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
Continue reading “Rex Wasn’t Really A PDA, It Was The First Great Digital Rolodex”
There was a time, back in the 1990s, when a PDA, or Personal Digital Assistant, was the height of mobile computing sophistication. These little hand-held touch-screen devices had no Internet connection, but had preloaded software to manage such things as your calendar and your contacts. [Brtnst] was introduced to PDAs through a Palm IIIc and fell in love with the idea, but became disillusioned with the Palm for its closed nature and lack of available software a couple of decades later.
His solution might have been to follow the herd and use a smartphone, but he went instead for the unconventional and produced his own PDA. And after a few prototypes, he’s come up with rather a well-executed take on the ’90s object of desire. Taking an ARM microcontroller board and a commodity resistive touchscreen, he’s clad them in a 3D-printed PDA case and produced his own software stack. He’s not prepared to release it just yet as he’s ashamed of some of its internal messiness, but lets hope that changes with time.
What this project shows is how it is now so much easier to make near commercial quality one-off projects from scratch. Accessible 3D printing has become so commonplace as to be mundane in our community, but it’s worth remembering just how much of a game-changer it has been.
To see the device in action, take a look at the video below the break.
Continue reading “This Home-Made PDA Is A Work Of Art”
Before we had our iDevices and Androids, even before Blackberry, we had PDAs. The most famous of these mid-90s computing appliances are the Apple Newton and the Palm products, but the world of 90s PDAs was significantly more diverse than these two devices. Palm had a competitor in Handspring who released a cheaper and better version of a Palm OS device with the Visor. HP made hardware at one point, and you could run Windows – including Excel and Word – on a handheld device in 1998.
A company name Psion made PDAs with a clamshell design and a keyboard back then, too. Disregarding the operating system, these little clamshell PDAs could arguably be called the forerunners of yesterday’s netbooks and today’s Surface tablets. [RasmusB] is turning his Psion 5 PDA into something modern by replacing all the important bits while still keeping the clean design of this 20-year-old PDA.
The goal of this project is to completely replace the electronics of the Psion 5, while keeping all of the mechanics. That means the keyboard will stay the same, the device will run off of two AA batteries, and all the switches and ports will work. This effort began by making the Psion keyboard Arduino compatible by reverse engineering the keyboard matrix with a pencil and paper, and turning the keyboard into a USB keyboard.
Efforts to turn this Psion into a modern device are ongoing, but at least the outline of the main board is now in KiCad, with a microcontroller to decode the keyboard, switches for the lid and other buttons, and the correct space for the CompactFlash card and battery contacts. The next step is selecting a microprocessor and designing a circuit, but [Rasmus] is off to a great start to make this ancient PDA a modern computing device.
[Tomas Janco] had an old Casio Pocket Viewer PDA collecting dust. Rather than throw it away, He decided to re-purpose it as a display for time, weather, and the current status of his garage door.
The Casio Pocket Viewer was a competitor to the Palm Pilot. The two systems even shared the same LCD resolution – 160×160 monochrome. [Tomas’] particular model is an S660, sporting 6 megabytes of ram and an NEC V30MZ (Intel 8086 compatible) processor. Similar to Palm, Casio made an SDK freely available.
The SDK is still available from Casio, and [Tomas] was able to get it running on his PC. Development wasn’t without pitfalls though. The Pocket Viewer SDK was last updated in April of 2001. Software is written in C, but the then new C99 standard is not supported. The SDK does include a simulator and debugger, but it too is not as polished as todays systems – every simulator startup begins with setting the clock and calibrating the touch screen. Keep reading after the jump to learn about the rest of the hurdles he overcame to pull this one off.
Continue reading “Classic PDA Finds Second Life As A Network Touch Screen Display”
Extremely powerful ARM microcontrollers have been around for ages now, but only recently have they been available for just a few dollars with a good enough toolchain for some serious development work. [Jose] wanted to develop something awesome with an ARM chip he had lying around, so he built a PDA (Spanish, translation) that can be used as a game console, an oscilloscope, a clock, or a wristwatch. Basically, it’s a portable homebrew computer that can do just about anything.
The hardware is built around an ARM Cortex M4 chip clocked at 170MHz. Included on the PCB is an SD card slot, a JTAG interface, a USB port (only used for charging the battery at this point), and a touch screen LCD controller.
After designing the PCB and enclosure, [Jose] looked around the Internet for a decent GUI library without much success. He eventually found Gwen, a lightweight library for programming GUIs that is easily ported to [Jose]’s hardware.
So far, [Jose] has a few GUI demos up and running on his homebrew PDA, but nothing very useful yet. Still, the fact that [Jose] can get a full-featured ARM tablet-like piece of hardware off the ground without a team of developers brings a smile to our face. We can’t wait to see the state of homebrew ARM devices in a few years when everyone has the requisite hardware and software knowledge.
[Troy Wright] acquired a lot of twenty broken Dell Axim PDAs. This type hardware was quite popular a decade ago, but looks archaic when compared to a modern cell phone. That’s why he was able to get them for a song. After a bit of work he managed to resurrect eight of the units, but was dismayed to find there’s no published method for controlling the back light from software. For some reason this is a deal-breaker for his project. But he knew it was possible because there are some apps for the device which are able to set the back light level. So he found out how to do it by reverse engineering the software.
The trick is to get a hold of the code. Since it’s not open source [Troy] used IDA, a graphical disassember and debug suite. He had some idea of what he was hunting for as the Windows CE developer documentation does mention a way to directly control the graphical hardware independently from the display driver. A few hours of pawing through assembly language, setting break points, and testing eventually led him to the solution.
With DEFCON and Black Hat going on, a lot of security issues are being made public. This year, cellphones have been a larger target than before. More and more people are carrying complex smartphones that have more ways to go wrong. Even worse, since phones are tied to a billed account, it is possible for malicious software to charge phones discreetly. However, Flexilis promises to keep your phone safe. It’s a free mobile anti-virus that works on most smartphones and PDAs with more clients in the works. It also provides easy backup and recovery options, as well as the ability to wipe the phone if it’s lost. The phone makers really need to fix the probelms, but in the meantime Flexilis can provide a quick response.
[via WSJ Digits]