Any former Psion 5 owners out there?

Liam Proven lproven at
Sat Jul 17 20:02:37 CDT 2010

On 17 July 2010 10:21, Philip Belben <philip at> wrote:
> Liam, quoting me:
>>> But why "former Psion 5 owners", on this list of all places?  I have
>>> never
>>> owned a Psion 5 - but I use my Psion 3c daily!
>> Well, true - but there is nothing quite like the Series 3 any more and
>> I don't think there ever will be again. Frankly, although there were
>> things I really missed about my various S3s, the S5s were better in so
>> many important or significant ways that I never considered moving
>> back.
> Sorry if I sounded as though I was starting a Psion 3 vs 5 war.  That was
> far from my intention!

Me either. Sorry...

> I was merely saying that this is Classiccmp!  You don't look on Classiccmp
> for _former_ owners of nice machines, but for people who still use them!
>  And not just the Psion 5 - your post is equally relevant to people like me
> who use the 3.  Or the HP 95, 100 and 200 palmtops.  Or plenty of other
> machines.

:¬) That's true and a good point.

I have disposed of all my S5s while they were still working and worth
half-decent money, something I now vaguely regret. Instead, I had a
netBook - well, a 7Book - that I still used regularly up until 2008.
Very rarely do now, though - my Nokia Communicator E90 has pretty much
replaced it.

>> I preferred the S3 interface, the keyboard shortcuts, the file/program
>> manager and much more, but the S5 was so much more capable, I never
>> regretted moving.
>> I'd give a lot for a modern S5 type device, but I would never go back
>> to an S3 today, I'm afraid...
> Fair enough.  I'm not criticising you for it.
> I got my first two Psion 3 machines when they were withdrawing the Psion 5
> at work.  We were asked to find any Psion 5 machines lying around and send
> them in for recycling :-(  On a shelf we found a box with two Psion 3c
> machines in instead.  Since we hadn't been asked to return those, I kept
> them.  (With the former user's blessing, I may add)

Glad you saved the 3s but it's terribly sad to hear about the 5s.

> I never had much exposure to the Psion 5.  I don't much like touch screens
> [*] - and the touch screens of that period wore out quickly, IIRC - and the
> hinge on the 5 was even more complicated and liable to fail than that on the
> 3.

Oddly, actually, I had more problems with my various 3s. The touchpad
icons used to regularly fail, or the hinge would break. I did have S5
breakages but more rarely.

> So what was nice about the 5?  I'm not asking you to justify yourself; I'm
> genuinely curious!
> On the subject of Psions, the two common failure modes on the 3: cracked
> hinge, and leaky backup circuit.  By the latter I mean something in the
> circuitry that remains active when the main battery fails - clock, memory,
> not much else - starts drawing excessive current, and the machine flattens
> the backup cell in about a day, whether the main battery is in or not.  Does
> anyone know what causes this?  I have two old main boards with this symptom,
> which I must reverse-engineer.  One day...
> Philip.
> [*] ... but prefer keyboards.  Which is why your original post was so
> welcome!

Hmm. Tricky, in a way.

The 3s were a programmable PDA, a closed architecture which wasn't
very extensible. Great at what they did, the best I ever had, saw,
tried or even read about, but limited.

The 5s were miniature computers. They could, at a push, do the Web and
email; they used CF cards, for cheap big storage; they had a proper
keyboard I could type at speed on, and a wordprocessor with a
wordcount function, something *absolutely* essential in a text editor
for me. I can live without almost anything else so long as I have a
usable full-screen editor and a wordcount. Guess what my 3 and 3a's
wordprocessor didn't have.

I read books on my 5s, as PDFs. I ran Sinclair Spectrum apps in
emulators and Infocom games under a Z interpreter. I backed up,
synched, sorted and managed my mobile phone's 2 address books and the
SMS message store - I also routinely texted from the S5 with its
excellent keyboard. Just the thing if you needed to send a text to
multiple people, or cut'n'paste. I had it set up to automatically back
itself up to my laptop over infrared, just when it was nearby and in
line-of-sight. That's aside from a whole host of 3rd party software
which I could just download and send over.

I wrote many thousands of words on my 5s and 5MXs; in terms of
articles I sold, it paid for itself inside 6 months. Probably less - I
seem to recall that within a month or so of getting my 5, I wrote a
magazine feature on it during a long coach trip that meant that the
little machine had recouped its £300-£400 price with the first 5,000
words or so I wrote on it.

(I did also write a short book on the 3A once. It crashed and lost the
lot. A very, very rare occurrence, but as always, at the worst
possible time; I'd been away travelling for a month and had no way to
back it up.)

OK, so, the 5's file manager was a smidge more awkward, and because
everything was optimised for the touchscreen, the apps weren't so
easily keyboard-controlled. Fewer hotkeys, which were inconsistent
with the previous machine and with each other in places. The stylus
latch tended to stick, too. But overall, it was a brilliant bit of
kit, a lot more versatile than my much-loved 3 and 3A. I never got as
far as a 3C or 3MX, sadly.

The Series 5 had the single best form factor of any pocket computer or
PDA of any kind ever, and by a country mile the best keyboard of any
pocket-sized device of any kind, ever; so good it makes things like
the Blackberry or any QWERTY phone look like a sad, sick joke. And
furthermore, I would assert and defend the position that those are
absolute, objective judgements, not my personal subjective
preferences. The software stack was stunning and is still impressive

It's not just me, either:

The Psion 3 was brilliant. For me it was a life-transforming device,
vastly more useful than my Psion Organizer II LZ64 ever had been. It
was the ultimate pocket organizer, calendar, address book, diary,
alarm clock, etc. It was a masterpiece of industrial design and
software efficiency.

The Psion 5, though, was all this as well plus a whole lot more; a
connected communication tool which could interchange files and media
with desktop PCs, sync with PC desktop PIM tools and more besides. It
was effortlessly better for me than anything Palm ever produced (and
yes, I owned several), less clever but far more practical than the
Apple Newton (and yes, I owned several), and made the PC-compatible
pocket computers (Atari Portfolio, HP LX and Omnigo, Poqet etc.) look
like pathetic also-rans.

Psion were right in the long term: eventually, phones would kill off
their niche. However even today no phone has ever been produced that
can equal the overall usefulness of the Psion 5. To be a phone
something has to be relatively small and able to slip into a trouser
pocket. This means it needs to be tiny, with tiny buttons and a tiny
screen, and for me, as a PDA, that means phones are too limited and
too constrained to really excel. I have about the biggest modern 3G
phone it's possible to get, a 5-inch-long Nokia E90, and it's *too
damned small*. Although it has vastly more functions than my Series 5s
did, the things it shares with the S5, in /every single one/ the S5
did it better, more powerfully, more flexibly, and usually quicker.
And it's based on the same OS!

Frankly, I'd happily swap my E90 for a modern Series 5 and a modern
Nokia 6310i. The phone should be the identical form factor, but
updated to a quad-band LTE modem with basic smartphone functions, and
it would link with a modern Psion equivalent with a gigahertz-class
CPU, a transreflective colour screen, a few gig of storage, USB
instead of serial, Wifi and Bluetooth as well as infrared and a couple
of SD slots in place of the CF slot.

But I don't think such devices will ever come round again, sadly.

I'll probably get a Dell Streak and curse at it.

Liam Proven • Profile & links:
Email: lproven at • GMail/GoogleTalk/Orkut: lproven at
Tel: +44 20-8685-0498 • Cell: +44 7939-087884 • Fax: + 44 870-9151419
AIM/Yahoo/Skype: liamproven • MSN: lproven at • ICQ: 73187508

More information about the cctalk mailing list