---------- ---------- PC Pro Realworld Computing: Paul Lynch - PDAs

Psion Series 7

It is interesting to watch the evolution of computers - I've been doing it for more than twenty years now, and I am sure that there are many readers who can beat that easily - or who have noticed that just as much activity has taken place in the field of PDAs and mobile computing in the past five or six years. Psion first established the concept of a mobile PC with many variations on a theme, from the Organizer through the laptop styled MC400 to the new Series 5mx. Apple introduced the concept of a PDA that really wasn't like a PC at all - and rapidly retreated when Steve Jobs got involved. I, and many others, have happily accepted the palm-sized format of the Palm range as the ultimate in portable personal data, and until new technology appears with radically different user interface possibilities, it seems to represent the lower practical limit for size.

It may also be apparent from recent columns that I am strongly in favour of the sub-notebook format using PDA technology (rather than a standard PC with unbearably short battery life). Ironically, this has appeared so far best implemented with Windows CE as an HPC/Pro - 640x480 or better display, colour, Internet capability, and some ability to run desktop applications remotely via a network. I say ironic, because this format was previously introduced by Apple as the eMate, a Newton in iMac clothing (well before the iMac, of course) and earlier still by Psion as the MC400. It must be right, as so many people have tried and failed. This product niche runs alongside the subnotebook, just as Toshiba have decided to terminate the Libretto range, leaving few Windows 98/NT class laptops capable of competing on size, never mind battery life or "instant on". For a single computer person, I believe that in general a large screen (12"+) notebook is the best option - compact, light, portable (compared to a desktop), but a PDA powered subnotebook is the best second machine to get, for someone who already has a desktop PC and a Palm sized PDA. Desktop PCs are strictly for corporate developers and "power users", and for playing games.

The latest effort in this direction is the netBook from Psion Enterprise - a strictly limited edition product for enterprise and vertical market sales only, like the many bar code integrated versions of their products. But it appears that consumer demand has lead to a version of this from Psion that will be available for general sale. It hasn't been officially announced as I write, but I'd expect that it will be in time for a full review to appear alongside this column in the front of the mag. The Psion Series 7 is a version of the netBook with less memory (16 Mb, the same as the Series 5mx), a slower 100 MHz StrongARM CPU, and the OS in ROM rather than RAM. The price should be just under 700 GBP (including VAT), and battery life around

8.5 hours, according to Psion sources. Support is claimed for the IBM MicroDrive, the rather unfortunately named hard disk provided in a PC Card format. There isn't a built-in modem, which for this class of machine would seem to be rather "carelessness", in the Lady Bracknell sense.

The netBook itself has a 190MHz ARM processor, with a standard specification of 32 Mb RAM upgradeable to 64 Mb, and has Symbian's Java environment built-in. The netBook also supports an Ethernet card, and I find it rather surprising that this seems to be absent from the Series 7. In both the netBook and Series 7, the display is a 7.7" 640 x 480 colour screen. Note that the Series 5mx has only a 36 MHz processor, although it isn't clear how much faster the Series 7 really is.

If I compare the capabilities of the EPOC machines with the HPC/Pro CE models, there are still a few uncomfortable gaps that leave HPC/Pro in the lead for general use. First of all, the one significant advantage of EPOC is the Java support - but this will be important for relatively few users. On all other counts of features CE wins hands down, even though EPOC invariably seems to implement individual features, where it has them, better than in CE. Sitting right in front of me I can see: an Adaptec SlimSCSI 1460, a Xircom CompactCard Ethernet 10, and a Socket LPE - SCSI and network adaptors all with Windows CE support. Right next to me as I type is a Windows NT Terminal Server box, running applications that I can use on my HPC/Pro with a Proxim Symphony wireless network card. True, it is slightly easier to persuade a Series 5 or netBook to use an IrDA mobile phone, and I fully expect Symbian to have working Bluetooth support before Windows CE does; but the one truism about changing computer technology is that you should buy what you see today, and not look at tomorrow's technology today.

So I fully expect to both like and enjoy the Series 7; but Psion must address the issue of networking support immediately. Otherwise the launch of the Series 7 will be just like that of the Series 5 - six months after the equivalent Windows CE launch, and missing a vital technology that the other already has (in the case of the Series 5, it was the delayed launch of the MessageSuite software).


Words and design by:
Paul Lynch
Last updated: March 30, 1999

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