Pre Jony Ive Age Handhelds Non-Gaming

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Inspired by: @tim

I wanted to create a thread where we all gush about the visual aesthetics of handhelds of yester year with visuals.

I am VERY nostalgic for my old Sony Clie` and often daydream about getting one off ebay again. If their were was a PalmOS epub reader or a maintained XMPP client (or working wifi?) or something I could use to justify it I think I would in a hot second.



Awesome! I definitely want to hear your thoughts on this too. I cannot articulate well why I like the designs we are talking about here.

Is it because these look like a tool, something to use? The modern smartphone does not look like a tool at all.

I’ll add more pictures to this as I can!

Possibly, probably? Their also just rawly more tactile designs? They have textures and physical buttons and their meant to be held as real fixtures. They click or slide into place, have weight. Their is a physicality to them.

Smartphones design is rapidly converging into a single featureless weightless pane of glass. More of an idealized window pane instead of something meant to be held and used.

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I struggled with NetBSD on a Jornada 720 two years back. Its a cute device. It’s tantelizing close to being useable with NetBSD for some modern day applications. But on modern day NetBSD wpa_supplicant kept hanging and emacs kept crashing.

There is a part of me which really wants to try again by tethering it with a bluetooth 1.1 era pcmcia era card and NetBSD 8. Maybe setting up a cross compiler to compile packages for it on my laptop.

Though I see that the HPC Arm netbsd mailing list hasn’t gotten a single new post since my last one two years ago. Which makes me think things haven’t improved. In fact the NetBSD port to that architecture has likely kind of rotted more. I think all their doing these days is making sure it builds and boots, and no one is actually using it beyond that.


It’s a cute device. Its the only embedded windows machine ive ever been exposed to. The keyboard is functional as hell; and it even has a dock! I should really determine if I have any further use for mine or get rid of it. Possibly tag it for borrowers for a while.



Eventually Palm ended up dividing their product lines along consumer and pro lines. The Palm zire line was kind of a consumer budget line of PalmOS devices with the Tungsten line being for more serious folks with bigger budgets. The Zire 71 featured this sliding mechanism allowing it to reveal a digital camera.

I unfortunately took one on a beach trip. While it never got close to the water, sand sticking to my clothes eventually made it’s way inside the thing. Whereupon the “sliding action” caused it to slowly sandpaper the ribbon cable connecting the two halves.

I had quite loved the device till then. I ended up replacing it with a Zire 72 which while functional, I did not like the aesthetics of as much.


Two things:

  1. I love this thread, and the first hand accounts of these devices!
  2. A device-tan comic is forming in my head, of the freaks and geeks of mobile devices… :slight_smile:

As a pure communication device, the Nokia 6820 was the best I ever had.

Obviously the flip out full keyboard was amazing. The best feature. But also it was a standard ‘brick’ Nokia phone, meaning battery life was incredible, and still it folded up very small for pocket carrying. Also the directional stick was very tight and had no play. You could flip open the phone with one hand, and then hold it all in one hand and type one handed if you wanted to. It was perfect. Moar pics! (Not my hand)

All of the WML apps I made from the pre-smartphone era were tested and designed for this device.

Actually this form factor really is perfect. If someone made this today, and it was 4G and was simple to tether to, that would be incredible.


these are all so y2k-aesthetic


I had no idea such a thing had existed!! I would have considered grabbing one back in the day back in the day.

My first phone with a keyboard was the Helio Ocean.

Helio was a south korean (I think) phone business and carrier that was trying to breakout over here in america; with prepaid plans. Their phones were pretty capible for that point in time. I have distinct memories of being able to hit the google reader mobile interface with this guy, on it’s very primitive browser. Also Helio phones were capible of MP3 playback though getting the files onto them was something of a chore. So much so im not sure I ever did it!

The neat trick of this phone was that in landscape it slid to reveal a keyboard and in portrait it slid to reveal the T9 dialing interface.


I didn’t start off with the Ocean I had a less keyboard intensive phone at the time with them and was able to snatch the Ocean off someone else who was ditching them for a traditional carrier. I left Helio long ago for T-Mobile’s contractless stuff but I held onto it for a long time until tossing it out just three or four years back or so. Was a very fun phone.


Some of these devices look like they are bending some physics rules to get all those sliders in. I’m waiting for things like, “The Nokia 6820 was amazing, only weighed 3 pounds!” and, “The Helio Ocean has two keyboards, browser, MP3 support and a slim 6-inch height laying down!” :slight_smile:

I watched Captain Marvel recently, and it stands on its own as just a nostalgic walk-around. I mean, Fury is using a state-of-the-art two-way pager. It’s hot!

So, we ever gonna get back to hackertech plastic shells? Or shall we fill the ocean with our disposable transparent slate-glasses for next year?! :fire:

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Your not wrong. It was chunky , but not so much so it was out of spec for those times… Youve made me curious.

Dimensions 4.33" (H) x 2.20" (W) x 0.86" (D)
Mass 5.61 ounces / 0.35 pounds

I watched Captain Marvel recently, and it stands on its own as just a nostalgic walk-around. I mean, Fury is using a state-of-the-art two-way pager . It’s hot!

Ive got to catch that thing, im a year or two behind on my Marvel movies those. Im totally out of sync with everyone there.

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It actually only weighed 3.5 ounces. (!!!)

You know how I feel about it!

Also I am self-limiting myself to only posting here once a day at most.

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This is it, the big gun.

The Blackberry 8700 had, hands down, the best handheld keyboard I’ve ever used. I got my 8700c used through T-mobile for ~$40, and it lasted me for almost 4 years until I switched to a Nexus One.

I wore it on my side in it’s dorky plastic holder, and I loved it. It securely would click in place too and I 100% knew it was locked in and wouldn’t move. It was incredibly tough. Another case of a hard plastic shell being just fine. (we don’t need no tungsten body!!). It had a good email client too that worked great.

The screen was a great size too; 2.6", 320 x 240 pixels. To navigate in the OS, you had to use the wheel on the right side. It didn’t fully spin, you could just nudge it up or down. I would have rather had a directional nub like the Nokie 6820, or even arrow keys like older phones had. Still, it is a great device.

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That was the case with so many of them, wasn’t it? What people wanted was just a “plug in the USB to your computer, and it just sees a flash drive you can drag files onto”. That is the best solution to me.

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@tim did you ever take a look at that unihertz phone I linked you too? Proprietary android bits aside; just talking about pure hardware and aesthetic. Its very much in that same blackberry tradition, screen aspect ratio and all.

I must confess ive though it wold be really clever as a phone mostly from a termux being super usable on such a device-perspective.

I really wish I had exposure to the Blackberries before they start chasing the iphone. They were doing some really clever things. I was at the time stuck in a loop though going “Well if im going to get such a device, ill get a PalmOS Treo” and then getting hung up on how to afford one with their very limited plan availability.

That longevity eminds me a bit of the HTC-Dream I had. Which I’ve thought about including. It was sort of the “beginning of the end” ushering in android. Yet something of a missing link too with it’s foldout keyboard and trackball. It lasted me a good long while and started my love affair with lineageos/cyanogenmod; which allowed me to eek out a few more years on it.

As I started saying this, I recalled how this was even true for many EARLY mp3 players!!

It’s odd in that syncing protocols made a kind of sense to me in the PalmOS days as it was kind of architecturally distinct. PalmOS didn’t have a traditional filesystem but was backed by a single universal storage database which contained both OS, apps and data. So some sort of translation had to occur between it’s database and the PC OS which had a stronger concept of individual files.

NewtonOS had a similar concept of objects and pools instead of files, but ill have to get around to the Apple Newton in a seperate post.

But having wierd ways of syncing files to our devices seem to outlast it’s usefullness and also I suspect for many would be MP3 players didn’t have the rationale of alternate filesystem metaphors.


Guys im getting too nostalgic for this mess. I just looked up that pilot-link for syncing with PalmOS is still packaged in my linux distro.


OK. Talked myself out of buying a PalmOS device.

Time for the Apple Newton

While I liked my PalmOS devices, I kept thinking a larger almost slate like device I could take notes on more naturally would be better. So in college, I saved my money from my part time job(s) at the university ( I baby sat computer labs and tutored intro to logic students ) to buy a second hand Newton Messagepad.

No camera and while it can be made to do MP3 playback because of an awesome community it’s much worse at MP3 playback than late gen PalmOS devices.

What it excels at though is handwriting recognition (with one important caveat) and note taking, where it beats PalmOS in spades. The handwriting recognition however was limited to cursive.

It had TWO pcmcia slots. Can use pcmcia wireless cards.

I actually got the people at to look at the open source tools for creating Newton ebooks and adding Newton support many many years ago. Which in turn allowed me to download philosophy texts from them to my Newton for the very philosophy classes I was taking at the time.

PCMCIA slots could be expanded for storage too! It had a rather strange storage seems. Some sort of nonvolatile ram card it could read/write to over that bus.

The operating system was pervassively object oriented. Notes could contain a free form of objects, like text, or drawings, or flow charts. The handwriting recognition engine could also recognize simple shapes converting them to manipulatable vectors. All free flowing in the same document.

There however was no easy time exporting this data out to PC per se. The file system was literally an object oriented soup. Literally refrenced as soups. So different styles of documents had to have different translation layers to the host PC with greater or lesser degrees of success.

Battery life sucked ass on it. Most Newton users by that point were stuck on tripple-A battery “trays” or very expensive refurbished batteries.

WiFi capped out at WEP. No SSLv2 support. And while the community has done a very good job at staying active and finding ways around some of these limitations a lot of them are also Mac enthusiasts which put a very rough ceiling on using it with say GNU/Linux.


I never owned one but the PepperPad was a device I desperately wanted and really wanted to take off. It had three revisions (first and third depicted) though the company imploded shortly after releasing the third revision.

It was very much a boot to firefox GNU/linux device, with a java based desktop environment and SDK for additional multimedia apps and ebook reading. x86 processor so that they could have the all important adobe flash which was so necessary back in the day. I think the java based desktop and SDK touted by the company however was kind of meant to futureproof them architecturally so they could jump off x86 one day.

It was very much the CrunchPad tablet before that was even proposed.

I have often wondered why this kind of form factor hasn’t ever taken off really. It seems really usable to me. Part of the reason I still daydream about tracking down a Samsung Q1. Though the pepper pad always managed to look much more elegant and portable than that bulky thing.



While we were discussing MP3 players and how hard they were to get music on them… it reminded me about this gem. It was in my desk drawer because I still use it!

Behold the Creative MuVo TX FM 1GB!

It came in three sizes.




I can’t recall the launch price for the various models, but I don’t think the 1GB was more than $120, which was a good deal in 2004.


  • 1 GB of storage holds up to 500 songs; plays back MP3, Windows Media Audio (WMA & WMA DRM), and Audible file formats
  • USB 2.0 interface lets you copy your music quickly
  • Built-in FM tuner lets you listen to your favorite radio station while you work out
  • Built-in microphone records up to 64 hours of high quality voice recording
  • Up to 18 hours of playback from one AAA battery

What was/is groundbreaking is how you put music on it…

It came apart and was just a frigging USB drive!!!

The colored part just stores the 1 AAA battery, which runs on rechargeables just fine. Since it’s just a usb drive, it works with EVERYTHING. I also loved the voice recording, I used to do a lot of that.

It also came with a clear case that had a clip on it (15 years has caused it to yellow a little bit). It’s very light.

Some more images:


That has a lot of clever designs going on!

I didn’t track it, but it reminds me of the modular phone thing Google was working on. I think it went bust, but that idea, it needs to happen.