back to article Where are all the decent handheld scribbling tools?

As the market for computerised devices grows ever bigger and the internet takes over its users' social lives, it's a good time to be a gadget fan. They're everywhere, from smartphones and fondleslabs to pocket games consoles. There are notebooks of every size and shape from netbooks to desktop replacements. What were once mere …


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  1. Robert E A Harvey

    Can I be the first to say ...


    1. Christoph
      Thumb Up

      Absolutely. The AgendA keyboard really did take less than an hour to learn.

      But the software was weird and non-compatible, and it had almost no publicity. I had to specifically ask for one at a store that I knew stocked it, because it wasn't even displayed.

      1. Robert E A Harvey

        Just found this:

        1. e_cathedra

          I'm typing this on a Cykey right now - my fave device for input. Chris at Cykey has tried to get the interface working on a fondleslab, but it does need a degree of tactile feedback.

          Tux, 'cos I reckon I was probably the first person to use a Cykey on Linux...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Handheld scribbling tools

    I got an iPad myself. Great little toy.

    But horrible to work on if you need to bang out some documentation etc. I tried it, it just doesn't work. You either have to put the fondleslab on a table, or on your knees/lap and risk said fondleslab sliding off your lap and breaking its precious screen...

    And a laptop, as said, take ages to get up to speed (waking up, etc), and in between there's horrible WindowsUpdates waiting to catch you unawares when you want to do a shutdown... Also, screen breakage is a problem. Happened to me. Sad.

    The screen on a cellphone (or mobile) is just too small for reading emails comfortably.

    So, therefore I agree with most of the points as stated in this column. Make it a hi-res LCD display though (so that it's able to display the most basic word formatting, such as bold, strikeout, underlining etc). And with today's technology, battery life should be well in excess of a week.

    LCD displays should be really cheap to replace.

    Just one note : add a VGA adapter as well, so that you can plug in an external monitor. Or, failing that, an USB monitor (if such a thing exists).

    And a lovely, proper keyboard with proper spacing. Not a dinky Crackberry keyboard though. Or an unresponsive fondleslab keyboard.

    Bonus points for making it waterproof, dustproof and, in general, poo-proof.

    Connectivity via USB, Bluetooth, Wifi, 3g etc.

    And memory slots for quick and easy expansion.

    I will stop here.

    Thank you for listening.

    1. Sean Baggaley 1


      One of the first things I bought for my (first generation) iPad was the keyboard dock.

      It works like a charm, although it took a few iOS updates to iron out the wrinkles. There was a response lag issue for the first couple of months. but it's cream now.

      ("Why take two items into the shower? Surely that defeats the point of the iPad!" I hear you ask. And you'd be right-ish, but as I tend to carry my stuff around in a rucksack, that keyboard dock doesn't really make much difference. Even so, I'm considering one of those roll-up keyboards.)

      I do agree with the original article however: there is most definitely a market for a simple portable computer that focuses on getting work done rather than procrastinatory activities. One possibility is to take advantage of the rise of HD televisions. These have high-res(-ish) displays and many can accept streaming video sources, so why not use that combination to provide the "screen" of your device? All you'd need to carry around is the keyboard and the processor.

      We'd need to standardise the connections though, otherwise you'd only be able to connect your (say) "Sony WriteStation" to a Sony-branded TV.

  3. Monkey Bob


    Is it wrong that the only definition of PCMCIA that I can remember is...

    People Can't Memorise Computer Industry Acronyms


  4. Audrey S. Thackeray


    Series 3, Series 5 or indeed Series 7 / NetBook.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Series 5

      Psion Series 5... what a great bit of ARM-based kit. A pal of mine wrote his entire thesis on one in Latex markup. They are still worth decent money second hand even now.

      A modern version with Wi-fi and some decent processing power would rock. OpenPandora would come close if it had a usable keyboard. Perhaps someone will cobble something together with their Raspberry Pi once they're available. Sharp have just introduced a new line of LCDs without polarizers which look like the closest thing to e-ink without actually being e-ink. They would be perfect for a use-anywhere handheld.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Psion Series 5

        Lovely bit of kit. However like the Series 3a I had my unit suffered from hinge problems. However unlike the 3a the hinge problem ended up being fatal. And even with light use the rubberised covering was peeling away after 6 months .

        Shame really.

    2. Medium Dave

      I still use my 5 on occasion...

      Decent keyboard & screen, fits in a jacket pocket, and a battery life of several million years. And when the batteries do finally die, they are AAs - available justy about anywhere for a couple of quid.

      Plus, it's still working after 10+ years, which is more than I can say for a disturbing number of laptops...

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Amstrad NC100

    It's important to note that although the NC100 has similarities to the Z88, it's not an upgrade. Clive got to keep the still un-released Z88 after the Amstrad buy-out and released it under his new Cambridge Computers name.

    The NC100 came along much later, 1992 or 1993 IIRC and was designed in house by Amstrad. The NC100 owes just as much to the CPC and PCW as it does to the Z88 (colourful keys, friendly user manual, a port of Protext from the CPC, etc).

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Galaxy Note?

    Pen input may be on it's way back with this sort of thing and I personally still like actual scribbling for note taking on the move.

  7. GatesFanbois

    It is easy to find a decent handheld scribbling tool

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "notebooks are ...

    ... expensive, fragile things that scorch your lap and last a day if they're doing exceptionally well"

    Buy one with more pages, and stop setting fire to them. Sorted.

    (probably not first with this)

  9. Andrew Baines Silver badge


    Just buy a bluetooth keyboard for your smart phone. Why make life so complicated?

    1. Tchou

      Because it would be impossible to read while writing?

  10. Ben Brandwood

    I agree with Audrey S. Thackeray

    If someone could take the exact form factor and *keyboard* of the Psion 5, but put Android (or other suitable OS) on a fairly high resolution screen then I would buy one tomorrow.

    Honestly, I have money in the bank *waiting* for it!

    Anyone? Please? The nearest I can think of is the Asus Transformer but it's a bit big.

    1. Weeble

      Why wait 'til tomorrow?

      I'd buy one this afternoon (providing they can somewhere close to Psion battery life).

    2. Simon R. Bone
      Thumb Up

      Here you go - viliv n5

      8 hour batter life, runs windows 7, fits in your pocket reasonably well

      I reading this page on one now

      1. Charlie Stross

        Viliv RIP

        The Viliv S5 is *exactly* the machine Liam's looking for -- the reincarnation of the Psion 5 form factor (even fits in a Series 5 case!), only with the specs of a Win7 netbook.

        Alas, Viliv went into liquidation in July due to, er, a lack of sales -- seems everyone was buying tablets instead.

        Thus illustrating the perils of going for a minority market ...

        1. Luther Blissett

          Minority market?

          It's lovely and small, but... is it small enough that people might use as a mobile handset?

  11. Andrew Garrard

    Z88 - so near...

    I used a Z88 when they were new, and bought myself one a few years back with a view to having something I could use for typing and notes. Long battery life, famously quiet keyboard to type on, lovely bit of kit. I used it about twice, because it was huge in comparison with my Libretto (whose hinge never, thankfully, broke) and therefore never got taken anywhere to justify the inconvenience of transferring content.

    One of the tablet/keyboard combos might be a better modern equivalent, although swype is actually almost decent enough on a mobile that you really need to be writing something big for it to be worth something with a full keyboard. I've yet to try the bluetooth keyboard route (they were horrible under Windows Mobile), but I'm certainly going to.

    It doesn't solve the "I want a battery that'll last me going on a writers' retreat in the woods" problem, but you could get a lot of spare battery (or solar charger) alongside a mobile without getting to the bulk of a z88.

    There was a time when I was involved in a long chat about the "Psion FX" - something in the Psion 5 form factor, but with an Atom in it. I think this got killed by the (x86) netbook fad, which the discussion predated, although a netbook is really not the same thing.

    Cheap enough and small enough (but how do you make a keyboard and screen small without having a hinge and ending up with a Vaio P?) and I'd still find the idea tempting today.

  12. Captain Hogwash

    Somewhat contradictory?

    Compare and contrast....

    "Both machines demonstrate one of the critical blunders of the designer of low-end kit: don't lumber it with gratuitous limitations. Give its users the ability to make the best possible use of it by making it as good as you can for its weight, form-factor and price, and they will find uses for it that you never imagined."


    "Worse, the more capable they are, the more distractions there are from getting on with bashing out the words."

  13. Buzzword

    Kindle with a better keyboard

    I like this plan. Oddly enough I think the old Kindle is a step in the right direction. The E Ink screen gives it a long battery life. The "Whispernet" 3G wireless sync means you could type up a document on the train, get to work, and have it automatically appear on your desktop, no fiddling around with memory cards or USB cables. All we need is a decent keyboard, and of course good software. There's no Angry Birds to distract you.

    However I disagree with the laptop lid issue. When the keyboard is flat on a table, you need the screen to be tilted towards you. Otherwise you end up hunched forward like an old lady. Short of having a fully detachable keyboard and screen (think iPad + Bluetooth keyboard), the best way to implement this is with a hinge.

  14. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge
    Thumb Up


    And make it as unattractive as possible so ne'er-do-wells won't take your clickety-clack fondleslab with them when you're not looking....

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dare I say Apple emate?

    There - I did.

  16. David Haig
    Thumb Up

    @Andrew Garrard

    Hope you're speaking of the Toshiba Libretto - brilliant little machine with everything you need (admittedly small full colour screen, nearly full size keyboard, hard drive, proper 'hibernate' mode that actually worked) in a case just bigger than the original Nokia Communicator. Had it as my main machine for years until some b******d nicked it. Could use it as a full laptop (used to configure routers/switches/muxes with it) or as a note taker / word processor. Wouldn't mind another now.

    Oh, and then Nokia got it right with the next 2 Communicators - 9000, 9100 - which, once you got into the keyboards, could be very quick for typing (and had a fax machine built in! - amazing how many times you need to send a test fax when installing these Multi purpose printers! Got a new E7 now but it's not quite the same ......

  17. Andy 97

    And while we're at it...

    I really don't like this touch screen phone nonsense either.

  18. Steve the Cynic

    TRS80 Model 100, yes...

    I had one of these some years ago, and it was indeed a fine machine, light in weight and with a pleasant, properly-spaced keyboard whose principal faults were a US layout and a total absence of rake. A set of AA-size batteries lasted days.

    The interesting feature not mentioned in the article is that the display, although fairly low-resolution and cobweb-growingly slow, was pixel-oriented rather than character-cell oriented - the BASIC included commands for drawing lines and circles.

    I used to use it to type out random stuff, and then feed it to my PC via the serial port.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Fond memories...

      I used to sell these (amongst other things)!

      I've come over all nostalgic.


      1. Dave Murray

        So did I! Been a long time since I've seen one.

        1. BorkedAgain
          Thumb Up


          I spent a happy summer typing up my A-level Chemistry notes on a TRS-80 Model 100. Far further back than I care to remember. I'm pretty sure it's still somewhere in my parents' attic. Must hoke around for it someday. Gorgeous machine...

  19. Dazed and Confused

    @Andy 97

    I just wish you could get a mobile with the screen and thickness of an SGSII and a keyboard. All the phones with keyboards either seemed to have too smaller screens (Nokia E72 and most Blackberries) or had a foldout keyboard and where then too thick (HTC something or other)

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Scribbling on the move

    For those who want to scribble on the move, Amstrad Penpads can be picked up on Ebay. However the bad news is that not only don't they work, but the ravages of time mean even if you find one unused the rubberised casing has turned into a gunky chemical mess.

    Gadget geek Dr Ashens did a video review of one a few weeks back. Quite interesting.

  21. sugerbear

    Loving the typo.

    [quote]They're lovely but sadly not quite up to snuff in 2011[/quote]

    Has El Reg been out killing tramps again :)

    1. A J Stiles

      What typo?

      "Up to snuff" is a perfectly good phrase.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "They're lovely but sadly not quite up to snuff in 2011"

      What typo?

  22. MJI Silver badge

    Husky Hunter

    I have used them quite rugged but still able to be broken

  23. someone up north

    all U need is a Dictaphone and a secretary back at the office

    the try and tested method for years:

    a Dictaphone+a secretary

    never fail ...

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Can I borrow your DIctaphone?

      No, use your finger like anyone else.

  24. fix


    No, not a robot in disguise!

    Asus, with detachable keyboard, a tablet when you want it, a laptop when you want a keyboard, and with the keyboard, excellent battery life.

  25. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    My solution(s) and requirements

    My Ben Nanonote never leaves my pocket, very portable but the keys lack travel for comfy typing (does fine for a quick note or an on-the-go Quake or Nethack game though). Whenever I carry a bag, I tuck my 9' EEEPC 900 in. The keyboard is just about decent and the display large enough for most on-the-go tasks. I've been trying to replace that with a more current machine but everything is 11' these days, and that's much too big.

    Ideally I'd like a cheap, light 7' clamshell machine, passive cooling (no need for a powerhouse anyway, a 800MHz ARM should do just fine), a SSD (16GB would be more than enough), some RAM (1GB would be plenty), SD (2) and USB (3?) slots, and a physically switchable wireless adaptor (no need for n either, b/g will do).

    Any of you spotted such a thing?

    1. A J Stiles


      I really don't think you would like a seven *foot* (= 2.1 metres) clamshell machine.

      1. ElReg!comments!Pierre

        re: Hmm

        ... at least you can understand why I think 11 feet is too big for a pocket computer...

        And I just discovered that my right shift key is broken. Time for a new keboard.

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      I actually smashed my trusty Ben a few hours after my first post, so I will be ordering a new one in the coming days. If someone in the area is interested we could share the shipping costs.

    3. Testy McTester

      A real pocket computer

      "My Ben Nanonote never leaves my pocket, very portable but the keys lack travel for comfy typing (does fine for a quick note or an on-the-go Quake or Nethack game though)."

      And you do all that, without even taking it out your pocket? Amazing!

  26. nemo20000

    Psion, of course

    I was going to say the Psion Netbook/Series 7, but in fact its predecessor was even more astonishing in its time. Behold the MC400:

    A fantastic beast which drew admiration wherever we took it, it had an amazing user interface, 60 hour battery life and superb industrial design. It was fantastically expensive, but worth every last penny.

  27. Danny 14

    not hard

    galaxy tab + bluetooth keyboard. The keyboard folds up and is "large pocket" sized easily slips in a normal bag.

    No issues for me so far.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An enlarged version of the Nokia E series, with a decent sized keyboard, slightly bigger screen and with the built-in Quickoffice app sounds like it would do the trick.

    The problem is convincing the likes of Nokia to build such a beast.

    MS want them to target the iPhone-wannabie owners, and are unlikely to build a sub-tablet/super-mobile device for specialised uses such as note-taking, journalists, network device terminals etc.

  29. Wile E. Veteran


    Actually, Jota Text Editor for Android is a pretty decent text editor with feature approaching that of MS Wordpad. Too bad it is currently only available on keyboard-less smartphones and fondleslabs with their beyond-horrible touchscreen keyboards which rather defeats the purpose of having a decent text editor available.

    For the "cloud-oriented" there is always Google Docs. A dedicated UI is available from the Android Market at no charge which makes GD more usable than trying to use them through the browser. If you look around a bit, there is even an application which allows LaTeX using Docs as the editor. Again, the keyboard issues apply.

    I would love to have something like the article author pines for, as long as it has decently SHAPED keytops like the TRS100 instead of the chiclet crap on almost every new notebook/netbook/bluetooth keyboard. Just because Apple uses something does not make it a good idea but everyone seems to play "follow the fruit" instead of considering what actually makes their kit easy to use rather than just fashionable. I would really love an editor with built-in LaTeX commands available with a keystroke or two like the Texmaker application for Unix, Windows and OSX.

    Of course, I am weird.

    Mine is the one with the old Acer Aspire 4315 running Xubuntu Natty hanging with it.

  30. Nick L
    Thumb Up

    Handheld PCs...

    You're looking for something useful as a decent business tool primarily, rather than a shiny gadget. Unfortunately, the last pieces of kit that focused on the particular sort of work loads you're wanting rather than looking pretty are about a decade old in my view. What did for these things was the insistence that colour screens were a necessity: they're not.

    I've got, and still use, a Psion 3mx, 5mx and HP 200LX. Yes, I actually still take notes on these things because they work, they run on 2 AA batteries, and they are usable and will exchange data with my PC. I am still slightly amazed that the 200lx does what it does so well, and that they keyboard - which should be useless - is to my fingers better than the 5mx! The Psion 5mx is just brilliant: the OS allows embedding of word processor documents in calendar entries, meaning it's simple to take meeting notes and know what meeting they relate to. The keyboard isn't great, but it's not half bad.

    I actually took notes last week on my 200lx in a meeting in Sweden. People were amused, bemused and slightly pitying as they stabbed ineffectually at their fondleslabs, but it just works.

    The other device I use is a Sigmarion 3, which is great but suffers from battery life issues. And a Japanese OS. And it has just died. But other than that it's not bad. Speaking of Japanese OS, I also tried the Zaurus range - twice - but ended up going away from them as the damn things kept crashing. (But we know linux never crashes...)

    The Viliv n5 will be on my christmas list. The battery life somewhat worries me, but it's worth a try.

    Yes, I know I need to get out more, but I collect these things... From the Psion 1 and Agenda Microwriter (kudos to first post!) to the Libretto u100 so far. Tried an OQO, sold it.

    Keep the handheld faith!

  31. zxcvbnm

    ipad and external keyboard case

    Looking around seating areas an ipad and a prop up case with a built in keyboard seems to work for most people. Not as good as the ideal but good enough to scare off the competition.

  32. Dave 126 Silver badge

    What was that device...

    .. that was about at the turn of the century? It was held in one hand and five keys. The user would use 'chords' to input letters, akin to tools used by people who write real-time subtitles for the news. By all accounts it didn't take too long to learn, and allowed notes to be taken discreetly (albeit at the risk of being accused of played pocket billiards).

    1. Nick L

      suggest reading the first post?

      You mean a microwriter? The very thing mentioned in the very first post...

      Still available for purchase as a PC addon from the original designer... (no affiliation, I just happen to own an Agenda Microwriter PDA).

      My chemistry teacher was using one in 1991 still... He loved the thing.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That WAS the Agenda Microwriter.

      I am all for a z88 style device. Maybe a little smaller. Basic. Monochrome lcd even. E-ink may be useful though the refresh rate maybe a problem. Long battery life. Switchable wifi so I can get my imap email, or write an article with basic layout if need be. (LaTex - I would learn for this alone).

      I cannot get over that we seem to give the number of cores more credence than battery life these days. As long as I can get email, browsing would be nice but I am more concerned with text than graphics. Sync a contact list. Not have to be plugged into a charger for at least a week. Expect at least 5 years use out of a device. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh - for me, nivarna.

      Comeon copylefters.....a more up to date Z88/husky hunter form factor with wifi/ethernet/a.n.other/bluetooth (for GSM data email/netaccess) so we can actually have the ultimate IT swiss army knife. It doesn't yet exist, because if it did I (and a sizable proportion of the geek world) would own one.

  33. Fred Goldstein

    Just buy a freakin' keyboard

    Apple and others sell keyboards for iPads. Several vendors sell keyboards for Android tablets too. They use Bluetooth to connect. So just keep one with your fondleslab and you can type away.

    I just wish they made a smartphone with a decent phone-type keypad in a clamshell form factor. The old Samsung Alias 2 was a wonderful texting phone, but nothing today is like it. Touch-screen phones are hard to dial on, delicate, and love to pocket-dial.

    1. Random Yayhoo

      Bluetooth sucks, total fail. USB keyboard then!

      Bluetooth keyboards for phones or tablets are a great concept, but they DON'T WORK. Failure to communicate, you know. Why? It's a stupid, aggravating situation but I don't know and don't care. USB works. Jeez, just deal with the friggin wire!

      So what do we need? An OS that can reside anywhere, phone, tablet, screen, keyboard. Or a group of the above for redundancy. A sturdy, snap-on hinge system that doesn't break the important bits as you hinge or unhinge or rotate. a strong keyboard, folding or not, that faces the screen while you're in transit. And finally the ability to use a touchscreen instead of a standard screen when you want to draw or write stuff longhand like equations. Finally, let it play movies or surf, etc., so long as you can turn off graphics and any other power-robbing activity with ease. So, who will build this?

    2. Godwhacker
      Thumb Up


      Definitely the easiest and best solution. Plus, you can upgrade your device and keep the keyboard.

  34. David Given
    Thumb Up

    I have an NC200. Lovely, lovely bit of kit. Fantastically clear mono screen, a full size, full travel and extremely comfortable keyboard, and 10 hours on battery. (Admittedly, it did run on 5 C cells.) The screen was 80x16 and pixel addressable so it was easily big enough for real work, it had a 720kB 3.5" floppy drive and used standard DOS format floppies, and the internal storage was enough to get reasonable documents on.

    The OS was pretty nasty, with a word processor that was limited to in-memory documents only, which on a 64kB address space Z80 wasn't much. But it did come with a kick-ass version of BBC Basic for the Z80, including integrated Z80 assembler...

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Netbooks have tiny cramped keyboards and screens"

    I'm sorry, but that really is absolute rubbish, or you have only had experience on some very odd netbooks. My Dell 1012 has a great, full sized keyboard and a magnificent 1280x720 screen. Since I got it, my full sized notebook gets very little use, while the Dell is in use most of the day, every day.

  36. gaz 7
    Thumb Up

    Nokia N810 or N900?

    agreed that Psions are/were the zenith of this whole genre, indeed I still have 2 5MXs and wont part with them. The issue with them now is the screen and connectivity.

    As a modern alternative, look at the N810. 4.1" touch screen, Linux based & can run debian in a chroot. Wlan, bluetooth connectivity and a miniSD slot for storage. dirt cheap on ebay now.

    Or the N900 - also a true powerhouse,although with a smaller screen than the N810.

  37. Martin Usher

    Sharp ?

    Sharp had a line of pocket computers in the early 1980s. These typically had two line displays, a small alphanumeric keypad and removable RAM packs. The primary programming language was BASIC but it was possible to package programs in such a way that they could be distributed as standalone apps using the memory cartridges. (Those cartridges also stored applications data so with a bit of ingenuity you could transfer this data to and from an early PC.)

    If you need a compact, versatile, input device then the obvious choice is a stylus. If you're on a smartphone then you should be able to input text using the same kind of gestures that were used with a Palm Pilot (assuming Apple haven't patented them, of course).

  38. Herby

    TRS80 Model 100

    As an owner of two (actually a Model 100, and a Model 102) of these, I can attest that they are quite nice boxes. Yes, the screen IS limited, but the text editor is quite functional. It even has niceties like 'cut' and 'paste'. I suppose that the limiting factor is that the internal model is limited to 300 bps, and I don't know of too many ISPs that will even talk to simple terminals (with VT52 cursor controls).

    On the other hand, one of these machines is doing nice work controlling my swimming pool motors and other device related (valves, etc.) quite nicely. I interfaced a bunch of relays to its printer port and it works quite well.

    Yes, it was the last project that Bill was personally involved in. Weather one see that as good or bad is up to you.

  39. Bango Skank

    Palm Pilot

    With the humble Palm I came pretty close to being able to toss my jotter away and have all my notes taken during meetings and on the train synch with my PC.

    The funny handwriting wasn't reall a big obstacle but having to have a docking station in order to transfer was -although the infrared file transfer was pretty good.

    I am still looking for something that can accept handwriting and drawings, and can replace the need for either dragging a laptop around or having a jotter

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Palm Pilot

      I still have a Palm Tungsten T5 which along with a PalmOne folding keyboard, works well in the mobile writer world. The keyboard is close to full size when unpacked, but just a little larger than the Palm itself when folded. For variety, it also works with an old HP iPaq, which also works well in this role.. The keyboard only communicates via infra red rather then bluetooth, but also includes a little stand, so that the Palm or iPaq stands upright, facing you. I used to use these quite a lot when traveling, with communication automatically handled via my mobile.

      Mind you, I also have a little clamshell device - no name - but it runs MS-DOS-5 in ROM, along with MS Works in ROM. It's got a brilliant keyboard, and even a "widescreen" display. The only drawback is getting data off it. Those huge flash cards are hard to read with anything else. Wonderful keyboard too.

  40. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    So what made *these* machines so good?


    A decent keyboard seems pretty important (I quite like the idea of supporting backlit keys for those dark environments).

    Running on standard batteries, rather than some exotic, non standard (and quickly outdated) battery pack (that cannot be replaced in a 3rd world store) is another. Battery life in *days* not hours (ideally *weeks*).

    *Adequate* apps, connectivity (especially to the PC) and display. I'd suggest these days *nearly* anything can be had with either a USB or a memory card interface. The software should be good enough that you don't *need* to dig under it to get it to work properly (but you *can* get into ti if you need to).

    Mic/speaker/cameras? Not *possible* with the tech of the TSRs, Z88s and NC100, but *necessary*? Voice notes and diary pix?

    The *tricky* one is form factor. Small enough for a pocket (breast? side?) so you don't have to *plan* to carry it, or something with more screen area (no one seems to have tried A4 with a split *longways* but that introduces a hinge, which *can* work well but often hasn't ).

    The TSR 100 went with basically an A4 page and accepted the limited display. The Z88 (IIRC) used a neat trick of using a small area which mapped each character of a "virtual page" into weather they were covered or not.

    But what about the cordless display/keyboard combo? Something like a 2 part Nokia communicator that pops apart?

    Now can you convince some VC money suppliers that there is a *market* for this?

  41. Paul 135

    Xperia Pro

    Just get an Xperia Pro - is nice and compact for a keyboard phone and does the job - what you are asking for is just too large.

  42. heyrick Silver badge


    As others have mentioned - how could you miss the Psion 3/5?

    I've never had a chance to use a Psion 5, but my 3a (2Mb!) is sitting right here beside me looking forlorn. The sole reason - modern computers don't have serial ports and I've not had the time/cash to buy a USB adaptor (I did get one for a couple of quid on eBay but it never worked, not that I was even slightly surprised by this).

    With a nice built-in wordprocessor (and with HP-printer-to-PDF conversion, can make *entire* *FORMATTED* PDFs with dozens of pages in under 100K - nothing on Windows is capable of such a feat. With a database, I can note down all sorts of useless things and organise them. From an address book to a list of 6502 opcodes, the Psion has it covered. Spreadsheet... I use to keep a running total of stuff I want to order. I don't really have much need for a spreadsheet. OPL - built in programming language, so I had an "app" that could generate software registration codes on the fly, a custom bank account manager, and some other more trivial stuff.

    The keyboard was small, but you could get used to it, and the little 'tick' sound was good feedback to register a keypress. I've sat in waiting rooms and written entire blog articles and, one time, a complete user guide for a software product with styles, fonts, effects, etc while waiting for a train.

    I love the stuff my Android phone can do, but the very extremely obvious omission in its capabilities is everything the Psion exceled at. There's no "office" suite in default Android. For God's sake, there isn't even a text editor out of the box (though TextEdit is nice, and does what it says on the tin). One could argue that the stock calendar is horrid. Never a complaint I've levelled at my Psion.

    You might get the idea that I miss using it. I do. But maybe these days we're supposed to be stupid consumers, and all that a smartphone really needs to be capable of is the 160-odd characters of a tweet...

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Psion 3 and 5 were all very well but did not allow touch typing for most people. The 7 on the other hand ... a lovely machine, a shame it was before the days of Bluetooth, and thus difficult to interface with anything else. The Dana and its successor the Neo look like the sort of thing needed but I have in their case an issue with the screen size - not much larger than that on an electronic typewriter like the Canon Typestar. When I'm writing I like to be able to look at what I've already written in a glance. But with a larger screen which could be angled to the user's need it looks like a winner.

    I currently have an Asus eee 901 as a dedicated WP machine - strange as its intended function seems to be as a net-enabled terminal. However I also carry an Apple keyboard to use with it as the keys are just that little bit too small and close together.

  44. Dick Pountain
    Thumb Up

    Don't dismiss Android

    I recently discovered a good implementation of Graffiti handwriting for Android - I used Palm's for over a decade and got very slick at it.

    I'm now using it on a San Francisco phone *without a stylus* - it works just fine using a fingertip and has excellent predictive input.The Note Everything app lets me take small notes faster than the onscreen keyboard, and I just switch input method to the TouchPal keyboard later to clean them up. I reckon that on a 7" Android tablet this would make an excellent note taker.

  45. hasbeen

    Epson HX-20

    The HX-20 had a decent editor in the form of FFoswriter - it could even save up to 50K of text using the optional built-in microcassette drive. The keyboard was also excellent, with proper double-shot moulded keys, and a twin spring mechanism. Finally, the battery would easily last for over 50 hours of use (much less with heavy use of the printer, RS232 port or external disk drive).

  46. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Thank you to m0rt and Nick L

    ... though Nick: I did read the first post, what you meant to suggest was 'follow the link on the first post", since it contained no description.

    Not long ago, El Reg had a story about some boffins who created a form of key-logging software that could steal passwords from a touchscreen device by interrogating its accelerometers... if they can determine the location of your finger in any one of roughly 36 places to an accuracy of, 80%, then it seems that they could implement a version of the Microwriter quite easily since it only has 6 positions. Or they could just use the screen's digitiser.

    Similarly, haven't we seen wrist-mounted sensors that detect (nerve impulses? ) and in effect give you a virtual glove? Then any device can function as a microwiter- though colleagues in meeting might think you fidgety.

  47. Jean Le PHARMACIEN

    Reprise Psion netBook [or 5mmx..]

    My vote - Psion netBook w 64M memory - superb - still have mine; 5MMX for ultraportable

    Still the best (shame new pdf files are unreadable and that the Opera browser coughs abd dies on BBC sites)

    Really we need the Psion updated e.g. with Android and updated internals. I have been testing the Toshiba AC100 but it's not as finished as the Psion (and it's discontinued now). If it could have the Psion app set (and would stay on standby when requested) AND the My Location fixed to allow external GPS connection - it would fit the bill

  48. andy gibson

    Great Article

    Ever since my first Amstrad and Z88 I've collected similar beasties. The NEC PC8201 and Olivetti are also pretty similar to the Tandy. I've also got the lesser spotted WP2.

    There's contention whether the Epson HX10 and HX20 should be included because of the little printer and tape drive.

  49. Bryan B

    A one-piece machine for bashing out words on the move is a great idea. Sadly though, as the makers of the TRS-80, Z88, NC100, etc. discovered, once you've sold (or quite likely, given) one to every journalist that could use it, there's no-one left to sell the other million units you made to, because hardly anyone else wants this kind of thing.

    So yes, it's probably back to a tablet/smartphone plus a Bluetooth keyboard...

  50. a_mu


    an american article ?

    no psion, amazing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: PSION

      Liam Proven is English.

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