My Psion NetBook

Well - I am really quite pleased with my new Psion Netbook!

I've been wanting one of these for quite a while. Why? Because of it's "ruggedised" design I figured that I could use it around the house, e.g. the kitchen, the garden, the bus, the tube, the office; I could toss it into my rucksack etc. In other words - I could use this mobile computing device in ways that just wouldn't be possible with a more "fragile" laptop computer like my corporate laptop (a Toshiba Portege). For a start, it's smaller and lighter than my laptop. It has a really stylish leather surround and it's "instant on" and has a fabulous keyboard as well as a touch-sensitive screen - which displays in colour - and it runs everything I need to in order to stay connected: i.e. a web browser, an email client (that supports IMAP4) as well as office apps (word processor, spreadsheet etc.) that produce files compatible with Microsoft Office (with the right software installed on it!). And with wireless LAN capability - this machine could be truly liberating - and would be much less fiddly than using my Nokia Communicator when I'm at home. And after getting one - I was proven 100% spot on! I love it, love it, love it, love it!!!!!

Of course - all of this wouldn't be possible without spending a bit of time researching on how best to get hold of one - and then researching on how best to set it up. And this page records my experience.

FIRST - I had to buy one. And this I did by doing some basic old-fashioned research on the web. Good old Google and Google Groups lead me to a couple of very useful web sites and discussion groups that gave me the lowdown.

I started with Expansys - I have purchased mobile gadgets and wireless stuff from Expansys before - and I have been really pleased: the service has been efficient and I have always been satisfied with the goods. However, on this occasion, when I looked, Expansys were retailing the Psion Netbook at £821.33 !!!!

Now - £821 (which is nearly €1200) is a lot of money for a laptop substitute! For that amount of money I could get a couple of extremely powerful desktop machines!

Anyway - I found out from discussions at PDAstreet that there are a couple of really informative websites: one belonging to a chap called Brian Dushaw - and another belonging to a chap called Edward Hasbrouck who have imported a special version of the Psion Netbook; a version of the Netbook that was produced for a Malaysian schools project that collapsed. The whole idea was that every Malaysian schoolkid would be equipped with a Netbook - and that this would replace traditional paper-based schoolbooks. Thousands of Psion Netbooks were produced for this project - and as a result of the collapse of this project - most have ended up as surplus stock and seem to be re-introduced to the marketplace by a company called SITA Multimedia based in Kuala Lumpur who are selling the Malaysian version of the Netbook and accessories at rockbottom prices. In fact, if you visit their website you will see that thet are selling the Netbook for $258.00 - which is £160.96 (or approx. €258.00) !!!!!

Now - this is a bargain! The only difference between the Malaysian Netbook and the standard Psion Netbook is that the OS is not upgradeable. This is apparently so that the Malaysian schoolchildren could not fiddle about with the operating system! The Malaysian Netbook uses the Symbian OS Release 5 Version 1.05(281) Build 158. It also turns out that the Malaysian Netbook can probably be converted to a "standard" Netbook by simply replacing the personality module in it with a standard Netbook personality module. (Calling all owners of a dead or dying Netbook: please salvage your personality module and auction it off on Ebay to those of us who have Malaysian Netbooks! Don't just throw them away - they are really valuable!)

Anyway - back to the story: I went ahead and ordered a Malaysian Netbook from SITA's website on 24th February 2003 - paid by credit card over the web - using WorldPay- and it arrived on 3rd March 2003. I ordered some accessories as well: a Compact Flash disk containing the OS image as well as a Psion Gold Card modem and also a protective carry-case. The package arrived all packed up in the carry-case and wrapped in brown paper. The carry-case really did help protect the Netbook during shipping. I wasn't home at the time the package was delivered - so I had to go to my local Parcel Force depot to pick the package up - which was no problem at all.

Here is a picture of my Malaysian Netbook.As you can see - I have stuck my Avaya (Lucent) Wireless LAN card into the PCMCIA card slot on the right hand side of the unit.

I was really excited by now. A quick look at the underside of the Netbook shows a sticker that the folks at SITA have stuck onto the case just underneath the backup battery trapdoor:

When I opened up the screen - I was amazed that there was charge still left in the battery - despite the fact that it had travelled a few thousand miles to get to me! You can spot my Palm Vx in the right hand side of the picture below: this gives you an indication of the size of the Netbook. Also notice the stylus on the table just below the Palm Vx - this is the stylus that belongs to the Netbook:

The more observant of you will notice the bent paperclip
lying near the Palm Vx. This is a very handy utility for doing soft resets ...

It didn't take me very long to configure the Ethernet settings in the Netbook so that it would work with my home wireless LAN and IP network. I have ADSL supplied by Andrews & Arnold - and all I needed to do was to configure the IP address, netmask, default gateway and nameservers as well as the wireless LAN network name and encryption key that I have set up on my Avaya Residential Gateway.

Here is a picture of my "comms rack" in my bedroom! This is based upon a Hi-Fi rack that I got from IKEA - and you can see the HP laser printer in the upper shelf - and the Avaya wireless LAN base-station just underneath it - as well as my Cisco solid-state micro-web-server, Zyxel Prestige router and Firebrick firewall all stacked up together!

In no time at all - I was able to fire up the Opera web-browser that came installed with Netbook - and start surfing the Internet! It was at this point that I started to download various applications to the Netbook - all of them appearing in the "Extras" toolbar after installation. These are the apps that I installed:

Opera 5.14(36) Web-browser for Psion
Codesafe (a utility for storing usernames and passwords etc.)
Neuon nSwitcher (a utility that allows you to switch between apps easily)
Neoun nConvert (allows you to read MS Office files on Netbook)
NetUtils (ping, whois, traceroute, nslookup etc.)
EpocSync (backup and synchronise your Netbook)
VNC Server for Windows 2000 (remote control your PCfrom your Netbook)
Andrew Johnson's Postscript Printer driver for EPOC (printing using IRDA)

All the above have made my Netbook so much more useable as a productivity tool!

The update to the Opera browser is worth it alone! Have a look at the following snapshot of my Netbook displaying the Google search page:

And then the BBC News homepage- fantastic! All in an instant using wireless LAN!

Well - apart from the upsides - I had a few downsides as well. Here is a summary of the problems I have had so far:

Anyway - putting these problems aside - I am really pleased with my Netbook!

When my Avaya (Lucent/Orinoco/WaveLAN) wireless LAN card is installed in the Netbook - I cannot fully insert the Netbook stylus into the slot that it's supposed to go into. Instead - it only goes one-third of the way in. If I try to push it any further then I think I would damage the Netbook or the wireless LAN card. Hey ho - I have to make do with the following setup:

What do you make of the screenshot below? Is this a PC running Windows? Not at all! It's my Psion Netbook running a Symbian OS (EPOC R5)! In this case - it's the VNC Java applet running inside the Opera browser - which lets me connect to my Toshiba Windows laptop over the wireless LAN - so that I can get real-time remote-control of my laptop from my Netbook! Ok - so the screen refresh times are a bit slow - but it means that I can check my corporate email from my kitchen without having to bring my laptop downstairs! I can practically do everything that I can do on my laptop using my Netbook thanks to VNC!

All in all - I am extermely happy with my Psion Netbook. Not only have I got an incredibly useful machine at an incredibly low price - the size, portability and "instant-on" functionality of the Netbook with wireless LAN capability is truly liberating!

For example - I can now enjoy reading
The Register whilst in the bathroom! Look:


If you have got this far reading this page - then I sincerely recommend that you get one!

Background material:

My charger arrived with a broken Earth pin! Although I did have the broken bit as well. Which means that I will have to Superglue the pin back on sometime. But since the broken pin was just plastic then I am assuming that the Netbook is properly shielded etc. and that I could just plug the broken plastic end into the earth pin socket in my distribution board and everything will work safely. Which is what I have been doing!

This is a close-up of the charger: