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1998 — Franklin REX
This PDA brought a new meaning to the word handheld as the REX was the size of a credit card. It didn't have many fancy features, Franklin was content to bring simple PIM functions to the REX.
All models of the REX were designed to sync with personal data on a computer, a good thing as early models had no way to input data on the REX itself. Later models got crude data entry capability, a vast improvement, but still not very convenient. The six month battery life made up for the lack of features on the REX.
The REX took the hardware to new heights, er, small sizes, but was pushed out of the market largely due to the popularity of the Palm PDAs.
(Image: James Kendrick/ ZDNet)
2004 — Sony U-50 handheld Windows Computer
Japanese electronics giant Sony introduced a full Windows PC with a 5-inch touchscreen that set the stage for many devices to appear later. The Sony U-50 was first introduced in Japan, but eventually made its way to the US.
Sony made a device that was actually functional in spite of its small size by including thoughtful controls and the touchscreen that worked well with either touch by fingers or by stylus. An extended battery was available that gave a decent run time of 4 or 5 hours, a first for a full Windows handheld device.
The U-50 was bundled with a dock that made it a snap (literally) to use the device as a core processing unit that connected to peripherals at the desk. This worked so well, I used the U-50 as my only computer for a year. It was my field system during the day and my desktop computer by night.
The U-50 has a fond place in my heart as it directly impacted my professional life. I installed Windows XP Tablet Edition on my Sony and blogged about how well a 5-inch tablet PC worked on my personal tech site, jkOnTheRun, This caught the attention of a lot of people and jkOnTheRun rapidly grew into a popular tech site. It was eventually sold to the GigaOm Media Network, which allowed me to retire from my career as a geophysicist and become a tech writer full-time.
This also led to my meeting Bill Gates with Microsoft, who admittedly enjoyed reading about a 5-inch tablet.
It's easy to understand why the Sony U holds a place dear to my heart. It was a fantastic handheld computer that paved the way to mobile technology of today.