Feeds

Five amazing computers for under £100

Old-school gizmo gladhandling to cure the bank holiday bores

High performance access to file storage

Psion 3MX

We know that technology improves labour productivity. It does so by removing the need for drudge work, reducing labour costs and releasing labour for higher value uses. It's generally why we get richer.

But for some aspects, this is not such a simple story. In terms of personal productivity, technology does not advance in a linear fashion. The graph looks much more like a succession of wrinkles, eddies and great backward leaps. Nothing illustrates this like the history of the electronic personal organiser.

The last Psion PDA was already a bit tired, and in need of refreshment, when it rolled out of the factories in 2000, 11 years ago. That never came: Psion notoriously scrapped the new product range that was due in the summer of 2001, and attempts by the company to re-enter the market since then all came to naught.

So there is no shortage of Psions on eBay, including two much more advanced and modern models (the 5MX and Revo), readily available within our price threshold. So why choose this one, which is 16-bit, and has a design ancestry going back to the 1980s?

Well, we're looking for something unique for our money, and the Series 3 line remains the most successful attempt to put a personal organiser into silicon. It's a fully programmable computer, of course, but it is the built-in Agenda application and the keyboard that make it stand apart from anything else on the market. And it was the machine's combination of the two, the hardware and the software, that gave it a unique malleability and flexibility. This was never surpassed, not even by Psion.

Of course the Agenda in the 32-bit Psion machines that superseded the Series 3 range could boast some clever features of its own, given the hardware constraints: such as incorporating sketches, and Word documents, in a Calendar entry. And since then we're used to cloud syncing across multiple machines, universal data formats… but we're no more organised.

In many respects the software has gone backwards, become simpler and less sophisticated, and many of us would be simply more organised if we still had something with the capabilities and software richness of a Series 3. The reason this is so good is that Psion didn't see itself as competing with rival computer companies, but rather as trying to make people part with their Filofaxes. They were competing with paper, so the software had to have some of the richness of paper, too.

The S3's Agenda application had plenty of functionality: dedicated Anniversary views were one of the six default views, and the Agenda app could hold up to 99 To-Do lists, with four visible at any one time.

As an example of its flexibility, each To-Do list could have its own independent settings for sort criteria and appearance. Lists could show up at specific points in the Day View. You could fine-tune where they appeared (at which point in the Day View, for example); there were shortcuts for everything; and flipping between views was considered so important to the user that the view-switcher had its own keyboard shortcut, the diamond key.

The end result is something that rapidly becomes as personal as any Filofax, and is streets ahead of anything on the market today… except, perhaps, for a Filofax.

The Psion owner will also have something nobody else has: a pocketable QWERTY organiser. For quick notes, it knocks any laptop or touch-screen devices into a cocked hat.

Surprisingly, the Series 3MX still talks nicely to modern PCs. PsiWin (you need version 2) plays nicely with Windows 7, and even Outlook sync with the Series 3 is possible: hunt around and you will find an app called Psi-Sync.

The Series 3MX I've chosen here was the last crank of the handle – with software that really appeared in 1989 for a range of subnotebooks, but which was tweaked for the first Series 3 in 1991. The industrial design, great for its time, reflects that early '90s feel. But again, this design was considered more personal and pocketable than the squarish, more modern design of the Series 5 that succeeded it. The screen is surprisingly Kindle-like, and with care the AA batteries really do last a month. No wonder Steve Jobs was a fan.

Released: 1998
Why you should get one: the Diary, stupid
Forget about: email, photos etc.
Expect to pay: £60-£75 on eBay.

Next: Apple's finest hour?

High performance access to file storage

Next page: Conclusions

More from The Register

next story
Report: Apple seeking to raise iPhone 6 price by a HUNDRED BUCKS
'Well, that 5c experiment didn't go so well – let's try the other direction'
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Nvidia gamers hit trifecta with driver, optimizer, and mobile upgrades
Li'l Shield moves up to Android 4.4.2 KitKat, GameStream comes to notebooks
Gimme a high S5: Samsung Galaxy S5 puts substance over style
Biometrics and kid-friendly mode in back-to-basics blockbuster
AMD unveils Godzilla's graphics card – 'the world's fastest, period'
The Radeon R9 295X2: Water-cooled, 5,632 stream processors, 11.5TFLOPS
Sony battery recall as VAIO goes out with a bang, not a whimper
The perils of having Panasonic as a partner
NORKS' own smartmobe pegged as Chinese landfill Android
Fake kit in the hermit kingdom? That's just Kim Jong-un-believable!
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.