angeles to New York City. In LA, I commuted by motorcycle, so reading on my daily trip was out of the question. In New York, I found myself with an hour's worth of downtime on the subway each day. Never a fan of ink-stained hands or managing a clumsy folding broadsheet on a crowded train, I set out to find a way to read the daily paper without ever touching paper.
I eventually settled on the combination of a Palm Tungsten T3 (an early 'large screened' Palm, with a slider body that revealed a bright 480x320 LCD screen) and an AvantGo subscription. I set up AvantGo to download the NY Times and other feeds each morning at 7:30- a few minutes before stepping out the door I'd press the 'Sync' button on my Palm cradle, the feeds would download to the device, and I'd be out the door.
Once on the subway I could browse the channels I had downloaded to the device. I also had an e-book reader - Mobipocket, I believe - so if I wanted to overpay for e-books, I had the option. Usually, however, I downloaded freely available classic books from Project Gutenberg - I burned through everything H.G. Wells ever wrote in a matter of weeks.
Nowadays I plop myself down on the train and whip out my Blackberry. In between writing and answering emails, I usually catch up with the day's news via the NY Times and Google Reader- the difference being now, in this modern age, I wait an excruciatingly long time for the tiny text files of the NY Times mobile site to slog their way through Verizon's 'high speed' EVDO network and render on the dull, cramped screen of my device. Four years ago, since the information was already downloaded to my device, it would snap instantly on to the crisp, wide screen of my Palm. So this is progress?
Sure, with the wireless connection I can now follow a link to a Wikipedia page that will take forever to load, or do a Google search for the name of the poignant, time-lost Sleestak on Land of the Lost... but I really only stand for the interminable load and terrible screen experience because I'm a captive audience for that forty minutes each morning. I'm completely out of luck when I transition from the above ground commuter train to the underground subway- a limitation I didn't have with AvantGo.
AvantGo still exists - in fact, I just tried an old username and password combination and found that my AvantGo account still exists - and it's free. For $19.95 a year I can upgrade it to an 8MB account limit (up from 2mb- of which my channels are apparently using all of 175k). My Palm Tungsten still exists- it's been collecting dust in my office since I dropped it for a dear, departed Sidekick a few years back. I turned it on for kicks the other day and I was pleasantly surprised by the clean simplicity of the OS after living in the DMV office-like interface of the Blackberry this past year.
So, while yesterday I was wistfully anticipating Apple coming to my offline reader rescue with some expensive new device, I think I'm going to get back in the e-reader business after the Thanksgiving holiday- for all of twenty bucks.*
[*To be fair, at the time I purchased it, a Palm Tungsten was $399- exactly the price of today's Kindle. However, you can pick up a brand new, equivalently featured Palm for $199 nowadays, and if you're more economically minded, it looks like T3's are going for about $120 on eBay- which I must admit seems surprisingly high to me for a 4 year old gadget.]