back to article From 1981: the World's first UMPC

It's the original UMPC: Epson's HX-20, announced in 1981 - 25 years before Intel and Microsoft formally launched the ultra-mobile PC category, in April 2006. Epson HX-20 - Epson's ad, courtesy Epson's machine wasn't the first portable computer - that honour goes to the Osborne 1. But while the Osborne was a …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mac Link

    That link has made my day. Seeing the shiny Mac I brand header with infomation about an early 80's Epsom Computor!

  2. Chris Maresca

    I have one of those...

    Still works, and it took 15 years before laptops came back down to that size.

    However, you can't really call it a real computer as it doesn't really have an OS and few applications.



  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    And by 1989 things had improved:

    Notice how there is still nothing on the market with a clamshell keyboard like this (oh Psion, woe, lament!).

    Ken Tindell

  4. Gene Cash Silver badge

    affordable large LCDs

    Ahhh, "laptops" from before we had affordable large LCDs.

    They pretty much made the LCD market, so that we now have affordable desktop LCD monitors.

    I remember the Kaypro with the tiny 5-inch "postage-stamp-theatre" CRT.

    This was back when everything ran it's own particular software and usually didn't have a true OS.

    MS might be evil, but the advantages of a software monoculture are usually overlooked these days, since there's lots of disadvantages too.

    And yes, I'd KILL for a Nokia N800 with a Psion/Portfolio like clamshell keyboard.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    TRS-80 Model 100

    At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, another interesting device from the same period was the Tandy TRS-80/100, a notebook-sized portable that was similar to the HX-20, except that it had a 40x8 character LCD. It was more a mobile wordprocessor, but it had Microsoft BASIC and several expansion options:

    The battery life is quoted there as sixteen hours, which is handy if you're a graphomanic trapped taking an aeroplane flight from the UK to Australia. It had 8k up to 32k memory, RS232 etc.

    I remember reading somewhere that the HX-20 could be programmed to play the tape at certain times in order to sequence audio events, thus creating a very primitive early sampler.

  6. Chad H.

    Whats that?

    Whats the thing on the top of the Full colour pic (the one with all the accessories). The thing with the two suction cup looking things. Looks like where a Dalek micght connect his manipulator "arm" to or something...

  7. Jason Togneri

    Ahh, Psion

    I've had, in my time, a Psion Series 3C, a Psion Series 5, and a Psion Revo (recently sold on eBay, sadly, in an attempt to cut down on the massive piles of old technology). They were wonderful things - the Revo was particularly nice, very slim with a touch screen and that wonderful fold-down keyboard configuration. I know PDAs are now the things of the future, or so I'm told, but I do rather miss the old palmtops. Somehow, Nokia's attempt (various generations of Nokia Communicator) just don't cut the mustard.

  8. John Ridley

    Model 100

    I still have three TRS-80 model 100s in the basement. I used them for a time a couple of years ago taking notes at the telescope in the dark, because they have very nice keyboards and will run many nights on a set of AA batteries, and transferring the documents to a PC via serial cable still works fine.

    I've switched to a voice recorder since then, but the Model 100s still work fine.

    A lot of journalists, especially those in less developed areas of the world, typed up their stories on Model 100s for a number of years.

    The Model 100s had a fair amount of addon tech for them, including a 3.5" floppy, some aftermarket storage stuff such as the stringy floppy, and would interface to standard printers via a parallel port. It had a built-in 300 baud modem and came with a modular connector, and an acoustic coupler was available as an add-on.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: What's That?

    "Whats the thing on the top of the Full colour pic (the one with all the accessories). The thing with the two suction cup looking things."

    I'd hazard a guess that it's an acoustic coupler.


  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not exactly broadband ready.

    "Whats the thing on the top of the Full colour pic (the one with all the accessories). The thing with the two suction cup looking things."

    That is a modem. The "suction cups" transfer data to a telephone handset.

  11. Nev Silver badge


    The last computer I owned (until getting my first

    laptop 6 years ago) was The HX-20's successor

    an Epson PX-8 running CP/M (yay!)

    It had two EPROM slots, containing Wordstar,

    Calc and Cardmanager in one and some sys utils

    in the other. A 128K RAM Disk and a tiny micro

    cassette drive.

    Fantastic little gadget. A real "portable" in

    the late 80's. It's probably in the loft at my parents.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The original husky was similar vintage

    ...and rugged too.

    The (slightly more well known) husky hunter was a couple of years later, I think, and even more awesomely built - drop it, throw it, soak it, even (probably) drive over it without problem. And it was still a lot lighter (IIRC) than modern laptops.

  13. Alistair James

    Mine was still regularly used until a couple of years ago...

    I used to use it as a portable serial terminal until a couple of years ago. It got excellent battery life, and the screen was easily readable in all but the brightest light, which was great when I also used to use it for cricket scoring a few years ago.

    I'll have to get it back down from the loft this weekend now just to smile wistfully at it...


  14. Mike Smith

    That was the first computer I used at work

    Ah, what a loverly blast from the past. Back in 1984, we used an HX-20 to monitor gas concentrations in test rigs, and alter the flow as needed.

    The gas valves were opened and closed using a fearsome looking contraption built by Development and plugged into the serial port.

    As the 'umble spotty grunt in charge of the test rigs, I felt dead sophisticated punching numbers into a computer instead of having to get up and turn a valve.

    And yep, the software was all written in-house. Version 2.0 was supposed to include enough intelligence to let you key in the gas concentration you wanted, and the computer would set the valves accordingly. However, I moved on before it appeared.

    Thanks for the memories. Happy days :-)

  15. /\/\j17


    "And by 1989 things had improved:

    Notice how there is still nothing on the market with a clamshell keyboard like this (oh Psion, woe, lament!).

    Ken Tindell"

    Not heard of the Nokia 9000 series Communicators then, Ken?

    Or the soon* to be release Nokia E80 -

    * This is of course Nokia's idea of soon, so anything from end May to 2009.

  16. Ishkandar

    Computers ? Who needs computers ??

    Just get me that lady in the picture......

    bloody geeks, the lot of 'em

    Seriously, the first really usable full spec "laptop" that I know of was the Toshiba 100 (and later, the Toshiba 200). It was a laptop if you had 28 inch circumference thighs !! It used a 386, had a 14 inch LCD screen and could run on DOS, CP/M, or as mine did, on SCO Unix and all the programs that were written for those OSes. Mine actually ran an Oracle client AND database, all be it shoehorned in. And you didn't even need to be a bodybuilder to carry it around, although it helps !!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Husky Hunters

    The British military still use Husky Hunters - I used one all the time in the Royal Signals to run radio path analysis software for UHF and VHF directional transmissions.

  18. George

    One on EBay right now

    With a voice synthesizer, no less...

    go look up item #160113565924

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