First of all I'd like to point out the excellent weekly freeware newsletter:
NewtNews (which is also available as pdf). It focuses primarily on the
Newt, but is also covers the other PDAs.
subscribe: email <firstname.lastname@example.org> with 'subscribe newt_news'
as the body of your message (no quotes).
I happen to have used the Newton MessagePad 130 for quite a time. The
price delta to the MessagePad 120 is considerable, while the only
differences being the backlit screen and 512 kByte less core (this needs
BackDropPlus, a heap optimizer and GUI enhancer for better performance, less
heap is bad for multitasking several apps). The processor is the same, as is
the ROM image (NOS 2.0). The Newton Toolkit (NTK), the development kit demo
for the Newt is available on the web (the only difference to the
commercial is that it compiles a 'this is a demo' message into every
application you develop with it). The Newt has an ARM (a 32 bit RISC) at
20 MHz, but since it executes interpreted code (NewtonScript), it is not
very fast. Character recognition has grown drastically better since the
first newts, NOS 2.0 in fact contains _two_ character recognition
engines: one learning, continuous script (telescopic stylus), and one
single-character modus, containing a large database with character
samples. This is better than Graffiti (ex-Newt add-on, and U.S. Robo's
Pilot status quo). The Newt has a sophisticated power management, and it
shows in battery lifetime. Newt can digest NiMH, if only the internal
switch is kept pressed (the original Apple NiCd do it automagically),
e.g. by putting a piece of plastic/cardboard into the battery cage).
The Newt has a serial port, and a single PCMCIA II slot. The software
coming with it allows one to snapshot/restore current state (RAM and
possible flash memory card), and to install packages (hint: there is a
lot of shareware/freeware out there). A lot of goodies is available: an
external keyboard (not just now, the company has gone broke and Apple is
looking for another one), docking station with modem, etc. etc. The Newt
has an IR port, but it's not IrDA. The Newt is a bit thin on built-in
software, and slightly too slow, imo. Also, imo, software quality is
I'd suggest to wait for the next Newt, the Newton 2000, which should
become available this spring. The feature list is truly mind-boggling, so
Imo, the Newt is years ahead of the competition, but it's still a toy.
The Newt 2000 should be truly usable, though. I think the Wince's have
been severely overhyped, but they will probably outsell anything having a
microprocessor in them. The Pilot has its niche, being small/light and
having hotplug-resynch. The Psions are certainly nice, dunno know much
about the HP OmniGo.
I say: check out the Newt2000, it's a potential killer. Should even have
speech input by end-1997.