back to article The new, new Psion is getting near production. Here's what it looks like

Last week Gemini, the venture that re-invents the Psion 5 design for the 21st century, took delivery of pre-production units. Planet Computing invited us to see how the project is progressing. Since the final Psion pocket computer design (the Revo) appeared 18 years ago, the device category has died; there's nothing with a …

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Wow... memory lane...

I had a 5MX and I loved it. The software was brilliant (e.g. not just a birthday reminder but also the age of the person) and the keyboard was superb. A computer for the pocket and no mistake.

The one flaw it had, the one which eventually killed mine, was the ribbon connector between the keyboard and the screen. With constant opening and closing normal fatigue eventually broke it, and it wasn't user-replaceable (not for me, anyway). I was very sorry to see it go.

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Re: Wow... memory lane...

The one good thing about the sliding keyboard was you could hold it with thumb and forefinger on the hinge and front edge of the keyboard respectively and clap it shut with a slight push.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wow... memory lane...

http://www.psionflexi.co.uk/

Ued them in the past

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Thumb Up

Great start ....

How can we stop it being bought up by some megacorp and stripped of what makes it good ?

I *do* like the Debian angle ....

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Re: Great start ....

I really like the idea of being able to run the same linux on a pocketable device as I do on my servers, workstations and laptops/notebooks. Atm I'm using an old MSI Wind as my not-quite ultra-portable but one of these would remove that 'not-quite' qualifier.

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Re: Great start ....

Agree - it was a wise decision to use an existing OS, and a choice of Android or Debian should give plenty of use cases. Wishing them all the best. I'd probably get one of these once they have it ironed out.

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I always had a soft spot for PSION kit, especially the Psion3 I had, built in programming language in your pocket in the early 90's? Mindblowing! Times have changed and the pocket computing market is absolutely stuff with players, that's a tough gig to play and I wish them all the best against the cheap and cheerful imports that are two-a-penny from the Far East.

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Want one now!

I'm with you on that. Loved my Psion and was very sad to see its demise. Real portable computing when others (at the time) were carrying round huge lunch boxes to do the same thing. And a real keyboard. Running Linux - brilliant. Can't wait to get my hands on this ;-)

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Is there a real market for this type of devices? Note if this is executed really well, it goes against Chromebooks.

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IS going against Chromebooks

a good thing or not?

It is nice to see someone trying something different but I can't help but think this is a device who's time has past.

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Pocketability

It's the ability to slide into the inside pocket of a suit or coat that would differentiate it from small laptops, for me.

Can files created or saved in Android be seen from Linux, or are they on completely different partitions?

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Speaking as someone who's been waiting about a decade for something like this, and will bite your arm off for it, yes, there is a market, even if it's only "specialist".

And by specialist I mean people who pour data into computers, and need a proper input system, rather than passively drawing information from them, as 99% of people do. This market segment will always exist.

I now watch people who are oncall take their laptops with them to the pub, to be able do work that I used to be able to do with a small device in my coat pocket. Losing such devices was not progress.

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Anonymous Coward

Is there a real market for this type of devices? Note if this is executed really well, it goes against Chromebooks.

Well, I once hacked a Cisco router using a Psion Series 3A and a serial cable (with permission, I hasten to add, but our installer had screwed up and there was nobody else with the required level of clearance but me). Given the prominence of the location where I hacked this, the IT manager of the place kinda paled when he saw me do it with kit that small - rumour has it that I rather changed who closely they screened people coming in afterwards :).

However much marketing tries to sell it, typing on a flat screen really sucks compared to a proper keyboard, and if it's anywhere near what the 5MX had it's going to be luxury (yes, yes, let's keep the Yorkshire men at bay for now :) ). As a matter of fact, I'd say that even just the keyboard itself on a bluetooth link to a phone would have value as it's very small. If they get the keyboard shortcuts right, it may even be a useful device for people who as sight impaired because there too, prodding away at a flat sheet of glass is far inferior to a decent keypress and if it can run Debian it ought to have enough poke for voice feedback.

Last but not least, the other major advantage of this device is that it may support SD cards for storage. One of the most irritating issues with Psion was that they locked up their approach to storage in patents, which is why in the days of the Organiser II nobody else could make memory packs using EPROMs.

I'm going to keep an eye on this, very interesting.

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Re: Pocketability

"Can files created or saved in Android be seen from Linux, or are they on completely different partitions?"

I imagine that the Android filesystem could be placed in a folder on the Linux filesystem but that would make it rather fragile. I'd prefer and, quite frankly, expect them to be on different partitions. It shouldn't be a problem to mount the Android partition on Linux though.

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"I now watch people who are oncall take their laptops with them to the pub, to be able do work that I used to be able to do with a small device in my coat pocket."

Nokia Communicator? I used to have one of those & if I wasn't retired I'd certainly be in line for a device like this. Waaaay back I was using a Nokia to check the (internal) emails on a Unix server; "DBAing his box on his phone" (and from the pub, of course) flabbergasted a couple of visiting USians.

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Re: IS going against Chromebooks

I can't help but think this is a device who's time has past.

On the contrary, I think that the market for this kind of device is just about to start. Lots and lots of people would love to be able to do e-mail and some ssh stuff on something the size of a phone. Yes, you can do it now but a real keyboard makes a huge difference.

The mobile market now completely dwarfs the PC market which means that niches previously served by the PC market are being served by the mobile market. It's certainly a niche: lots of people will just want bigger and bigger screens and cameras, but some people will be happy with something like this (plus perhaps a few cables). I've ordered one with WiFi-only as a potential companion for my standard phone.

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large screen phones can get various bluetooth keyboards built into covers or cases. it is annoying charging two devices but the concept does work.obviously this means android not pure Linux , but that also means it works and works now. ive seen covers for galaxy notes that have keyboards and extended batteries. notes have sd slots, lte, hdmi, usb3 and unlocked bootloaders for putting whatever you want.

the market is there but im not sure about mainstream adoption. it is very rare that i dont have a case or bag with me if i need a device with qwertt size real keyboard and OS. I just use my dell 10" venue pro with keyboard.

speaking of which you can get smaller venue pros with hard keyboard cases too.

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Re: Pocketability

"Can files created or saved in Android be seen from Linux, or are they on completely different partitions?"

Just install your fave cloud storage app on both systems and stick it all up there. Then your other boxen can see it all too.

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Reminds me of the Olivetti Quaderno from circa 1993, which was a fine form factor but embuggered with NECs take on the 8086 processor in an era when the 386 was well established. Glad to see they're upping the processor spec.

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Well

Chromebooks are rather locked down devices which require you to jailbreak them... resulting in what's essentially a bog standard laptop. The default software on Chromebooks is essentially a Google-client.

The great advantage of this is its form factor. It's essentially a laptop, but much smaller. And it's not as locked down as Android, so you can actually _do_ stuff with it.

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Re: Well

"The default software on Chromebooks is essentially a Google-client."

What I'd like to see on this is an S/W equally well integrated with the server but with the your choice of server - such as your own NextCloud box on your own network.

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Pint

"work that I used to be able to do with a small device in my coat pocket."

Nokia Communicator?

Bingo. Have a pint :-) One of the few phones you could ssh in with, then write keyboard-symbol soup/shellscript in screen, without screaming.

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agreed! I remember years ago using a Sony Vaio "Picturebook" as my on-call device, tethered to my (1st gen) LG 3G flip-phone (if I couldn't find a landland!). Now luckily with remote desktop software and an iPad Mini I'm pretty much good to go, but sometimes the on-screen keyboard is enough of a frustration that this form factor would be good to get back to

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I'd be a likely target; I find tablets to be unwieldy for non-touch-oriented stuff like typing... even with an external keyboard (you'd think the larger layout would be better, but the general lack of things like dimpled key caps and reasonably long travel impair their usability for me). Had good times with my HP Jornada back in the distant past, and this keyboard looks somewhat better.. loses the symbols and function keys, but isn't as scrunched up vertically...

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"Reminds me of the Olivetti Quaderno from circa 1993, which was a fine form factor but embuggered with NECs take on the 8086 processor in an era when the 386 was well established."
I still have mine and the manual says March 1992. I thought the cpu was a 286, but looking it was a V30HL running at 16 MHz. I thought it an excellent replacement for my Tandy 200 when I purchased it. Twenty meg of hard disk!

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Battery power

Reminds me of the Olivetti Quaderno from circa 1993, which was a fine form factor but embuggered with NECs take on the 8086 processor in an era when the 386 was well established.

Compared to Intel's 8086 the V30 (V30HL for the Quaderno) was definitely nippier, and while there was a version of the Quaderno with a 386, it couldn't run half as long on batteries. So it depends on whether you prefer processing power or runtime.

And if you really want runtime, get a 5(MX).

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Storage

One of the most irritating issues with Psion was that they locked up their approach to storage in patents, which is why in the days of the Organiser II nobody else could make memory packs using EPROMs.

The 5 and 5MX took standard CF cards, and while I can't recall if the native EPOC format was something other than FAT, it could read my camera's cards.

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No contest

Is there a real market for this type of devices? Note if this is executed really well, it goes against Chromebooks.

That would require Chromebooks to be capable of being folded over twice while not gaining any thickness.

Something the size of a Chromebook had better be a full-blown laptop running Linux or *BSD, not some front-end for an ad-slinging, data-slurping cloud. And this is still a fully autonomous system, but now scaled down to fit in a jacket pocket.

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Re: Pocketability

"Can files created or saved in Android be seen from Linux, or are they on completely different partitions?"

Being on a different partition wouldn't stop Linux being able to see it. This Linux laptop has several partitions. For one thing, it's always good to keep the home directories on a separate partition so that the partition(s) holding the OS can be reformatted if a new OS is to be installed.

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<AOL>

I too have used the serial connector on a 5MX to program routers, and a PIX firewall.

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Orv
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I don't really see this as a Chromebook competitor, at least not for current ones. A Chromebook works fine for what I need it for, but it's a relatively big device -- you can't get them much under 13 inches, which is two big to just throw in a purse or pocket. What I'd really like is a Chromebook the size of an EeePC, but no one makes that.

Mind you, if it sells well it will get bigger with every revision as people demand larger screens, just like netbooks did...

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Hmm ... yes, you're right. Most people are passive pullers.

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Re: Storage

Storage-IO is my first thought. If it has M2 I will buy one.

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At the AC re: accessibility.

Thank you for mentioning it. I was about to do so & you've thankfully beat me to it. Enjoy a pint!

I'll add that the capacitance buttons idea is a fucking nightmare. Buttons you can't feel to know they're there, get no haptic feedback from to know you've pressed them, & a device that suddenly starts "doing strange shit for no fucking reason" is the exact opposite of what is needed to make this device suitable for someone with vision problems.

A device we can keep in our pocket, pull out with one hand & open with the other, that gives us a physical QWERTY keyboard. Keys we can feel, that make an audible click to indicate we've pressed them, so the device doesn't "start acting strange" bit, is a perfect device for us to check email, browse the web, listen to music or Youtube, write reports, edit files, or do 90% of what we need to do with a computer. As long as it has that Screen Reader Environment (SRE) to give the audio we need, blind folks would buy it in droves.

I'd certainly buy one if it had that SRE, it'd be infinitely easier to take with me than a laptop, the laptop bag/backpack, the power brick, all the dongle cables, blah blah blah. Something the size of a smartphone that I can get real work done on?

Shut up & take my money! =-D

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I have a Psion 5 which I'd like to use. Amazing battery life and amazing keyboard. Now if it ran Linux then it would be a pocket laptop.

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>im not sure about mainstream adoption

This may be a major point.

Back, when Psion (almost) ruled the Earth, there were lots of little shops, selling lots of different devices, with lots of different form factors. Of course, most of them went under.

Today, we have PC World and Amazon. If this device doesn't appear there, it won't appear, period.

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Keyboards

I rue the demise of the mobile keyboard.

Bluetooth keyboards are hit and miss, mostly the latter, usually the case is quite flimsy so you can't pick it up and type without the phone itself flailing about like a dead fish.

Samsung a few years ago sold a phone with a nice slideout keyboard, before they went full scale building iphone clones.

This Psion device looks quite like the old Toshiba Librettos of the mid 90s, tiny little laptops.

I even liked the netbook craze of the mid-late 2000s, even the cheap Windows CE ones had a nice small form factor and proper keyboard.

Touchscreens are grand for flicking through facebook/twitter/reddit/insert your social media of choice, or watching cats falling over on you tube, but have always been crap for proper typing.

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Re: Keyboards

I had an LG Phenom for a while, which was a clamshell a lot like this thing. I loved it. It only had two problems:

- It was badly balanced -- if you sat it on a table it would tip over every time you poked the touchscreen.

- Windows CE 2.0. 'nuff said.

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This was the closest I got to putting money in a startup. I really liked the Psion 5 I had. It was just a great functional little tool and used it in preference to a laptop on many occasions.

If this comes through I might well get one when they become available.

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I reminded folk here a couple of days ago that the Gemini, featured on the Reg a few months back, is due to ship in December. However, for completeness, I felt I also had to mention another Indiegogo campaign, one for a snap-on physical keyboard for Moto Mod phones.

The Gemini looks lovely, but I can't help but think that keyboards - unlike other phone components such as screens, chips and cameras - won't go out of date as quickly. As such, one might be paying for a lovely feature that is married to hardware that may become outdated. The opposite might also be true - keyboards and keys are susceptible to failure - so being to remove a keyboard from a phone and send it off for repair (or swap for a new one) without the hassle of setting up a new phone strikes me as being desirable.

There's advantages to both approaches, and the Moto Mod keyboard campaign isn't as far developed as this fine Gemini effort.

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RE: Moto Mod Campaign

Interesting, but that looks like a mighty small keyboard with tiny buttons

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Anonymous Coward

Re: RE: Moto Mod Campaign

Interesting, but that looks like a mighty small keyboard with tiny buttons

That's right, I have *big* hands (thank you very much).

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Put a small screen and a numeric keypad on the front...

...and you've also reincarnated the Nokia Communicator! Now that I would also go for.

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Re: Put a small screen and a numeric keypad on the front...

Except, the voice assistant should be able to do everything the display and keypad did, and with less fuss.

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Re: Put a small screen and a numeric keypad on the front...

it didnt understand my melodic scottish barritone.

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Re: Put a small screen and a numeric keypad on the front...

"it didnt understand my melodic scottish barritone"

You're not supposed to sing to it.

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Re: Put a small screen and a numeric keypad on the front...

"You're not supposed to sing to it."
Egads man! I do hope you're not going to suggest he play his bagpipes at it!

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I held back from backing it because Indiegogo. The Sinclair debacles etc.

I do hope this becomes a generally available on retail things when it hits version 2 though, I will be there with my credit card.

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Let's be honest, until you can buy it, actually buy it - with guaranteed shipping dates and everything, not just pre-orders and promises - it doesn't really matter.

And then you leave it a few weeks anyway to see if people are horrified by it. THEN you put in an order.

Until you can order it and get a tracking number in a matter of minutes, it's still just a pipe-dream whether it's a new iPhone, a piece of software or some Kickstarter gadget. Until then, the specs are liable to change, the user experience will vary, and it might still never ship, ever, at all (like some of the Spectrum stuff you mention).

I've now taken to saying "That's pretty cool, I'll come back in six months and see if it actually exists for purchase" for everything now. Never been properly stung because of such caution, but have come close a couple of times and been around for a lot of horror stories (e.g. the OpenPandora, etc.) and lost faith in these things coming out.

When I can click a button on Amazon with delivery in a couple of days, then I'll check reviews and see if it's actually any good.

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But of course if everyone took this approach projects like this would never get off the ground due to a lack of funding.

Take the approach that crowdfunding is a form of investment and that the exit strategy is the item you're funding. As with all investments there's a chance you'll lose you money, but if you don't then you'll have helped to develop something new and received it for less cost than if you buy the item when it's generally available.

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