Why I hate my Palm (and what I’ve done about it)

I’ve owned various versions of the Palm Pilot for many years. I think my first was a Palm III, which I upgraded at least once before buying a Palm IIIc (the color version). I still have notes from Pooks‘s class that I took in 1999 or 2000 that has moved from one device to the next.

I don’t really know why I didn’t replace the IIIc when it finally fell apart, but last year I decided it was time to upgrade to a LifeDrive. It has 4 gigabytes internal storage, enough for several compressed video files, a large viewing area for watching those videos, WiFi, and all of the old Palm software. What could be wrong with that?

Reliability, for one thing. It crashes regularly, usually when using WiFi. The WiFi doesn’t recognize range extenders, so it’s unreliable around the house; either the signal is too weak (since its range is poor anyway) or it keeps switching between the router or the extender.

The 3.5mm audio jack seems very fragile. You can feel that a regular plug doesn’t fit well. Mine collapsed on me, and I called Palm to have it repaired. This was slightly under a year, and they agreed to repair it under warranty, which I was very pleased about; with mechanical damage I thought I’d have to pay for the repair.

Before I sent the LifeDrive to the repair office, I tried to do a full reset to wipe all of my personal data. Something happened, and it locked up completely. Black screen, wouldn’t power up. Reset button inoperative and hard reset failed. Still, I sent it back for the jack repair, and Palm sent me a replacement. They will repair or replace at their option, which is fine by me. All of my data is hotsynced.

I synced the new unit and it worked fine – for a few hours. Then black screen, no possibility of reset. I called the repair center, and they gave me a new return number.

The repair center is excellent. They’ve been very fast, very helpful, they’ve given me useful advice and have never tried to lay blame on me. The call center is in India, of course…

So the second replacement device arrived, and it ran overnight and then died in exactly the same way. Clearly there’s something wrong in software. Something I’ve done has caused the device to lock up. But a hard reset should never be dependent on current data. Obviously it isn’t really a hard reset.

This time when I called the service center I explained the issue before sending it back. The helpful operator showed me how to move all of my program data out so it wouldn’t be hotsynced. Then I’d be able to reinstall all of my programs and hope that I don’t get back into the same situation. Of course, if I do, I’m screwed… The operator also gave me an account number so that this time the repair cost me nothing at all, not even shipping.

So I have unit #4. It’s been working for a couple of weeks now. I’m adding all of my third-party programs; the only one I haven’t installed yet that I need is Sudoku, and I had that for a long time on #1, so it won’t cause me any problems. I think it’s most likely Filez and some changes I’d used it for. I won’t touch that this time around.

Reliability is why I will never buy another Palm. That isn’t the reason I hate it, though.

That reason is this: Graffiti II sucks.

Graffiti, the writing system for the original Palm, was quirky, but effective. To create some letters you had to use a highly stylized representation. To make a K, you draw an alpha. A T is a square 7. But once you’d gotten into the habit, it was very easy to create accurate text.

Graffiti was dropped because of a patent suit brought by Xerox. At this point, it seems that Palm is ahead in the appeals process, but in the meantime, they’ve dropped Graffiti and replaced it with Graffiti II, based on Jot.

Graffiti II is close to worthless. The two-stroke method is horribly unreliable. T especially is impossible to render accurately. T consists of a vertical stroke, top to bottom, followed by a horizontal stroke, left to right. I have tried and failed to create a T more than 10 times in a row on more than one occasion. I can see the lines on the screen, crossing correctly, but the T won’t appear. It will either be a space or an L followed by a space.

Even when it works, the method of constructing a T causes problems. You can’t end a word with L followed by space. You have to wait for the L to appear so that the two strokes don’t combine to form a T. Or you can ensure that the two strokes are in two separate parts of the tiny writing window, which is hard to do (except when you’re trying to create a T, it seems).

I is a line and a dot, so it usually appears as L. @ is an @, and it usually takes me 4-5 times to get it not to be an o.

With Graffiti I I would occasionally make errors, but I could tell what I was writing and fix the notes later. Graffiti II was so bad that it was worthless for taking notes in real-time.

So a few days ago, after some Googling, I found this link which told me how to “downgrade” to Graffiti I. I’ve done it, and – wheee! I can’t say I love the device, because it’s still unreliable, but after owning it for a year I can finally use it. And for now, that’s good enough.