Friday, August 04, 2006

HP 300 Series PDAs

Manufacturer: Hewlett Packard
Model: 300LX and 320LX
CPU: Hitachi SH3, 44MHz
HDD: 64MB CF Card
Release Date: June 1997
Shown: Stock Photo (crappy)

HP Palmtops have been around for quite a while now. It began with the "tiny wide-screen laptop" form factor 95LX, 100LX and 200LX models which ran DOS. In 1997, HP was one of the pioneers for Microsoft's Windows CE operating system which is currently called "Windows Mobile" and runs on iPaqs and other PDAs In early 1998, I was in a bit of a bind for mobile computing. I had an un-reliable NEC Versa 550D laptop and hadn't purchased the Versa 4050 yet.

There was a floor-model 300LX for sale where a friend of mine worked, and I snagged it up for a fraction of the original price. The down-side is that I got none of the accessories. No power cord, no docking cradle or serial cable, or even the manuals.

The 300LX was my primary away-from-home computer for quite a while. Partnered with a PCMCIA modem or a PCMCIA network card, it was Internet capable. In the middle ages of Web 1.0, the anemic PocketIE browser actually worked pretty well as long as you stayed away from JavaScript pages. Built-in mini-versions of Word, Excel, Outlook et. al. provided ample functionality for me. Most of the time, I was writing for classes or for an Electronic Magazine that a few of my friends worked together on. With the PCMCIA slot, I was able to move files
from it to other computers via a compact flash card and CF reader. The RAM is able to be dynamically adjusted on-the-fly to be split between traditional program memory (what we know as RAM) and file storage (the equivalent to a hard drive). 2MB is almost nothing, so I relied on the CF card (and PCMCIA adapter for it) to store most of my programs and documents. Fortunately, most Windows CE programs are small and don't require much RAM or storage.

The clamshelled HP palmtops are very rugged, but my HP 300LX eventually started to act up on occasion after being dropped a few times. In 2000, I replaced the 300LX with a 320LX that I found on eBay. The 320LX has both PCMCIA and a direct compact-flash slot, as well as twice the memory (4MB opposed to 2MB, which isn't saying much) and a soft green LED backlight.

Both the 300LX and 320LX run on 2 AA batteries, and both are capable of re-charging NiCd and NiMH AA's when attached to a power source. Both of them feature unprecidented run-time on rechargeable batteries. I would often go 3 days of heavy use before they needed to be recharged. HP's whitepapers confirm this by quoting 20 hours of run-time. Considering that these devices don't "reboot" but merely go to sleep, it allows you to get a lot of work done pretty quickly. The "chicklet" style keyboard leaves something to be desired however they offer a nice tactile feel and the familiar layout lends itself to quick typing once you've gotten used to it. After all, I did type whole papers for classes on it!

I eventually found a great deal on the newer (1999) Jornada 680e which features even more RAM, a larger and more laptop-esque keyboard, a real battery pack and a full-color screen to supplement the newer version of Windows CE. More on that later. Both my 300LX and 320LX are still functional and see occasional use. The 300LX is still flaky and prone to lock up if you hold it just right. As far as I'm concerned, though, the HP 300 series of palmtops is still a viable option for those who want more traditional office computing functionality from a PDA despite its age. While it's a little on the bulky side, it's still orders of magnitude smaller and longer-lasting than a laptop and offers the essential PIM and organizer functionality that modern PDAs are most often used for.


Marc said...

I have always been a fan all of HP products,starting with the Calculators of the 80's and 90'. I was wondering if you knew where I could purchase accessories for a 320LX? Any info would be great!


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