Superbly designed and engineered, the Epson HX20 can be considered as the first true portable computer. It was the only package available at the time which included a microcassette drive, a mini-printer and a LCD display.
The small built-in printer could print graphics or text (up to 24 columns, 47 lines per minute). The small tape recorder was pretty fast (considering it was a tape drive). The computer rewinds or fast forwards the tape automatically to find the right file. This tape recorder could be removed and replaced with a ROM cartridge.
Two case colours were released, cream and silver. To our knowledge, the silver version was intended for some European countries. It was sold in Germany for example.
RealVoice expansion, by Gary Clouse:
A company call RealVoice sold Epson HX-20 computers with a custom expansion box bolted to the side that turned the computer into an Agumentative Communication Device (ACD) for use by people with disabilities that caused extreme speech impairment.
The ACD software worked in several modes, and customized settings and special vocabularies could be saved on the tape, or printed on the printer. It could accept keyboard input, a special "picture keyboard", or a simple switch that could be used for "scanning" or morse code imput.
Regardless of the input method, the RealVoice produced clear human-sounding speech. I have an HX-20 with the RealVoice module and it still works in 2006!
I got my dad''s HX-20 when I was about 7-8 years old or something. It''s 27 years old now and is still working, except for the microcassette... I should try repairing it some day. My dad did both software and hardware development for the HX-20, including a parallel I/O board called the HX-PIA (Parallel Interface Adapter i think) which is pretty nostalgic for me for various reasons. It''s also the first computer I programmed on.
A while ago I set out to build an emulator for the HX-20 and it''s going pretty well. As of right now, most opcodes are implemented (~10 remaining) and the ROM is trying to write stuff to the LCD right now :) At the same time I''m fixing documentation, graphics and photos for pretty much everything about the HX-20 which I will post on my site and on the Wikipedia page.
Thanks a lot to Lorenzo for hxtape, I haven''t tried it yet but it''ll definitely come in handy. If anyone has programs, as ROMs, cassettes, BASIC code or hex dumps, it would be great if you could send them to me for archiving. I can even accept physical ROMs via mail since I''ve built a ROM dumper.
I''ve written a small program to read and write HX-20 using a PC soundcard, and transfer data to and from an HX-20 with an audio cable.
It is in a very preliminary state, but it works for me. It can be found at http://hxtape.sourceforge.net/ and feel free to contact me (via mail or SourceForge forum) if you encounter any problems with it.
If it works for you, then also feel free to upload any HX-20 programs you have to the wiki!
The Epson HX-20 was used by a lot of retail environments in the uK as it was handy to carry around stock rooms and print lists etc. One of the biggest users was a firm called Vestric which was a pharmaceutical company and franchised many local chemist shops. they had to use these devices for prescription labels and stock control, ordering items over an acoustic coupler. To the best of my knowledge, there are still some in use today.
Monday 5th September 2005
Mark Barratt (UK)
HC / HX-20
BUILT IN LANGUAGE
Microsoft BASIC interpreter
Full stroke 68 key with 13 function keys
Two Hitachi 6301
16 KB (up to 32 KB)
32 KB (up to 64 KB)
4 lines of 20 characters (in a window of 255 x 255 characters)
120 x 32 dots
SIZE / WEIGHT
29 (W) x 21.5 (D) x 4.4 (H) cm / 1.7 kg
RAM extension port, RS232 (for printer), Serial, Bar code.
BUILT IN MEDIA
Small analog 1300 baud microcassette drive (optional)
4 AA Ni-Cd batteries or AC adapter
up to 4 3.5'' floppy disc units, display controller, acoustic coupler