One of the best things about the Playdate, Panic’s quirky gaming handheld, is that it only does one very specific thing: play video games. It doesn’t crash through other apps or features so if you play something like Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure, it’s easy to stay focused on the game. It’s refreshing to have a device so determined to have fun – which is why I found the idea of using the little yellow console as a personal organizer so intriguing. For the past week I’ve been doing just that, and while it’s certainly not an option for everyone, much like the Playdate itself, it manages to be both simple and straightforward.
First a few notes for context. First, it’s important to know that I haven’t yet found a to-do list app that I prefer over a paper notebook. I spent a long time testing Evernote and Fantastical – once I used the RPG app epic victory to track things – but they were always too clumsy to deal with. For the past few years, my process has been simple: At the end of each workday, I write down everything I need to do the next day so it’s ready for me when I log in in the morning. It’s simple and fast, and writing things down tends to help me remember them.
The second thing is that the app I used is called Pocket Planner, is still in a fairly early beta phase. It has three main functions: a to-do list, a calendar and voice memos. As it stands, you cannot add events to the calendar and voice memos are not yet implemented. (Both features are expected in a future update.) So for now I’ve only used the to-do list tool.
Now, the Playdate may be a dedicated slot machine, but the screen, despite its small size, is actually great for this sort of thing. The low-fi, black-and-white screen (which has no backlight) is reminiscent of a Kindle, which itself is intended to mimic the experience of reading on paper. So the Playdate is great for papery experiences. That’s part of the reason I’ve enjoyed so many puzzle games on the handheld and why I’m so desperate for someone to make a sudoku app for it. And it works well for replicating the vibe of a classic physical organizer.
The to-do section of the app is extremely simple. You can create a number of different lists and add multiple items to each, each of which has a small checkbox next to it. Items can be renamed, deleted or moved between lists. And really, that’s the point. For my purposes, I’ve made five lists, one for each day of the week, and—just like in my paper notebook—at the end of each day, I add items to complete the next day. Completed items are deleted and anything I don’t finish I just move on to the next day.
It has worked well enough and using the Playdate has some nice bonuses – namely that it is incredibly small and comfortable to carry around. I put it in my pocket and almost forget. It’s also a very clean process to check off items or move them around for several days. Another bonus: I constantly had my Playdate nearby for work, reminding me to water my virtual flowers in the Playdate game Bloom more often. The downside is the speed. One of the things I love about a physical notebook is how quick it is to just write down what’s on your mind. But typing on a Playdate, which involves picking letters from a carousel, is a much, much slower process. I’ve used very much abbreviations to speed things up.
It should be pretty clear by now that the Playdate will not be an organizational solution for everyone. It has a barebones list of features and does not connect to other tools, such as a personal Google calendar. But if you’re looking for something dead simple – like me – it’s a pretty good replacement, especially considering it costs $1 right now. I wouldn’t recommend buying a Playdate with grandiose plans to turn it into a modern PalmPilot. But if you’ve managed to get your hands on one and have very clear needs to stay at the top of your to-do list, it’s a solid option. Your Bloom flowers will probably thank you.