A blog on software engineering by Trevor Brown

Old Hardware I Love

Recently I got to thinking about the electronic devices I use regularly and love. I realized that many of the devices I enjoy using are by many people’s standards pretty old for electronics. I’ve always been thrifty and don’t like replacing electronics with new ones until they break. In this blog post I’m going to highlight three old devices that I enjoy using for one reason or another.

old hardware collage

Amazon Kindle 3rd Generation 3G

I’ve probably spent more time on my 3rd generation Kindle than any other device I own. I’ve had it for nearly a decade now and use it almost every day. The page navigation buttons on both sides of the screen are the thing I love most about the Kindle. The navigation buttons are on the very edges of the device and make it easy to move forward or backward through a book with one finger while holding the device with the same hand. Many e-readers I’ve seen recently have touchscreen regions or swipe gestures for navigating between pages. With a touchscreen it is more difficult to use the device with one hand. Additionally, with the slower refresh rate of E-Ink screens, the touchscreen doesn’t provide any immediate indication that a touch registered. With the 3rd generation Kindle the page navigation buttons are perfectly positioned and have a quiet but distinct "click". Sadly most of the newer Kindle models have abandoned physical buttons for page turning and instead rely on the touchscreen.

Numerous page and text formatting options are another reason why I love the Kindle. I can control font, font size, line spacing, word spacing, and orientation while reading by pressing the physical "Aa" key. Few e-readers allow for screen rotation and I’ve not seen another e-reader that supports all the formatting options my Kindle does.

I Like:

  • Page navigation buttons

  • E-Ink with great battery life

  • Screen formatting options

I Dislike:

  • EPUB not supported

  • Not open-source

Asus EeePC Flare PC1025C

I was given this device after it had been used for several years and had become too slow to be useful. It came with Windows on it so I immediately put Lubuntu on it and that made it fast enough for most basic tasks. Video streaming still wasn’t feasible, but it was fast enough for writing, programming, and email. I usually take this laptop with me when traveling because it is so small and durable. Even though it is old the battery life is still incredible. For tasks like writing I can get 8 hours out of a single charge. The keyboard is a bit cramped and the screen isn’t the best but it feels well-built, especially for the original price. Its biggest weakness is the little 1.6GHz Intel Atom N2600 CPU. It gets consistently bad reviews due to its CPU.

I Like:

  • Small size

  • Great battery life

  • Durable hardware

I Dislike:

  • Too slow

  • Poor screen

AlphaSmart Neo2

The AlphaSmart Neo is a device that was originally designed for children in school that I purchased for writing. The first model was released in the early '90s, and my Neo model was introduced in 2004. It’s a really pleasant device to write on. The small screen keeps distractions to a minimum and discourages editing. Editing must be done after the text you’ve written has been transferred to a computer, which can be done via USB. The keyboard feels nice for a device that cost $30, but overall the device feels a little bulky. Sadly something got corrupted at some point and the device informed me that I need to turn it off immediately and return it for repair. I don’t think the company is in business anymore so I won’t be able to use the device again. The Freewrite Alpha looks similar to the AlphaSmart and probably would be comparable in many ways, but I can’t bring myself to spend $300 on a device that still looks bulky and is nothing more than a keyboard, Raspberry Pi, and an LCD screen glued together in a plastic case.

I Like:

  • Simple interface

  • Durable hardware

I Dislike:

  • No good replacement for it