The story of a PSION user



For a few years I had been pushed by my gadget-loving peers at CERN to get myself an electronic agenda.  This being the early 1990's, there were many gadgety items on the market, mainly from Casio and other Japanese manufacturers.  I had been using a simple paper agenda, buying the same model for 15 years from the same stationery shop.  This paper agenda opened to show a week at a time.  It also had a to-do list at the side, and a removable contact list which you could carry over to the next year.  Obviously I wanted at least these features if I switched to an electronic gadget.

No such gadget existed.  In addition, I observed that all these gizmos used lithium or mercury batteries, all different, expensive and some of them very difficult to find!  Would it not be better to use just standard AA size batteries?  At least when they ran out, you could find replacements in practically any shop.  And what did one do for data backup?  Furthermore, I wanted to be able to connect the electronic agenda to my computer.  Exchanging data was a real problem on the smaller gadgets, if it was at all possible.  I resisted the pressure and waited.

There was the Apple Newton, but that was at once too big and too small.  Too big to put in your pocket and too small to write on its screen.  The handwriting recognition software was also not too good (that's a euphemism, though the model 2 was impressive).


PSION had put on the market a thing called an "organizer" some time before, but the "PSION model 3" seemed to be what I had been waiting for:  it ran on two normal AA size batteries, had EEPROM memories for backup, ran a multitasking operating system, had a host of applications with a menu interface, and an agenda that had all the features I wanted.  Produced by a British company, there was some appreciation of standards:  the week could be started on Monday, you could set a 24-hour clock and you could even type accented characters (I live in a village called Prévessin-Moëns).

I was very impressed with the PSION 3, and it was a very useful companion for a long time.  It was easy to copy-paste between applications, and it was possible to save information as pure text.  I could use my FileMaker database of contacts on my Mac and upload it to the PSION; I could print the agenda to a file and convert it into a Hypercard stack on the Mac for archiving.  The spreadsheet was also very useful, because it was easy to exchange formulae with Microsoft Excel 4.  It never failed to ring me for an important appointment (after I fixed a bug with a patch).


The best of everything: the PSION 3A. In those days, PSION engineers must have listened to their clients: many of the little shortcomings of the model 3 were adequately corrected in the model 3A.  Most important was the bigger screen, improved speed and memory.


After many years of bliss from the 3A, there came the promise of the "model 5".  But I should have heeded the writing on the wall. Why was there no model 4?  Because (so rumour has it) 4 is an unlucky number for superstitious Chinese, and China was seen as a potential future market.  Is this a reasonable argument to skip numbers?  Does the person who sits in the row labelled 14 of an airplane with no row labelled 13, really believe that he does NOT sit in the thirteenth row?  Apparently…  Watch out for companies who begin to find that kind of customer more important than you.

I bought a model 5 nevertheless.  It ran a better processor at more than twice the clock speed of the 3A, had more than four times the memory, a touch-sensitive screen, a pen, a voice recorder and "improved" applications.

At first I was surprised:  did it really seem slow or was I just not yet used to it?  No, it was actually more sluggish than the 3A.  I did have smooth scrolling windows in the extensive help pages, but it took such a long time to switch from one day to the next in the agenda…  And I could no longer tell it by priority which items of the to-do lists I wanted to see in today's appointments.  Hm.  And I had to buy new exchange software for my Mac (for the PC it was "free": I protested that I had paid in the package for a CDROM for Windows that was totally useless to me, but the idea that I should be able to exchange that CD for one with Mac software was something the vendor and PSION refused to comprehend).

There were more problems:  I could no longer save certain data as text!  That was more important trouble.  The worst was that certain spreadsheets no longer worked:  the DSUM function had gone!  Of course, I could now with the pen drag the column widths on the screen rather than having to type them in, but never mind that:  I no longer had a very important function available!  PSION had gone for screen splash rather than utility.

I put up initially with the fact that the touch-sensitive screen was much more difficult to read than the very clear screen of the 3A:  some price had apparently to be paid for the ease of use provided by the pen.  But it turned out that the screen became a real nuisance except in the most favourable lighting conditions.  It was very uncomfortable in the office or in fact nearly anywhere indoors.  The glare added to this discomfort:  I saw my own reflection, but not what the model 5 was displaying to me.

While a set of batteries in the 3A lasted for months, the model 5 used up a pair every two weeks.  I also made far more mistakes with the 5 than with the 3A:  there were more automatic things it did behind my back, I had to pay attention to more options which meant nearly everything I touched had some meaning or other, usually not what I meant.

The model 5 was a pain.


I thought that maybe I should switch to a Palm or a Palm-like device.  However, the Palm-V that I tried out lasted for exactly 2 weeks:  no easy compatibility for data, no keyboard input, lousy character recognition, forcing one to adopt its handwriting rather than making sense of yours, impossible to customize some applications to other than USA-type data presentation, etc.  In short, I was lucky to find a buyer, and I was glad to be rid of the little nuisance.  Back to the 5...  The 3A of course was really what I wanted, but it was no longer made and mine had broken down at its weak point:  the hinge between keyboard and screen.


PSION has just announced (June) that it will stop making handheld computers.  I'm not surprised.  Only very sad.  A good idea has left us, pushed away by commercial pressures.  We'll now just have to wait until Palm-like devices will be sold with keyboard and software that can match the speed, ease of use and elegance of the 3A.  Maybe in a few years.

2001 continued

So I bought a NOKIA 9210


Five years with no electronic agenda that is worth having.  I finally tried a Palm again.  A Zire (65€). It's small and the battery lasts a long time.  But when I try to synchronise with my Now-up-to-Date agenda, I have to be careful that I do it always on the same computer.  If not, it will duplicate all appointments…  At least I can import-export text data and there are a lot of useful applications around, even a direct connection to FileMaker data bases.  Maybe I'll buy a Treo now.

Will I be able to see anniversaries either by date or by age?  Will I be able to set view priorities for to-do's irrespective of category?  Very important:  will I be able to protect an individual file by password, as I could on the PSION 3?

Data bases for contacts are useless on the Zire.  Fortunately I found FileMaker Mobile!


I now have a Treo 650, but it is a nuisance compared to the Psion 3A.  It has a nice colour screen.


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