If A Psion Series 5 Existed Today Would You Own One?


This is the Psion Series 5, a handheld computer which was the ultimate expression of Psion's vision for a PDA. Launched in 1997, long before smartphones were a thing and a whole decade before the iPhone, Psion built a machine which focused on some very specific use cases, and then delivered on them brilliantly.

It turned out that Psion was fighting a losing battle though, customers wanted vertical screens and pocketable devices like those from Palm. When Palm launched the impossibly small Palm V the battle between keyboards and pen was over. Touchscreens would ultimately triumph and today it's possible to trace a design heritage between just about every smartphone and the Palm V.

The keyboard / landscape design didn't die easily. Nokia built a line of Communicator devices around Symbian (which was the updated version of the Psion's EPOC operating system) whilst HTC built a number of devices similar in concept for its carrier partners, most famously the HTC Universal.

What if the Psion 5 concept hadn't died and had enjoyed the same development as the smartphone over the last decade. What would it look like? Would you still buy one.

I'd imagine that a 2017 Psion 5 would be reasonably slim, whilst still retaining its keyboard design. The 5.6" display would probably have grown to 1080p and have gained many colours, as opposed to the 16 greyscales of the original.

When closed an e-ink screen would display caller information, notifications and messages; whilst microphones and speakers would allow you to take calls without opening the clamshell. Wifi and Bluetooth would be onboard and the touchscreen would have transitioned from resistive to capacitive, but retaining the pen.

Battery life would be limited, but a USB-C power port would allow fast charging and support host capabilities to connect external keyboard, screen and mouse.

Putting all of that engineering into a thin clamshell body wouldn't be cheap - think pricing at the top of the premium smartphone market. The last question would be which platform would the modern Psion run? Given the brick wall Symbian ran into with development it would be unlikely to have survived any better for a modern Psion 5. Windows Mobile doesn't have the landscape capabilities to make this form factor work and Windows 10 for ARM is too far in the future.

Which leaves Android. And that, I think, would be the major sticking point for Psion fans of yesteryear, who valued simple, fast and relatively static design to the orgy of features that has always defined Android. I imagine most Psion users have moved quite comfortably into the iPhone world.

So given the future of the Psion outlined here, would you own one? Or has the clamshell really had its day?

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