Feeds

Bugger the jetpack, where's my 21st-century Psion?

Forgotten form factors #2: The handheld PC

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Tight fit

The next attempt at a pocket-sized PC came from Hewlett-Packard – but not from the PC division. In 1991, the HP 95LX came from the calculator division, squeezing 512kB of RAM, a 240x128 pixel (40x16 character) screen, MS-DOS 3.2 and a keyboard – complete with numeric keypad – into a pocket-sized, 310g device for $699. Essentially a pocketable Lotus 1-2-3 machine, it also included a sophisticated financial calculator app: HP calculators were the leading tools of their type at this time, and the top-spec model was half the price of the 95LX.

HP 95LX

From the calculator boys...the HP 95LX. Source: WT Shymanski

The 95LX was a bigger success than any of its predecessors, selling 400,000 units – but it was still seriously constrained. It didn't have the spec to run full desktop apps and DOS was not a convenient OS for a "personal digital assistant".

The device that redefined this category appeared later the same year – and like the Portfolio, it was British.

Psion's first attempt to follow on from the Organizer range was a range of laptops in 1989: the MC200, MC400 and DOS-compatible MC600. The lower-end models ran Psion's own OS, EPOC, later retrospectively renamed SIBO to distinguish it from its 32-bit successor. SIBO was an impressive achievement – a complete multitasking GUI running on an 8086 with 256kB of RAM.

The most desirable model, oddly, was the midrange MC400 model – but at £845, it was beaten by PC laptops. Psion's response was to re-engineer their device for a less-crowded market sector: the pocket.

By the time the famed Psion Series 3 shipped in 1991, others had pioneered the trail of pocket-sized 8086 computers. Atari's Portfolio and the HP 95LX showed that you could create such a device for a reasonable price, but it was then too compromised to be a general-purpose MS-DOS PC, and the Poqet PC showed that whereas a no-compromise PC was technically viable, it ended up costing more than a laptop.

Psion took a third direction – retaining and enhancing its proprietary OS but modifying the GUI for a small screen and keyboard-driven operation, and bundling it with a complete suite of apps in the ROM: a database, word-processor, spreadsheet with charting functionality, a world clock, a programming language and an Agenda program which to this day remains one of the best ever written for any platform.

Psion Series 3: had we but world clock enough and time

Compared to the DOS-compatible competition, it was another world: even the lowest-end 128kB RAM Psion 3 could flip between the graphical Agenda, address book and word processor programs with responsiveness and stability to provoke envy in the owner of a desktop PC with the then-current Windows 3.0.

The screen was small, the keyboard a "chiclet" type, but the flexibility and power of even the £179 entry-level model was remarkable. Its hardware design was impressive, too, with a clever (if fragile) pivoting hinge that meant that both halves of the machine were thinner than its own batteries. When open, the upwards-facing part of the battery compartment had a touch-sensitive membrane containing a row of buttons for quickly launching or switching apps.

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
NOKIA - Not FINNished yet! BEHOLD the somewhat DULL MYSTERY DEVICE!
N1 mini-'slab to plop into crowded pond next year
The Nokia ENIGMA THING and its SECRET, TERRIBLE purpose
Finnish firm coyly exposes mystery product – and WE NO what it is
Heyyy! NICE e-bracelet you've got there ... SHAME if someone were to SUBPOENA it
Court pops open cans of worms and whup-ass in Fitbit case
SLURP! Flick your TONGUE around our LOLLIPOP – Google
Android 5 is coming – IF you're lucky enough to have the right gadget
Nokia's N1 fondleslab's HIDDEN BRILLIANCE: The 'Z Launcher'
Sugarcoating Android's Lollipop makes tab easier to swallow
Space Commanders rebel as Elite:Dangerous kills offline mode
Frontier cops an epic kicking in its own forums ahead of December revival
VINYL is BACK and you can thank Sonos for that
The format that wouldn’t die is officially in remission
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Simplify SSL certificate management across the enterprise
Simple steps to take control of SSL across the enterprise, and recommendations for a management platform for full visibility and single-point of control for these Certificates.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.