“The Series 5 pocket computer from Psion was launched 10 years ago this week. It was a remarkable achievement: entirely new silicon, a new operating system, middleware stack and applications were developed from scratch in just over two years. This was the last time anyone undertook such a daunting task: it may be the last time anyone ever tries, either.”
Psion: the Last Computer
About The Author
Follow me on Twitter @thomholwerda
2007-06-26 2:31 pmLaurence
Though I’ve never owned a PSION, I have used several PDAs and I do agree with your points regarding Windows Mobile. In fact to elaborate on your point, I’ve lost count on the number of times WM has crashed unnecessarily due to the over complexity of WM.
That all said, I don’t hate WM as it offers the laptop comparable-functional power I need as was as the ease of porting programs to it.
It’s a pity the portable market isn’t as flexable as the laptop market in terms of OSs. (though I 100% understand the level of development envolved in porting OSs for each portable device model)
2007-06-26 10:10 pmElCabri
I think that in digital technology, being a small company and “beating the giants on quality” is not very hard in general, because of the nature of technology work, where most of the difficulty comes from the frictions of legacy and interoperability. The problem is that the odds of securing market share are very slim. Acorn, Be, Psion, Transmeta, etc, the ranks of “also-ran” are a thick as the ranks of the “ran-too-soon” (Netscape, Xerox workstations, Altavista, Digital, …), that other story.
Capitalists know that, that’s why there aren’t so many new Psion getting funded even the relatively modest entry ticket to an “incrementally better” technology.
2007-06-27 2:48 amrhyder
Great assessment of the strengths of the little machine.
Psion are still on the go but they only make industrial hand held units. As far as I know, MS entered the consumer hand held market and they decided to pull out rather than be put out of business.
The only thing stopping me from using my Series 5 is that I can’t find a way to synchronize it with Kontact. With full sync capability, my Palm (of similar vintage) is more useful for me.
I still keep two units stored away ready for the next camping trip though.
I loved the Psion palmtops. Very portable, responsive, amazing battery life, built in programming language and loads of 3rd party software. Just what every larval geek needs to grow! 🙂
My first experience of the Internet was via a Psion 3a hooked up via a 9600 USR modem to CIX (a UK BBS that provided text based web and email gateways). Then when at high school I used a Psion 5 to write up essays, science reports, etc.
Ok that’s it, I can’t take it. Gonna have to go and try and see what’s available on ebay!
What a great article, bought back a ton of memories.
My very first portable computer, was a Psion Series 3, which at the time was absolutely fantastic. I remember learning how to program using the built-in basic, and I was able to create all sorts of useful applications.
I then upgraded to the 3a, with it’s brilliant screen, and sound recording, which to me, was revolutionary. I remember buying the memory cards for it, 512K. I was never lucky enough to get it on the internet, but I was able to print documents and even create basic images.
The last device I bought was the series 5mx, which again was an absolutely fantastic device, which I still have. Unlike most generic devices, this was something quite different, and it worked really well for what it did.
I remember Psion producing good software for the ZX Spectrum and Sinclair QL. Psion Chess and Psion Flight Simulator were my favs and ahead of their time.
I doubt this is the last time. ‘Ever’ is an awfully long time.
I love the “nostalgic” feel of this article, as though it’s looking at something that passed away long ago. In fact, I am using my Psion 5 to this day, and I have yet to find the PDA I would swap it for. Check out
I’m a published author and have written enormous amounts of material using the Psion while waiting for buses, tucked into coffee shops, or whatever. It’s a great little machine and is going strong to this day.
I’ve looked at the Palm T|X with an external keyboard, submicro laptops, and everything in between; I just can’t find a hardware/software combination I like better than the Psion. I wish they’d put out synchronization software for the Mac, but I use mine to connect to my XP box at work, and use KPsion to connect to my SUSE box at home, so it’s all good.
I’m still looking for my next portable writing tool, and until someone makes something as good as the Psion 5 I’m keeping mine running.
2007-06-26 8:11 pmfrido
Gosh, that takes me back, the first mobile device i owned (even before a mobile phone) was a psion 3mx, later a psion 5. It was so incredibly stable, responsive, long battery life. A far cry from the the UIQ3 device i have now, also worked much better then the pc’s i had during that time.
randymon: have you considered that new palm foleo device, or is it too big ?
a Psion 5mx PRO with 32MB Ram back in 1999.
A verry good device. Sadly it stopped working around 2003.
I whish they would be build these nowadays (with newer technology like USB, Color Display, faster CPU, 1GB RAM, etc..).
I would for sure own one!
I had a Series 3 and followed that with a Series 5. I don’t use my “5” all that often, but I’ve not seen any other PDA I’d want to use instead. The Psion just worked – it never crashed, the operating system was really easy to use and the keyboard was a work of art.
Unfortunately, like Acorn, Psion is just another one of those visionary companies from the past that didn’t make it. A crying shame, that.
Id spent years watching others play with Psion 3’s…
I could never afford one ((( I was still at school ))) I even remember Psion coming to our school to do a photo sessions trying to encourage the education section probably (((( who at the time were buying loads of Amstrad word processors -=-= yep them Amstrad Cambridge ones-=-=-= ))))
Anyway I joined IBM late in 1995 and was playing around with some pretty cool stuff I remember others having Palm Pilot 5000’s… I never really thought that highly of the product as they were constantly having issues then I remember reading about the IBM workpad this really triggered the idea to purchase a psion 5
I wanted the electronic paper storing my ideas on the move…
I bought my Psion 5 from Boots at £399.99 there was only one problem I never really used it experimenting aside… At this time I did not even own an x86 PC that’s how highly I rated this …. this was the PC….
the original product had some instant flaws for me…
even though I hoped it would do everything given time..
pealing rubbery paint ((when I first got the product I was shocked at how easily the rubber came off)) this fear kept it away from my pocket —
The thought of another CASE on top just took it outside pocket portable (((the market it was being advertise as))) and hey Id just spent £400 on something that felt un-mobile this was money I should not of spent I was far from rich… — the ironic thing was that pealing the rubber off was what the product should have shipped
a decent paint job was under (hard wearing)… ((found out a few years later))..
Keyboard for me yes the form factor was great but I was unable to touch type on my Psion 5 because the keyboard was “”” TOO HARD “”” would stick slowing me down…. few years later I played and used a number of Psion 5mx and this was miles softer and nicer then the original….
Buzz from the backlight reading in the dark was not fun…
need I say more..
There was one more nail in the coffin for my Psion 5 a good few months later maybe 10, I would get a ((((free))))) IBM Workpad 20x. it was smaller fitted in my pocket much easier and was the electronic paper pad style device….
scratch resistant plastic (((lived in my pocket with no 3rd party case))) being black it was super cool for about four years to come….
I have used palm OS ever since (((( I wish I would have spent more time with the psion 5 but to be honest looking back the psion 5MX is the product that should have been released first time around….
Palm had so many advantages on Psion by the time of the palm 111 (((IBM, 3com, and all the OEM devices supermarket barcode readers etc)))…
But the keyboard and screen real-estate in a slimmed down 5mx with current technology is what makes it so desirable today…
mixed with built in phone capabilities and wifi / bluetooth and an amazing browser and I think you have a perfect companion to the extra skinny but highly functional phone… (laptop almost replacement)…
++++ full Linux OS with much needed Psion type engineering.. some companies have got close but never really committed to a full product (software / hardware and the improving factor(S) now are Internet / WIFI and SCREEN RES……….!!!!!!!!)…
It the first time I have heard that the two companies could have merged ((maybe one of them split second things who knows))) and this does make you wonder what if…… … or if Psion producing a “”Palm”” alternative they had the much better and polished software stack etc..
One thing that does ring through this is MANAGEMENT… or mismanagement……….. Psion and Palm slitting the companies up….
I will leave with Windows CE they never had a product.
The OEMs had hardware… but…
Edited 2007-06-27 03:04
Made me realize how much I miss my Revo…
The Psion 5 and its successor the Series 7/Netbook were stunning little computers, easily better than the WinCE based competition from far larger companies.
EPOC was a truly great little OS; fast and stable, with a user interface that was actually designed to be efficient on a small screen, rather than simply a scaled down desktop UI. Even when the Psion 5’s CPU started looking slow compared with 100Mhz+ competition; the OS and applications meant that it still remained more responsive and usable.
The included office software was excellent, comparable with full ‘Works’ packages on desktop computers, not like the crippleware with most PDAs/palmtops. As well as being fast, elegant and easy to use, they included some powerful features that weren’t available in Microsoft’s mobile apps. For example OLE between applications, including those released by 3rd party developers. This allowed you to do things like embed a section of spreadsheet into an entry in your electronic diary, or insert a diagram from a 3rd party vector graphics app into a wordprocessing document.
The keyboard was probably the most notable hardware feature of the Psion computers. The Psion 5 was one of the only computers of its size where fast and accurate typing was possible. I wrote full essays on my Psion 5 with a typing speed close to that on a desktop computer. Typical PDA keyboards, or handwriting data entry, were incredibly slow and painful in comparison. Even today expensive portable computers, including ones that are significantly larger than the Psion 5, are released with keyboards that are much, much worse. It’s a tribute to the designers at Psion that so few can match the keyboard on their 10 year old product.
Like the Acorn RISC OS computers in the late 80s and early 90s, these were products from a small company that beat the industry giants for quality. They really deserved to be a huge success, but of course the best products rarely are…
Such a shame that the Series 7/Netbook was the end of the line for Psion/EPOC computers. It was truly the end of an era for British computing. If nothing else it would have been nice to have had one with USB ports and a more modern web browser.