The year 1993 saw Amstrad release a handheld computer capable of handwriting recognition just weeks ahead of Apple's much-hyped Newton. However, Amstrad's approach with the PDA600 was very much more primitive with users only able to input one letter at a time in a box at the bottom of the screen.
The device was based on a Z80 compatible Zilog Z8S180 microprocessor running at 14.3MHz and memory was expandable from 128KB up to 2MB with PCMCIA cards. Batteries life was 40 hours, from three 'AA' size batteries and the device weighed just 400 grams.
Other features included a search function, world time clock with multiple alarms, information transfer capability to and from PCs, metric-imperial conversion and the ability to input drawings.
But despite being less than half the price of Apple's more advanced machine – $430 compared to $920 - the PDA600 bombed, although it does seem to have been popular in Germany, for some reason.
Cliff Lawson, PDA600 project manager, writes on his web site:
The PDA600 is one of my favourite Amstrad projects which probably has something to do with the fact that I was the Project Manager!
Unfortunately, The whole PDA concept was a bit of a plot that failed and as we were left with huge stocks of the PDA600 we have recently [c1996] sold them all to Tandy (Radio Shack). This does have the huge advantage that you can now buy one for £50 (which is less than half what it cost us to build them!)
Interesting fact number 37 is that we got about 95% of the way through developing a replacement for the PDA600 called the PIC700 that included a radio pager but it ran hugely over budget and schedule and was eventually shelved ... shame, it was brilliant."
Those that actually spent money on the PDA600 were less enthusiastic.
Mark Stevenson () says on his page:
What can I say about the PDA600? This must be in my opinion the worst computer ever! It was supposed to be able to convert handwriting to text to allow quick and easy entries to be made, but it could never read my writing so I was forever going back to correct my mistakes.
The machine was also short on memory, it came as standard with 128kb. This could be filled with around 20 free form notes without any database entries being made at all.
The database was completely uncustomisable, being suitable really only for a phone book. It also had a diary function which I don't think was too bad - if you could ever get the entry in with the handwriting recognition.
Thanks to Alan Sampson and Graeme Burton