Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 10/84 item 02 - scanned


"Imagine how much more convenient and simple your life could be with a full-feature microcomputer - including screen, keyboard, mass storage and software - in your pocket. "Thus starts the advertising blurb for a new machine. Sounds great doesn't it? But of course there is a catch. Well, several actually but most of them are clearly visible from the pictures in the advertisement. For example the keyboard is quite small (it has to be to fit in your pocket) and the display is limited to 16 characters of the current line. The display would actually exceed your pocket size if all 200 characters could be seen at once. The 36 keys are laid out in alphabetical sequence with a shift key to get at the numbers.

Much is made of the security of information stored in the 'solid state drives'. In fact the data is so secure that it carries on gobbling up space in the solid state drives even after it has been 'erased'. You can't see your information any more but it is still sitting there and you can't re-use the space it occupies. Datapacks can contain 8K or 16K of data which is packed to give a working capacity of just under eleven or twenty-two thousand characters. That's about two and a half or five times the size of this article - quite a bit of storage if you are talking about fairly static data. If your data is volatile than I think you may have problems because you will relentlessly gobble up your Datapacks. At £12.95 or £19.95 (plus £1.50 post and packing), this might not bother you but I must admit I find this an expensive substitute for a few sheets of A4 paper. And that ignores the hundred-odd quid you'll have to pay for the 'computer' itself.

Ah, but there's help at hand in the form of a Datapack reformatter. This takes half an hour to obliterate everything on the Datapack and costs only £44.95 (plus £3.50 p&p). Alternatively, you can send your Datapacks away and, for just £3.50 each, you can have them reformatted. Am I mad? Am I a latter-day Luddite? Or is there something distinctly peculiar about buying a machine for nearly £100 which allows me to key data in a fiddly, calculator-style way, to peer at each line through a sort of 16-character 'keyhole' and to gobble up space, never to see it again if I dare to amend or delete a data entry?

Putting it another way: I spend, ignoring post and packing and the odd 5p, £100 for a machine with its Datapack to give me the equivalent of two sheets of A4 paper. For an extra £45, I can fix it so the paper is re-usable. Ah, but I'm missing the potential for hooking up to my home computer. For just £39.95 (plus £1.50 p&p), I can buy a 'LinkUp Communications Pack'. Now I can regularly dump the data from my Datapack into my personal computer and sally forth ready to take on the next two A4 pages worth of data which comes my way. Sorry if I sound a little cynical. (I must confess that behind the scenes I'm wondering if I could justify spending a couple of hundred quid on this latest of executive toys.) The truth is that neither I nor, I suspect, you are the types to buy such a machine. We have been spoilt by our close association with real computers. We have probably figured out where the QWERTY keys are and, by heck, we're going to use that little talent to the utmost. ABCDEF? - It'll never catch on. Now the advertising for this little gem is appearing in all sorts of 'worthy places. I spotted one in my mother-in-law's Radio Times the other day. "Only £99.95" the ad' shouts. Then, in very light type "+ P&P". It's funny, the advertisement is entirely accurate. It says nothing about storage space not being reusable. It is even coy about the availability of the reformatter. Why bother the punters with worrisome details. "Reformatter - I wonder what I need that for?" It wouldn't exactly jolly the sale along would it?

I suspect a lot of these little beasties are going to be sold. The advertising is high quality and very seductive. The company will even allow you to return your machine within seven days if you're not completely satisfied. I wonder how many punters will even discover its space-gobbling quirks in that time? Sorry, Psion. I like you a lot, but I really think you've gone over the top with this one.