Rex Wasn’t Really A PDA, It Was The First Great Digital Rolodex

Back in the 1990s I was fascinated with small computers. I used the HP200LX palmtop computer for almost ten years, which I wrote about back in December. Naturally, the Franklin Rex 3 PCMCIA-sized organizer caught my attention when it was released in 1997. Here was a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) the size of a credit card that could fit not just in your pocket, but in your shirt pocket.

Viewed today, it was an interesting paradigm. The screen takes up almost the entire front face of the device with a few buttons for navigation. But isn’t it a deal-breaker that you can’t enter or edit contact info on the device itself? This was long before cellphones were pervasive, and if you had the option to connect to the internet a telephone or Ethernet cable was involved. The ability to have a large data set in your pocket viewable without slapping a brick-like laptop on a table was pretty huge.

I think the killer feature was the PCMCIA interface. I challenged myself to reverse engineer the API so that I could sync data outside of the

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The First Real Palmtop

Back before COVID-19, I was walking through the airport towards the gate when suddenly I remembered a document I wanted to read on the flight but had forgotten to bring along. No worry, I paused for a bit on the concourse, reached into my pocket and proceeded to download the document from the Internet. Once comfortably seated on the plane, I relaxed and began reading. Afterwards, I did a little programming in C on a shareware program I was developing.

Today this would be an ordinary if not boring recollection, except for one thing: this happened in the 1990s, and what I pulled out of my pocket was a fully functional MS-DOS computer:

Introducing the HP-200LX, the first real palmtop computer. I used one of these daily up until the mid-2000s, and still have an operational oneĀ in my desk drawer. Let’s step back in time and see how this powerful pocket computer began its life. Continue reading “The First Real Palmtop”