Psion 3 Series (UK) PDA
World's Best Pocket computer
Psion (a great British electronics company) came out with a small hand held computer back in 1991 called the Series 3. Acorn (another great British computer company that came to fame with their brilliant BBC computers and went on to invent the ARM chips that the majority of mobile devices use today) also released a version called the Pocket Book aimed at the primary education sector, to give schools and children a relatively cheap introduction to IT. In 1993 Psion released an updated version called the '3a' with a larger screen which was much better, and Acorn called their version the Pocket Book II. There were slight differences in the embedded software but essentially they were very similar machines.
I bought an Acorn Pocket Book in '91 and then the much improved Pocket Book II in '93 and these were brilliant pocket computers, with long battery life on just two AA batteries, and a small coin backup battery; had good embedded and other available software; and were reliable and rugged machines. Later when Psion upgraded again to the 3mx, which was the last and the best of the 3 Series range, I bought one of those in 1998. The 3mx was truly great, being over three and a half times faster than the previous machines, plus infra-red and a backlit screen.
After more than 20 years, I still have and use my 3mx daily (photo on right); but you may find this possibly even
more surprising, my PocketBook II (on left) & 5mx which I also own, still work perfectly and still make great
pocket computers more than 25 years on. The secret to keeping the hinges from breaking seems to be keeping the
Psion in a suitable case as I have always done.
What can you do with them? The built-in software gives you a word processor, spell checker, spreadsheet, database,
a diary, calculator, jotter, sound recording and playback, and infra-red on the 3c and 3mx so you can print to a printer
without the need to connect physically. A serial port to link to other things, and a comms program if required; plus a
programming language OPL, not unlike Basic, so you can do your own programming if required.
With some retail software, you could do many more things and I have some map programs which when combined with the signals from a small Garmin 12XL GPS device allowed me to use this combination for Satellite Navigation some years before the present Sat.Nav.'s came to the market. It will translate into other languages, has a drawing program, and there were simple games for when you needed some light relief. Really the limit was only set by your imagination and the machines capabilities.
In normal use, I get around five to six months from a pair of AA batteries, from a combination of mains adaptor use when in the home, and battery use when out, and the button type backup battery lasts up to two years. The system gives you plenty of warning when the batteries require replacing, for both types of battery, so there is never a reason to fear sudden loss of data, and AA batteries are so common there is never a problem obtaining them almost anywhere. These PDA's also have two pockets that take Psion flash memory cards. You can store information on those and they will retain their information even if all power was lost, so are very useful for storage of important data. As with any important information, it is best to back up regularly. This can be done easily provided you have a USB to Serial converter, to home computers running Windows XP or even Version 7 (32 bit mode only though - PsiWin doesn't run on 64 bit Win 7 unless you have Windows 7 Pro when you can run Virtual XP in a window!), so even after all these years it is still practical to use and backup.
The flash storage was Psion's own not unlike a CF card but you have to buy the proper Psion ones as nothing else will fit. They also made some RAM versions with a small battery inside to allow them to retain the data but these were more expensive than the Flash ones which didn't need any battery. I have several flash discs, and the information stored on these would be safe even if all the batteries (AA and backup button cell) failed together. (highly unlikely and has never happened to me in over twenty years!)