The protonetbook

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Pictured above is the Psion Series 5mx. It was an upgrade of the original Psion Series 5, and no computing gadget has come close to matching its utility.

It had a touch typable keyboard and compact flash drive for additional memory. Its power laid in an amazing operating system EPOC OS that Psion built from scratch. It was rock stable -the kind of stable that you would hope satellites and medical life support equipment were based on. I could routinely run 10-20 programs simultaneously and it just would not crash. The Office suite fit in a space less than a meg of memory -I heard the word module was 22kB!. The elements from each -like graphs, tables, and text were hot linked and autoupdating. And you could convert it to word or rtf or xls.

It ran on 2 AA batteries and could print wireless via IR to HP printers with IR ports -I did this for three years during my residency -eventually creating a database of patient notes that I could look up and reprint for frequently seen patients.

When you wanted to use it, you turned it on. When you were done, you turned it off. No boot up, no worrying about viruses, no nothing. With a phone modem, you could check email and do some light browsing, particularly on WAP sites (the equivalent of todays mobile sites such as m.nytimes.com.

This all came to a sad end when Psion gave up the ghost after creating the inimitable netbook, for which it carries the copyright. Nobody can call anything else a netbook, although common usage is calling a whole class of crappy small laptops.

Why do I call them that. No matter how beautiful the gadget -like the Sony Vaio P series, it’s software determines how useful it is. If you got a Sony Vaio P, for example, you would turn it on, and wait 47 seconds while it booted up. What’s the point except to impress people with your stupid gadget purchase?

The Psion 5mx is so valued that you can still see them on ebay going for 150-200 dollars used. There is a site in England that will sell you pre-owned refurbished units or even NEW units (link). It is illustrative that a the netbook Pro, an “upgrade” that runs Windows CE 4.2 is priced way cheaper than a refurbished netbook running EPOC OS. 

As I have been unhappy with my iPhone as the sole portable device, I have been thinking about keyboarded solutions for blogging. The lack of wireless internet capability of the series 5mx keeps me from purchasing, as I have an Acer Aspire One which I use as a breakfast nook computer for updating Facebook. I am toying with the idea of a Nokia N810 with a bluetooth keyboard as a mobile blogging solution. 

If you needed to go to the unwired parts of the world with no wall outlets, but needed to write a journal of your journey, there is no gadget that I would take other than a Psion 5mx. This was exactly the reason why the fellow who purchased my Psion in Mexico bought it -he was a writer who made frequent trips to rural Mexico and needed a solid portable computer which recorded to a safe medium -nothing more safe than compact flash drive which I have laundered and used without a hitch. AA batteries can be found everywhere but wall outlets are dear, he told me, paying 250 dollars for a five year old unit with printer cables, modem, and other accessories.

2 thoughts on “The protonetbook

  1. Ill second that. One of the many overlooked things about 5mx and Netbook is that you could have a full universe on PC emulator, Netbook and 5mx, just switching the CF-card, and take the size of gadget you need. You still cant have anything matching it today.

  2. You hit it on the nail. I have always had the need to have small, medium, and large portable computing options. The netbook, the 5mx, and Revo allowed different layers of portability. Emulating EPOC with their SDK was a trick I never tried, although it would be funny to do it via virtualized Windows XP on my Mac.

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