I have a 17" g4 Powerbook as my primary computer. However, I do a lot of writing and sometimes I feel ridiculous lugging the thing out and opening its gluttonously huge screen with a bizillion pixels simply to use word.
I'm looking for the cheapest yet most reliable little guy I can use just for writing. I've heard good things about the PB 3400. Any ideas? If so, what is a fair price.
Definitely go with the 3400. The 1400 is cheaper and smaller, but built badly(second flimsiest PowerBook ever made, IMNSHO) and far slower. G3s are excessively powerful, 5300s are rather, well, crappy overall, and Duos are too fiddly(you typically need multitudes of add-ons to get them up to the spec of a regular laptop).
As for a fair price, try not to spend more than US$120 for a complete one in excellent condition(prices can skyrocket on eBay etc for no apparent reason- just drop out of any auctions that gain $100 a day for a week, in reality the 3400 just isn't worth what some people will pay).
I'm using a 3400 with a wireless card right now. I'm switching over to a Lombard soon but I'm keeping the 3400 as a jukebox. The only drawback is the small (3 gig) hard drive. If all you're producing on it is text, it should be more than enough.
What else will this 'Book be used for besides "word" (M$ Word I presume?) If you'll want 'connectivity', that adds more variables. But your budget also matters . . .
If you can swing US$300-400, get an early Dual USB iBook. For a nice and compact and very practical portable they're tough to beat. This is my primary recommendation if you can afford it (which it sounds like you can, owning a 17" PB!)
At the $200 pricepoint you can get a Kanga or a clamshell iBook. Neither is especially small, but but they're capable machines.
For $100-150 the 3400 is nice, though again rather larger than I'd want for a caryy-anywhere 'Book. Can't use OS X (not usefully anyway), so you've got to have apps for a classic Mac OS. That caveat applies also to the following suggestions.
But for anywhere from free to $50 you can get a lovely 280 (not the color one) and a dock. My fave carry-about-use-anywhere 'Book is my Duo 2300gs (gs=grayscale screen from a Duo 250.)
Duos are very reliable, but they have some quirks which tend to put off some folks. Most significant problem IMO is the keyboard, where on early versions the keys tend to be a tad sticky. The other significant 'quirk' is the lack of buit-in connectivity options. For an inexpensive ethernet option, I've had excellent results using the Farallon Etherwave AppleTalk adapter.
I also like PBs 1400, cost these days is usually $50-100 or so. I've found them to be very solid and reliable (hey, just my own experience!) with one of the best typing keyboards Apple ever made.
If you are wanting a pre-G3, then find a 240MHz 3400c. For a bit more though, you can score a Powerbook G3 or even a Clamshell iBook. Those 3400's make awesome 9 machines BTW.
Since I'm using this mainly to do a lot of writing (and probably a lot of tinkering too,) the keyboard on these machines is really important. In all honesty, I'm not real happy with the keyboard on this g4 17" PB. I use the bluetooth keyboard more often than not.
I write on the 3400c. It works. It is 50X better than a Duo which has a keyboard that -- putting it diplomatically -- sucks. If all you're doing is text -- and you know what I don't -- a 3400c will do it. I also have a 5300 and I would not recommend it.
I had a PB 3400 for several years. It's a great machine, but heavy.
If you want a 'Book with internal CD-ROM and nice screen, the 3400 is for you. But if you're size- and weight-conscious, I'd recommend a 2400. Best part, the 2400 can be upgraded to a G3, while the only upgrade path for a 3400 is to install an original G3 ("3500") motherboard.
For a little more dough, a dual-USB iBook would be a good choice. They're durable as hell.
For general portability I would go for a 5300ce, they're not as thick as the 3400. The screen isn't bad. If you are just typing and playing old games this would be the computer. It has the same awsome keyboard as the 3400. I had one working a while back and I liked it. If you get an ethernet card (PCMCIA) for it. One other recommendation that I have for all 5300 owners is buy a tappable trackpad. If you want wireless however the 3400 is a great path.
If you can find a late rev keyboard and it suits you, try out a Duo 250! The size/weight/price are right and the active matrix grayscale LCD even works (is actually visible) outdoors in sunlight. You can move your data files by using an AppleTalk bridge and PhoneNet connection to ethernet.
Have you considered an eMate, the clamshell version of the Newton? Or a Newton/Palm Pilot with a portable keyboard? No boot time on either, so when inspiration strike you can just get down to it.
As to 'books: Duo or 2400 for portability, 1400 for the keyboard.
I can't speak for the other models, not having tried them, but the KB on the 1400 is very good, almost up there with the old ADB desktop keyboards. I prefer a full action KB to the chiclet style on later 'books, but your preferences may be different. If you like chiclets and can afford it, the 12" screen dual USB iBooks (500MHz G3 and up) has almost exactly the same form factor as a Duo (ie small)
The Duo 2300 KB I would call "useable". The older Duo KBs I would call "crap". You could pick up a later rev. KB and swap it into an older Duo though.
For cheapness and reliability, you could try for a 180 or other 1xx series greyscale.
The eMate, Newton, 190, 5300, 1400, 3400 and 2400 can take some wireless network cards (802.11b WiFi PCMCIA card, compatible with Airport) which would give you much faster file transfer than a serial-ethernet adapter.