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

Way back in 2011 we covered a handy category of portable computer that has completely disappeared. The early A4 portables were a specialist item, much beloved of journalists but not a big hit with the wider world. It took a different design to win those hearts. Psion Organiser II Psion Organiser II Source: babbagecabbage …

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"Bugger the jetpack"

You should wait for it to cool down first, or it'll be barbequed sausage for dinner.

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Re: "Bugger the jetpack"

Sounds like experience talking...

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Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandora_(console) It's an open source hardware platform in the style of the article. dimensions: 140.29 × 83.48 × 29.25 mm (5.523 × 3.287 × 1.152 in) (314 ml) (5.51×3.27×1.06 in) closed, mass: 320 g (0.71 lb) I saw one in person, and it looked neat.

In this age of Phablets couldn't you just buy one of those with a Bluetooth keyboard cover? Like http://www.amazon.com/Minisuit-Bluetooth-Keyboard-Nexus-Rubberized/dp/B009WSCW4S or something similar?

I had my heart set on a Nokia Personal Communicator 9290 the official device of TechTV.

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Aye...

I've got a minisuit case for my Nexus 7, and, after a few days adjusting to the small keyboard, it works wonderfully a pocket computer, and very adaptable - when I use it for mapping cycle rides, I can leave the keyboard behind, so it's lighter (though the saving in weight is approximately the same as the extra mars bar I take with me...) - definitely my favourite tech acquisition in the last few years. Battery life - okay, not as good as the Psions, but I can get 2-3 days use out of it (and I haven't charged the keyboard in over a week)

EDIT - the minisuit also works with my mobile phone, which is nice...

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Re: Aye...

Also have one here for my 2012 N7. It's basically just a bluetooth keyboard, so it works with just about anything that has bluetooth on it and can accept keyboard input (I have before had it running with my work Dell Latitude laptop, albeit just to see if it would).

The only problem I found with it is as it doubles as a cover/case, there is a raised ridge along the front of it where it clasps around the N7 when acting as a cover (especially at the middle - you can see it in the images in the Amazon link above). It's quite sharp, and I keep catching my fingers on it when trying to type (which isn't that great an experience as the keys are small, but it's do-able if you're not writing a novel).

Got mine for about £15 if I remember well. Was a nice little purchase, although not something I use too often I must admit these days.

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Chorded typing!

Maybe Qwerty keyboard are inherently unsuitable for writing text on the hoof? [Discuss! : D]

Chorded typing, a la Microwriter, is fairly quick with one hand, or so I have been led to believe. Has anyone here any experience of it?

This lad has knocked together an Arduino prototype of a chorded keyboard case for smartphones:

http://www.srimech.com/chorded-keyboard-for-mobile-phones.html

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Re: Chorded typing!

we used to have one customer continuously badger us for a chord interface for his Psions, said whoever did it would become a millionaire. I asked him why didn't he do it- didn't hear from him again.

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Re: Chorded typing!

A microwriter style chorder, that fitted in a partly closed fist, with bluetooth and a single led would be perfect for matching with a smartphone or tablet.

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Re: Chorded typing!

£60 on ebay gets you one of these:

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/9-Capacitive-Allwinner-A13-Dual-Camera-Android-4-1-Tablet-PC-Keyboard-Bundle-/271271774016?pt=UK_iPad_Tablets_eReaders&hash=item3f290ec740

...wouldn't want to write books on it, but it's ideal for emailing

There's also the Toshiba Libretto:

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/NEW-Dual-Screen-Toshiba-Libretto-W105-L251-Laptop-Touch-Screen-Palm-Size-/181321094951?pt=Laptops_Nov05&hash=item2a37945727

...but that has 2 screens and no proper keyboard

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Sony VAIO P Series

What about the old Sony VAIO P Series, they were small and had decent battery.

I too like the small form factor, but with the advent of cell phones and tablets no big manufactures are building them for us.

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Data entry on the Psion Organiser

In those days I was writing quite a lot of code on the Organiser II, so I wrote a replacement for FIND, SAVE and INFO that made proper capitalisation easier.

I was astonishing to actually received an enquiry about this freeware last year, asking for an updated version (never got round to make it work on the LZ screen :). It turns out that not only the file is still available, some of those Organisers are still in active use.

I sent most of my Org II kit to the Computer Museum in Swindon (even an Organiser I).

As for diaries, I found the one on the Psion S3 actually the easiest (but the PC sync software was gruesome - there is no nicer word for it), later followed by a separate program you had to install on the Sony Clie NX70 that approached its usability, with the Sony Clie being the most interesting form factor.

The next one that was usable I encountered in the Sony Ericsson P1, where you could schedule calls. Compared to that, the current iPhone calendar sucks, but it does at least synchronise if you use a groupware account (not a fan of iCloud, and Apple stupidly took away the ability to sync via iTunes in iOS 7). Of course, all of that is personal opinion - it depends a bit on how you work.

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Re: Data entry on the Psion Organiser

The huge downside to the Psion Organisers was the battery setup. They had just one 9V battery and if the connection was lost for an instant, so was your data.

The Series 3 fixed that with its backup battery, and the Psion 3a remains the best bit of computing kit I ever spent money on. The 3c and 3mx improved it and I'd still be using the latter if it had an internet connection and a browser.

If there's an Android clone of Agenda, I want to know - it's the only diary I have ever been able to keep.

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Re: Data entry on the Psion Organiser

"The huge downside to the Psion Organisers was the battery setup. They had just one 9V battery and if the connection was lost for an instant, so was your data."

Wrong. There was an onboard capacitor which had enough backup power to cover you for about 30 seconds to allow battery swaps.

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Re: Data entry on the Psion Organiser

Having dropped one and lost everything on it in far less time than 30 seconds... that wasn't good enough.

You could (and I did) drop a Series 3* and everything was fine.

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Re: Data entry on the Psion Organiser

> some of those Organisers are still in active use.

Mine is still in everyday use, but really only as an alarm clock. The PP3 battery lasts around 6 months when used this way.

It still has all my old contacts, some long deceased, with old pre-01 phone numbers. The 16k datapaks are both full, and I no longer have a UV eraser to wipe them.

But it works reliably, and all the keys are still fully legible, Never crashes, it just works.

Psion had probably the best OS of all in the Organiser range - they lost the plot when it was Nokia'd.

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Re: Data entry on the Psion Organiser

I LONGED for Psions, adored my Apple eMate (newton OS, netbook formfactor, built in handle... it ROCKS -- yeah, still works!), went through TWO clie's -- man were those great -- and when Apple introduced the iPad instead of eMate2, bought my first netbook, the 7" eee.

Currently, I do a ton of work on my iPad mini with external bluetooth keyboard: Teamviewer allows me to connect to my 27" iMac and drive it as if I were sitting right there, but from the comfort of a local coffeeshop where I can oggle coeds. Still wish there was a better integrated system, however: all the keyboard addons make the mini too bulky.

Lord, those Psions were gorgeous, though.

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Re: Data entry on the Psion Organiser

You don't need a UV eraser to erase the datapaks for the Organisers. Just remove the sticker and expose to sunlight for a couple of hours or so.

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Sony Ericsson xperia pro. :) Though I've yet to find a phone that will be able to replace it when it dies.

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The mini-pro is the only android phone that has made me stop in my tracks and think I want that.

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Unfortunately, mine got water damaged in last month's storms that we had across the UK. :-(

Needed a phone immediately, so replaced it with the excellent Xperia Z1 Compact and love the much needed spec-bump. Though, how I wish for a Z1 Compact-sized device with a slide-out keyboard! (they could call it the "Z1 Pro").

Last September there were also leaks of a Motorola DROID5, though haven't heard anything about it since, and Motorola has a horrible habit of not releasing its QWERTY devices outside the US.

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HTC Wizard/O2 XDA Mini S fan here

...which I originally bought to replace my Handspring Visor Edge (the very thin aluminium colored one).

The great advanrtage of the HTX Wizard was the great slide out keyboard BUT it also supported palm-pilot grafitti.

for all my subsequent Android devices (Xperia Z1 compact atm) I have installed Swype, which I love and Grafitti - but you have to get yourself a half-decent stylus - the rubber/carbon tipped ones are rubbish.

Hmm a Sony Xperia Z1 Compact with sliding keyboard.....

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An alternative strategy for phone makers would be to provide official slide-out QWERTY cases (I think Samsung might have one for the GS4, but didn't look great). The problem with most 3rd party accessories like this is that they are bulkier than they could be if they were properly designed together, and usually require separate charging for the keyboard.

e.g. Sony could design a Zx (Compact) landscape QWERTY "Pro" case that used their magnetic dock ports on the side to also provide power to the keyboard.

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Pint

I miss my Psion 5, always had build quality issues with it tho, then it got nicked.

:(

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Still got my Series 5. Dug it out the other week, the kids were transfixed by it - as they were by my old Palm Pilot.

Both got played with for an hour or so, then the Palm Pilot got put to one side as "novel but not very interesting".

The Psion, though, has been claimed by my 15 year old as her own.

Fantastic piece of kit.

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jai
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i hate it when El Reg does a Psion article.

i get very nostalgic and depressed

both the Series 3c and the Series 5 were fantastic. I bought the Series 5 with my first proper paycheck.

Series 3 smelled nicer than the 5 though... is it weird to remember that?

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Law

Not weird at all... I used to just open and close my 3a just to get another sniff of it. Still vividly remember the smell now.

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Anonymous Coward

« I used to just open and close my 3a just to get another sniff of it. Still vividly remember the smell now. »

This comments section gets weirder by the minute. :-)

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Mainstream traction

What is missing from this article is the acceptance that outside a few very technical jobs, using a handheld was always seen as too geeky for people to use.

I've always loved having a handheld computer of some sort. My handwriting is awful for a start. But I was always a minority of one in using one despite the fact that we were all out and about, taking notes, holding meetings, making appointments and collecting data. Instead at any meeting there would be a whole bunch of people thumbing through great messy Filofaxes*, dropping bits of paper everywhere and hastily trying to find a space to scribble a note they wouldn't be able to read back (or even find) later

*other piles of dead tree are available.

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Re: Mainstream traction

Pah. A least a dozen people bought a Psion 3a after seeing mine. At one place, it was quite amusing seeing the numbers increase with each meeting..

.. and only about two of the owners could be described as 'geeky'.

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Re: Mainstream traction

I knew someone who was a complete Acorn fanboy to the point of it being unhealthy.

He looked on at my Psion, secretly wanting one but not admitting it because it wasn't an Acorn.

Then Acorn bought out a rebadged version. Naturally he got one. Of course because it had an Acorn logo on it, it was "better".

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Re: Mainstream traction

> only about two of the owners could be described as 'geeky'.

*About* two? Was one (or both) of them geeky or not depending on his humour that day or what?

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Pint

"and an Agenda program which to this day remains one of the best ever written for any platform"

That is so true!

Totally miss my Psion Series 5 and Series 5 MX.... heck, dare I say I even miss my Nokia 9210!?

Love this article!

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Still have the Psion 5, the Ericsson 5mx rebrand and the Revo. And the Netbook too. Pity that one can only do WEP.

Apart from that iPad has firmly taken over the role the Psion's used to have.

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Anonymous Coward

> Apart from that iPad has firmly taken over the role the Psion's used to have.

Psions were very popular not only because they were handhelds, but because they were fairly rugged pieces of kit.

Somehow I can't see many iPads being used as artillery computers and the like.

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Is it just me ..

.. or did we skip over the entire Palm ecosystem?

Palm pilots had their own fanclub :). I personally was more in the Psion camp because especially on the Organisers and Series 3 you could just write your own software, on the device, and with a bit of trickery all your data was available to mess around with. Then the programming language "grew up" (i.e. became unavailable for the average end user who just wanted to do something with their data).

The Psion Organiser II was good training for your memory because you'd have to hold most of the code in your head (a 2x16 or later 4x20 screen is a tad small :), but you could code anywhere, any time. I'd love a language like OPL for Android and iOS, because it would enable a lot of people to enjoy the fun of quickly hacking something together instead of having to learn high grade programming from scratch.

Having said all that, I liked Palm. I had a few..

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Yes, it's just you.

The Palms doesn't even enter the picture because the article is about handhelds you could actually write on...

On my S3a I can write pretty fast. On my S5, I can type almost as fast as on my PC keyboard...

On a Palm/Handspring/any other character-recognicion-based-lump it's a bl**dy pain to write a complete sentence.

I often write 3 - 5KB outlines on my S3a, then transfer the SSD to my MC400 to finish it.

(There's a limit of about 42KB in the WP files in SIBO, because of 64KB data segments in RAM, but that still means around 20 pages of formatted text)

Of course, I don't write just ONE document at a time, often there's two or three, and usually a custom database or two is also open, for reference info.

(You can't have more than one document of each type open on a Palm, and you need to install another DB if you want anything more than a contacts list)

Yes, I own Palms. And handsprings...

And the Geofox One(one of those built by the user group after the company went tits-up)

I have Newtons, the eMate 300, HPs, the Portfolio, even a couple of REX PDAs...

NOTHING beats a Psion S3a/c/mx in usability.

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Horses for courses

A Palm would be an inappropriate choice if you were writing your latest novel, or even an 800 word article. But as a genuinely portable (shirt-pocket sized) device for jotting quick notes it had few equals.

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Re: Horses for courses

Especially with the original Graffiti. It was very handy for taking notes in the dark during public/local society lectures, as you didn't have to move your writing hand across the page and didn't need to look at the device as you wrote.

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Unhappy

It's actually quite a tricky spec.

My instinct is you'd be looking at an A4 page folded longways to get a decent sized keyboard for a touch typist that's compact, light enough to not have consciously decide to carry it, and available.

You'll want 1 second boot because who wants to f**k about when the muse ceases them? I go the impression that EPOC's "publish and subscribe" model was a big contributor to battery life. I wonder how well Linux holds up.

I'd suggest multiple ports of micro SD storage. But all radio standards are power hungry. Maybe 1 or 2 USB ports for phones, printer if they can be completely powered down when not in use.

While I doubt anyone's going to watch video on this I think sound is important so microphone, headphones and speakers are in (albeit very small ones). Standard 3.5mm connectors only.

I also think TrueCrypt or similar should be the default for all media, but I'm not sure how to reconcile it's boot speed with a slow authentication process.

But here's the trickiest of all.

Run on 4 AA batteries for 40 hours or 2 AAs for 8 hours. Note that with a system that sleeps a lot between key strokes and runs audio through its SoC audo processors buffer memory that 8 hours straight could be days if not weeks.

If you're really the sort of person who might go anywhere in the world you can't be hampered by some super duper but unobtainable battery design which Murphy's law states will quit on you exactly when you need it most.

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Re: It's actually quite a tricky spec.

ISTR the PC3100 was almost instant-on (although it was a resume, rather than a boot); and it ran on 3 AA cells for about 3 weeks.

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Re: It's actually quite a tricky spec.

quote: "But here's the trickiest of all.

Run on 4 AA batteries for 40 hours or 2 AAs for 8 hours."

That is the tricky part; I know of no way to get 400% more work out of only double the stored energy ;)

Did you mean 20 hours on 4* AA cells (still a stretch tbh if you're designing for 8 hours on 2* AA) or 4* C cells for the 40 hour runtime? Going from 5.4Ah to 10.8Ah is not going to yield 5 times more runtime however much I try :(

Surprising note: I didn't realise until I checked just how much charge a "normal" battery holds compared to current device batteries; a single AA at 2700mAh can fully recharge an iPhone 5 (1440mAh battery) with some to spare, and a single C cell at 8000mAh would nearly cover an iPad Air (8800mAh) ^^;

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Re: It's actually quite a tricky spec.

>an A4 page folded longways to get a decent sized keyboard for a touch typist that's compact, light enough to not have consciously decide to carry it, and available.

A search on Amazon shows there are a number of folding keyboards but none seem to have the device integral stand like the "Targus PA800U Stowaway Portable Keyboard for Handspring Visor2 had..

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Re: It's actually quite a tricky spec.

> I go the impression that EPOC's "publish and subscribe" model was a big contributor to battery life.

I dare say you're right.

EPOC was very much the event-driven OS.

I programmed for the Series 3a and the HC, and the rugged variant "Workabout".

The really cool feature (for HC and Workabout) was the changeable end-caps which gave you serial and parallel ports and various other 3rd-party hardware interface goodies. The interface spec was a published standard along with the driver interface so it was fairly straightforward to program for, and yet again the event driven architecture.

EPOC had the "feel" of a well-designed and thought-out implementation which I guess in large part spawned Symbian in the same vein.

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Now that no-one is using Symbian...

Couldn't it be ported back to a Series 5mx-alike? Surely Motorola (the current owner of the erstwhile PDA maker) would accept a few shekels to licence the the hinge design from the 5 - after all, again they aren't using it.

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Re: Now that no-one is using Symbian...

You could but it would take a long time having custom ASIC inside. I still have a psion netbook running epoc and a development one running debian ( before they got desperate and tried a CE port ).

Anyone interested it is just gathering dust?

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Re: Now that no-one is using Symbian...

Anyone interested it is just gathering dust?

Sure. Mail is stoneshop at hack42 dot nl

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Well we almost had it

Up until about three years ago there was a plethora of full QWERTY landscape phones, I loved them. Had an N97, N900 and a HTZ Desire Z. Then everyone got scared by Apples business model and decided to drop a perfect form factor and go solely to touch screen, I hate being forced to touch screen, it has ruined the modern vision of a true palmtop.

Just picture this, Samsung Note 3 with a full QWERTY and track pad slide out keyboard....

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Re: Well we almost had it

N900 is still the best 'phone' I've used. If there's a decent keyboard other half for the jolla I might get one. The 5MX is still the king of mobile data entry though.

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Re: Well we almost had it

You're conflating "perfect" with "perfect for me".

There were keyboard phones. People stopped buying them, because for most people touchscreens are better. If it had been a "perfect" form factor, people wouldn't have stopped buying them.

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Re: Well we almost had it

I don't think that is entirely true. Sure, the N900 only sold to geeks (like me) but my wife is a normal business user and she really dreads the day she is going to have to stop using her Blackberry with its usable keyboard, and go to a touch keyboard. I still think the problem is that Blackberry really screwed up, lost its business customers to the (shiny) iPhone and collapsed in market share. Now no one is willing to buy Blackberries (no apps, end-of-life could happen any day, no one has a BES any more) even though a lot of the business users would really like a keyboard.

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