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Pocket Computers from the 1980s

Jun 05, 2021
Nowadays everyone carries a computer in their

pocket

, in fact my iPhone here has about the same computing power that a Cray supercomputer would have had in the

1980s

. It's really hard to believe, in reality, of course, the Pocket

computers

have been around for a while if we go back to 1996, some notable devices entered the market, such as the US Robotics Pilot. Now, this is the original model before it was renamed the Palm Pilot. Now, at first, you might wonder if this was really a computer or just a personal digital assistant or PDA. but it had the ability to load new apps so I say it qualifies of course the pilot was almost useless without the dock you would have to connect to your personal computer to transfer information or even new apps to it of course.
pocket computers from the 1980s
You couldn't program the computer in the software development was done on desktop

computers

. The positive side is that even though this product is 25 years old, the calendar seems to work even for the year 2021, the pilot had numerous built-in applications, such as a calculator, address book, a notepad, etc., but almost all data had to be entered with a stylus and if you wanted to enter text you had to use graffiti, this was written on the back to help you remember that each letter had to be drawn in a certain way to recognize what you are writing, as I remember, It took me several days to master the graffiti and I seem to have forgotten quite a bit at this point, another

pocket

computer that came out the same year was the much more expensive Compact which ran a new operating system called Windows Ce.
pocket computers from the 1980s

More Interesting Facts About,

pocket computers from the 1980s...

I also had one of these at the time. moment. Unfortunately, this one I have here doesn't work, so I can't show you much. It also had a stylus that I could use. The keyboard had a single card slot where things like storage modems or network cards could be placed. Ultimately they were a failure in the market and likewise there were some large PDA products like this one from Tandy called zpda that ran a version. From Geos I also have the same product marketed under the AST brand. These were huge compared to the pilot with a screen more than twice as big, maybe three times, but they were terribly slow and clunky to operate and failed on the market very quickly, but a somewhat more interesting computer, of about the same size, it came out several years earlier in 1991, this is the hp 95lx pocket computer and what makes it special is that it actually ran ms-dos and while it had several applications built in, as a date i booked a notepad from the phone book and even had a small version of lotus one two three, but I think what most people liked about them is that you could access a dos message and run almost any text-based dos software in later versions like the hp 200. supported cga graphics so this meant you could run most games at the time or in this case even planet x3 and of course i must at least mention the atari portfolio which came out a few years earlier, although I don't have one and that's because it was the computer that John Connor used in the movie Terminator 2 to hack PIN numbers, but that was all the way back in the 1990s, what about the

1980s

?
pocket computers from the 1980s
Well, it turns out there were quite a few options available back then, now here in the US, the most popular pocket computers. They were made by tandy my friend eddie malthus lives here in town and has a pretty impressive collection of computers, mostly trs-80s. Sometimes it makes me sad that I don't have a space like this to set up all my collectibles where it can be on display and plug it in working like this and of course it also has one of every Tandy pocket computer from the PC to the PC8. The Tandy models were the ones I wanted to focus on with this. episode, so Eddie let me borrow several from his collection.
pocket computers from the 1980s
Well, here we have basically represented all eight Tandy pocket computers. This is one, two, three, four, five, now six, it looks and works exactly like five and I don't have all six here. but basically it looks like this and then seven and then eight and I wanted you to be able to see the size comparison between them, for example the pc2 and the pc3 are very different in size, I mean both the thickness and the total space, but they have relatively the same screen size, so yes, there is a big difference, but anyway, let's go over and take a closer look at some of these now.
One thing I want to point out before we go much further is that one, two, and three were made by Sharp. then four five six and seven were made by casio and then with eight uh we go back to Sharp again and outside of the US these computers were marketed under their respective Sharp and Casio brands, so the PC-1, for example, It was the same computer as the Sharp PC 1211 and you can see that they even look practically the same. The PC2 is more or less the same as the Sharp PC 1250, but you can see some significant design changes between the two, although they are essentially the same. product, so it's important to keep this in mind as we look at the different models.
The first one, the PC one, was introduced in July 1980, so it's almost 41 years from the time of this video, you can see it on the radio. hut catalog for $249, which certainly wasn't cheap at the time, the headline says this is its actual size. The computer power that once filled a room can now be carried in your pocket and that's not really a stretch if you went back just 10 years. back in the day, that would be 1970. most computers were pretty big, except maybe the guidance computers used by the apollo spacecraft, which is still big by comparison, the PC-1 has a pretty similar amount of computing power to the which, in fact, uses a 24-character LCD screen. screen and it has a voice sound generator and it uses two custom CPUs and both, believe it or not, 4-bit CPUs and they run at 256 kilohertz or basically 0.25 megahertz, so what could you do with these?
Well, for starters, these are scientific calculators. For example, you could write a complex equation like this and have it solve it. I don't know of any pocket calculator from the era that could do this kind of thing; In fact, the Casio FX7000G is considered the first graphing calculator and did not come on the market until 1985, several years after the pocket computers, the Texas Instruments, the king of graphing calculators in North America, did not even release one on the market until 1990, with the ti-81, which was 10 years after this product and the Another thing, of course, was that you could write your own programs in basic.
Remember that at that time basics were still in fashion. Almost all computers on the market were designed around the basics, even high school math books of that era often had small basic programs. The end of each chapter shows you how to use what you just learned on a computer. These types of programs can be easily run on these pocket computers. Moving forward, let's take a look at the PC2, which came out in late 1982 with quite a few updates. now uses an 8-bit z80 CPU with 2 kilobytes of RAM, it has a 26 character display but can also display graphics with a resolution of 156 by 7 pixels, apart from the display which puts it on par with the timex sinclair 1000 in In terms of computing power, in fact, the catalog describes it as fast as many desktop computers, as you can see, it was sold together with the computer, the price of which was reduced to 149 dollars.
On the side it has a bus connector for peripherals which we'll talk about later and one of the reasons the pc2 is so thick and heavy is because it uses standard double A batteries which was actually a good thing at the time because at the time just like the little button cell batteries, they were actually very hard to get hold of back then and they were very expensive, so the computer would have run a lot longer on these batteries and when you needed to replace them, they were pretty easy to find in this compartment, you could put in a ROM card with additional software. on it or a RAM expansion card that expands it up to 16k moving here is the PC3, this one works but the left side of the screen is a bit messy.
Note that the interface on the side is different, this is not a full bus interface. As a serial port, the PC3 was in many ways inferior to the PC2, however it sells for a fraction of the price, often available for $69 and here is the PC4, now this one of course made by Casio. This one doesn't work, unfortunately it has a smaller screen and the i o connector is on the back. Now I should mention that all of these pocket computers are essentially incompatible with each other, meaning even if they are made by the same company, I don't want to say that it matters, since there weren't any. exactly a huge software market for these and here is the PC5.
I actually had one of these when I was a kid. I actually had the PC6, which looks exactly the same. I think the only difference is the RAM. I believe this unit has 4k and the PC6 has 8k. one also has a machine language monitor, which is cool anyway, this one has the alpha characters up here on this membrane keyboard, which is actually kind of a pain to type compared to previous models, the pc5 sold for 119 along with the pc4 which was half the price now we will take a look at the pc7 which is also made by casio and looks a lot like a normal calculator of the time the average person probably wouldn't even have one recognized as a computer.
I also have the box. here, which is kind of interesting because you can notice that the back is blank and there is no advertising here. I suspect that's because they were always kept behind the counter at Radio Shack and therefore customers generally couldn't pick them up and look at them. one is quite inferior to the previous models with a much smaller screen and the keyboard is arranged in abc format instead of qwerty and it also does not have any interface port and lastly here is the pc-8, the image on the box is almost real. size and again the back of the case is more or less blank other than saying it was made in Japan more specifically this is a sharp model again like the originals now one interesting thing is that they finally gave us a hardback case like many sophisticated calculators of the era, we're starting to offer um again, this is a pretty scaled down version of the previous pocket computers.
Okay, now that I've shown you all eight tandy models, I wanted to show you the PC2 a little more in depth and the reason is because I have the docking station for this, as well as a significant amount of software to demonstrate. I am also very grateful to Matteo Sarasota for lending me a working PC2. Now I want to mention something else that I mentioned earlier that he had. one of these pocket computers at school, but I was never able to do much with it because I didn't have the docking station and the docking station on these things often cost as much or more than the computer itself, unfortunately the only way to connect a cassette recorder to load and save programs was to own the docking station so I was a bit limited as to what I could do without one so here we have the docking station for the pc2 now as you can see , it also has a The little printer built into these two metal domes here actually has power and you can see that they make contact here on the computer and then the system bus controls everything else and this is just inserted here like this and, um, on the side of the base, here we have a port for power and perhaps most importantly, we have a port for cassette storage and I want to show you this cute little cassette recorder that was marketed as an official accessory.
Now this thing is too small for a better comparison. This was your typical radio shack cassette. recorder of the era is longer, wider and taller, in fact you can see both here in the catalogue. Interestingly, the smallest one was actually 10 cheaper than the largest one, so there are three cables, one for the headphones, one for controlling the motor and of course one for the microphone, you may have noticed that the Docking station technically has two remote connectors, but why? If you take a look at the manual for the docking station, it actually shows that you can connect two cassette drives, however one of them is set to reading. only the other can read or write.
This was useful for copying data from one tape to another or simply accessing additional storage. Now I have about a dozen cassettes here with various programs for PC2. Some of them sound pretty boring, like business finance, but uh, but this looks interesting. There are several games in this one and here is another one with more games. I'm sure this was never intended as a gaming machine, although there is math software here. This seems to be the most common type of software. for thesecomputers, to demonstrate the cassette system, let's try to load one of these games, we just need to place the cassette here like this, then we type c load which means cassette load and then press play after a moment.
I hear the data beep and the program name will appear on the screen, it loads for about two minutes but then I get this error 44 which according to the user manual says a checksum error has occurred. I've tried a few times and I still get this so I'm going to try the next show on the cassette and hey this cassette is 39 years old so let's leave it a little slack so this time it finds Hangman, better yet it loads correctly. Well, let's make a player. Well I guess. is waiting for me to pick a letter so I try a few here that apparently aren't right but I finally find a few and actually beat this game by a whisker so up there that's the hangman I know don't throw away your xboxes and playstations still, one thing I would like to point out is that you can exit the game and then list it because after all the game is written in basic and that's how you edit basics on this computer, you use the up and down to scroll through the lines of code and then you can use the left and right keys to scroll through a line if it is longer than the screen, okay, so let's load the next game onto the ribbon.
I'm sure this one will make you want to throw away all your gaming consoles and rush out to buy one of these. This game is called Sound Off and it's basically like Simon. says something interesting, this game actually uses custom graphics, although they are not very impressive anyway, so the idea is to repeat the patterns and I was wrong, but you have to give me a break because I am looking at this from an extreme angle so the camera I can already see what's going on with enough games, let's talk about the real uses of these computers in the early 1980s.
I had said before that these were some of the best scientific calculators money could buy at the time and one of the things they could do was plot. graphics but not on the screen because there's not enough space, but that's where this little attached plotter comes in handy and I'm just putting some parameters in here and then let's take a look at what I'm going to do with that and so on. there's our plotted graph and notice you can also type text, so this is what you did in the days before graphing calculators existed. In fact, here are some other examples of various types of graphs that can be plotted, including some in three dimensions, as you can see here and the plotter could do more than just graphs: it could actually plot text, for example, if you want to print the basic list of your program, you can do that and if you want the text to be a little smaller, you can resize it and it fits a little bit more if your eyes are good enough to read it now there's something else I want to point out about this, let's open the panel here now you see this little metal cylinder here this is actually the pen that writes on the paper now You can notice that there is an empty spot here on the other side where another one can fit.
In fact, you can put up to four pins on the plotter so it can print in four colors and here are the red, green and blue pens you would use. Use it for that now Matteo asked me not to open them as they were still factory sealed but at least you can take a look at them so yeah in theory it could print some nice colorful graphics and it looks like the original owner of this pc2 used the plotter to make labels for your cassettes that show what was stored on them, it looks like he was using this around 1985-1986, okay, so let's take a look at this Panasonic laptop now, believe it or not, I can't show you this. one works because you might think oh we'll just put some batteries in it no it's actually rum and ram plugs so it doesn't really have a battery compartment because it uses internal nickel cadmium batteries which of course does a lot They sold out and I really didn't.
I feel like taking it apart to put some new ones in, but this thing is really huge here, compared to the tandy pc2 which is already a pretty heavy pocket computer, it's actually pretty big so I don't know anything about this anyway . another one that apparently existed and I can't show it and then of course there is the casio pb700 released in 1983 for a retail price of 189. Now this has to be the best pocket computer of the time as you can see. It has a four-line display that is 20 characters wide and not just characters; It actually had a pretty decent 160 by 32 pixel graphing display which was enough to use as a decent graphing calculator years before real graphing calculators existed and in theory it could have been a decent graphing calculator. portable game machine six years before the Nintendo Game Boy hit the market, unfortunately the only games I could find were some kind of programs and basics like this really slow breaking clone.
The only thing I wanted to mention about basic programming is that it has the most common ones. The basic commands listed above the keys are in some ways similar to the Sinclair line of computers, but what differs from the Sinclair machines is that it is optional. As you can see, I can type the command one letter at a time and it's totally fine. that or I can press shift p and print the same command with the press of a key, like other pocket computers the pb700 also had an optional docking station with a four color plotter and a microcassette recorder for storage and was almost the Exactly the same size as the Tandy 2 pocket computer, there was honestly no comparison and the pb700 was better at almost everything.
The pb700 was the pocket computer that all of us nerds deserved, but never had. I followed the market as closely as anyone could. At this time, it was a pre-internet era and I had never heard of this product until it was donated to me a year or two ago. I tried searching to see what retailers in the US carried this product and I just can't find any now, I'm not saying it wasn't sold in the US, I'm just saying it obviously wasn't widely available and it certainly wasn't available at any of the electronics stores here in the Dallas area.
Because if it was, I would have had one. I have another similar computer that I want to show, but it's not exactly a pocket computer. It says wrist module, but it's actually a wristwatch computer. It has a 10 by 4 character display and it actually works in a basic way and as you can see it's about the same size as my Apple Watch and this is actually the smallest of the Apple Watches because I have a small wrist and what We have here in the other box is the docking station for it and like you, I can see that it has a little plotter built in as well as a ROM socket that looks like it has something installed in there.
The way this works is you bend this little thing here like this and this is called the transmission circuit and then you just put the watch here like this and it actually communicates wirelessly. Now I would love to show you more of this device, but the battery is dead so I thought I would remove the back cover and see if I could replace it now. These screws. They are very small, but not as bad as the next four screws. These are incredibly small the way it looks like you can pull the entire unit out of the watch like this.
Well I finally got the battery out and it's a br2325 which I've never used. I've heard of it and this is where we run into a problem. I thought I would go to the store and buy one instead of ordering it online so I could get it up and running today but without all the button batteries at Walmart. They just didn't have this one. I went to cvs pharmacy and they even have a nifty device where you can put the battery in and it will tell you what type it is, but they didn't have this one yet.
This is pretty much what I was trying to explain earlier about the benefits of using double A batteries in some of these computers because not only could some of these batteries be hard to find, but just look at the price of these things, it's ridiculous. and yes, I know you can buy them cheaper online, but not in 1983. You couldn't anyway. Apparently, the Seiko watch will have to wait for another episode. I would also like to give an honorable mention to the Laser 50 laptop and although it is not a pocket computer it had essentially the same features as a pocket computer just with a better keyboard so this product was something of a cross between a pocket computer and a more capable laptop of the time, like the tandy 100 model, of course, I made a whole video about this product a couple of years ago, a little anecdote I want to share that is not exactly about computers itself, but rather about the society of the time, so if you were a kid in school in the 1980s and you had a personal computer, you were the exception is not the rule and it certainly didn't make you cool, everything Quite the contrary, in fact, and while I had a personal computer and I also had a pocket computer at the time, I rarely actually took it to school with me.
Now why you might ask? Check out this photo of me in my fifth grade class. I show this because it is the last photo they took of me where we were all ordered by height. Look at that poor kid in the background on the right, yeah, he stinks. I know him because he's the shortest kid in the class, oh wait yeah that's me, I was the shortest kid in 5th grade and I stayed the shortest kid in 6th, 7th and 8th grade, plus I got bullied a lot, not only because I was the shortest kid in school, therefore the easiest target, but also because I was a nerd, which was not cool in the 1980s, and also having a pocket protector full of pens it was the only way you could announce your nerdiness louder to people. world would be to bring a pocket computer to school and since bullies like to hit me, kick me, trip me, take my books, take my belongings and throw them in hard to reach places and stuff like that, I just couldn't.
I wouldn't risk bringing my pocket computer to school because it would probably break or end up on the school roof or something where I'd never get it back, so yeah, it just wasn't a good thing for high school. children of that time, that's for sure, but today I'm glad that it has changed because now everyone carries a computer in their pocket, so what happened with the pocket computers of the 80s and in the late 80s began to become less and less popular. and I think looking at the 1990 Radio Shack catalog explains it pretty well. I think this was the last year the Pocket 6 was on sale, which actually lasted longer than the PC 7 and 8, but note that there is a whole new line of products that look an awful lot like computers, but actually they are not.
Basically they are just data banks or what we later started calling them PDAs. They had large screens and various bits of software built in, but they did not provide any means for the user to write programs. whether on the device itself or even installing new programs from a computer, these types of devices essentially replace the pocket computer for a while, so I wanted to mention the end of another era, so this will be the last episode filmed in this room , so, uh, The new studio is almost finished and as soon as I finish editing this episode together, I will begin the deconstruction of this room and future videos will be filmed in the new studio, so that concludes and as always. thanks for looking

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