What the next
generation of HP Palmtops should
Okay, it doesn't look like the 300LX series is going to
measure up, and the 620LX, though color, is merely following the
tradition of "larger is better." So we're going
to have to petition HP to improve the 400LX line. Or will they
call it 400LX? After all, there's only 400 and 500LX until we get
to 600LX... and that and 700LX have already been used. But now
that they're using 20's (as in 320LX, and 620LX) perhaps we'll
have some leeway. Oh, the uncertainty.
Here's some preliminary specifications:
- Same size and preferably same weight as the 200LX.
- At least 640x240 screen, fit into same space as 200LX.
(But the screen could go all the way to the edges...I
wouldn't mind...) 640x480, though desirable for VGA
compatibility, would be too distorted to be practical, at
the current size of the unit. So 640x240 would be decent.
Perhaps if the screen vertically went all the way to the
edges, and the horizontal part stayed at its current
width, 640x350 would be acceptable. That would give us
true EGA compatibility capabilities. At 640x240, we could
emulate VGA, but it'd be a pain to switch back and forth
between the top and bottom halves of the screen. Perhaps
we'd better just settle for EGA. As for color...we should
at least get 16 grey-scales, preferably 256. And the
ultimate: color. How hard can it be to cram 640x350 color
pixels in there, anyway? And of course a backlight is
essential...and a touch screen is a good idea. Who wants
to play solitaire using the arrow keys? And it should
bend around like the OmniGo. Sometimes you want to write,
sometimes you want to type. We need flexibility!
- A low-power 486 CPU would be appropriate. None of this
fancy-shmancy-pants RISC crap. If it's not
Intel-compatible, we don't want it. Because then it's not
a palmtop computer, it's just a fancy digital diary. Like
all Windows CE machines. Because unless you can run apps
on the palmtop you can also run on the desktop...how can
you call it a palmtop PC? Intel it is. (If, of course,
they come out with a speedy RISC chip that is Intel
compatible, or does a good job of speedily emulating an
Intel CPU, that's a different matter. As long as it's
extremely low-power...) In any case, it should be much
snappier than the 186 we now have.
- We need more RAM, as well. Since the palmtop would now be
capable of running more current (and larger) software,
we'd need more space. 16 megs of ram for usage should be
adequate, but with the small size of RAM today, we should
be able to up it to 32 at least. For the lower-cost
units, 8 megs could be substituted, but once again, it
shouldn't be soldered in--perhaps a special socket.
- Storage space must be increased as well! All units should
come with at least 500 megs of flash RAM internally.
That's a minimum, mind you. If it sounds like
overkill...it's not. We'll need it. Or at least some
method of economical large-scale storage.
- Expandability is a good idea as well. The PCMCIA
controller should be standardized, and another slot could
be added on the other side, if the IR port and serial
port were moved to the back.
- Sound functions should be improved. We should at least be
able to record and playback digital sounds. Volume
control should be improved as well--you don't want your
palmtop beeping during an important meeting, or a test at
school. Sound Blaster compatibility would be nice, but
not necessary. Just something that has decent enough
sound that voice-recognition software would work, since
after all, if you could run that on the palmtop, it would
greatly improve functionality.
- Some kind of wireless communication should be built in,
and I'm not talking about local IR transfer, either.
We're talking long-distance. Something along the lines of
a transceiver for the RAM or ARDIS networks. Cellular
might be nice, especially if the sound functions of the
palmtop are decent enough to provide real-time full
- As noted on Rob's pages, the keyboards should be
switchable, for different applications. That would free
up more space in the unit for other things, such as
PCMCIA sockets, flash memory, etc., since the circuitry
for the keyboards could be placed inside each keyboard
package, and the keyboards could stick up a bit from the
rest of the unit. One keyboard could have larger keys and
no number pad, for word processing...another could have a
larger number pad, and better arrow keys, for
spreadsheets and other number-crunching apps. One that
Rob's pages don't mention is a calculator keyboard. This
would be good for the calculator app, with specialized
keys instead of the meager selection of dual functions on
the 200LX keyboard. Especially since there will be an app
remarkably similar to the HP48...
- The main operating system? Hmm...GEOS seems to have a lot
of pluses, but with the power we've got now, I suppose a
new version of Windows CE (or another OS) that runs
desktop apps would be fine. Of course, on a unit like the
one we're designing here, you could run Windows 95 if you
wanted to, or even Linux...
- The power is the most important part. AA's would be nice,
but probably impractical to run such a powerful machine
as this for very long. It'll probably take a much more
powerful power source. A special high-density power pack?
High-efficiency solar cells? A very small nuclear power
- Let's not restrain ourselves. Here's a thought: why
settle for a small CGA, EGA, or at best, VGA screen? If
there was NO screen on the unit, we could make the whole
thing into a keyboard and other hardware, effectively
doubling our space. The screen could be transferred over
to a pair of glasses, the likes of which you can see in
electronics stores. Sure, the ones we have now aren't all
that great, but in a few years, who knows? We could have
a SuperVGA display laid onto an ordinary pair of glasses.
That's better all the way around: a heads-up display
would be easier to see and easier on the eyes than a tiny
cramped screen, and there wouldn't be any problem with
distortion. (Caused by the screen being wider than it is
tall.) Full color would be possible! Of course, some
people probably already have glasses. In that case, we
would have three options: install hardware into their
existing pair of glasses, supply prescription glasses
with screens in them, or have anybody who wants to use
the 400LX get contacts or eye surgery. The middle option
is probably the best way to go. There's also the problem
of having a bulky signal-transmitting cable run from the
palmtop to the user's glasses. That could be problematic.
Perhaps a modulated laser would be able to carry enough
data fast enough for a decent screen...
That's all for now. More will be added as I procrastinate
important work to update this site...
Copyright 1999, David Sargeant.
Last Updated 1-1-1999