Psion: Past, Present, and Maybe Future of PDAs
January 21, 1997
What's the big deal with these Windows CE systems? Sure, they set a level playing field for manufacturers and software vendors to compete on, but just about every Windows CE innovation is old hat for the Psion 3 series of PDAs.
Powered by an 7.7-MHz NEC V30 processor, the Psion 3c's 2MB of memory goes a long way because its operating system is a memory miser. All items are displayed on the unit's 480- by 160-pixel monochrome screen, which can show 80 characters on each of its 25 lines. At 6.5 by 3.3 by 1 inches, the Psion 3c is smaller than the Windows CE systems reviewed here, and it tips the scales at just 10 ounces. In addition, its textured plastics and industrial design set a world standard.
Yes, the Psion 3c uses proprietary applications, as opposed to CE's Windows-like open architecture. But there are hundreds of Psion programs , ranging from screen savers to personal finance and database managers. Microsoft and Symantec have even ported the Automap digital atlas and ACT, respectively, for the Psion. The Psion 3c comes with a word processor (compatible with Word files), a spreadsheet (compatible with Lotus 1-2-3 and Excel files), a database (that uses native .DBF files), a scheduler, a file manager, a calculator, a note pad, a sound recorder and editor, and a world time converter. There's even a card game called Patience, but I never figured out how to play it.
PDAs are as personal as toothpaste, and over the years I keep coming back to Psion. Sure there's no stylus or pointer, but navigation within its simple interface is so straightforward that you really don't need them. And there's no pen to lose. The excellent PsiWin transfer and Agenda synchronization utilities ease moving data between the PC and the Psion. It takes about 10 seconds to move a 25K Word file into the Psion 3c using the serial connection running at its full speed of 57 Kbps.
The Psion 3C is far from perfect; it needs to continue to evolve. The system's upgrade cards are not standard, the external modem is bulky and slow, and a slightly larger screen would make it easier to read small type. But within the constraints of fitting into a jacket's breast pocket, the Psion 3C is a step ahead.
At about $550 complete with software--about the same price as stripped Windows CE systems--the fully equipped Psion 3c is a bargain And it remains my favorite for a pocketful of data. -- Brian Nadel
Psion 3c. Street price: $550. Psion Inc., Concord, MA; 508-371-0310; fax, 508-371-9611.