GridPad 1900: The first mobile pen computer

GridPad1900.jpg

As I wrote in my entry for the GRiD Convertible, GRiD was legendary computer manufacturer that produced a lot of “firsts”.

This one is (by and large) the first mobile pen computer. It was released in 1989, two years before NCR released their NCR 3125. It is quite heavy (2 kg) and the pen is connected to the tablet via wire, but it was the first time a company had the vision to give users something like an electronic notepad. In order to do that it offered (restricted) handwriting recognition. The project that led to the GRiDPAD was developed by Jeff Hawkins who would later on found Palm, and then Handspring.

Software- and hardware-wise it was quite far away from what GO and Apple would have in their (later) devices. Instead of an ARM-class CPU, and a special operating system fully exploiting and supporting the possibilities of an electronic notebook, the GRiDPAD has a meager 8086 and MS-DOS (the latter is at least built in and does not need to boot). Apart from a few applications, pen support mainly means that you can fill out text fields with the pen. No harddisk is needed (or offered) as it uses up to 2 battery buffered RAM storage cards as mass memory (up to 2 MB in total).

It is said that 10’000 GRiDPADs were sold in 1990 (probably its most successful year). It was marketed as a niche product mainly towards users with bookkeeping needs.

A later model 1910 had a built in 20MB harddisk, 2MB RAM, a NEC V20 CPU, and a backlit screen. The price for the 1910 was initially $3750.

The (probably) last model of the series was the GRiDPAD SL in 1993 that weighted 2.5 kg and costed initially $4395. This model could also run GO’s PenPoint operating system.

Technical Data

  • Manufacturer: GRiD
  • Model: GRiDPAD Model 1900
  • CPU: 80C86@10MHz
  • RAM: 1 MB
  • ROM: 256 kB
  • OS: MS-DOS 3.3 (built in)
  • Size: 31.4 x 23.5 x 3.6cm
  • Weight: 2 Kg incl. battery
  • Pen: passive, connected by a wire to the case
  • Display: 10“ LCD black&white, 640×480 pixel
  • Interfaces: RS232C (9 pin), keyboard (5 pin), external bus
  • Released: 1989
  • Initial price: $2370
  • Options:
    • Modem (2400 bps, MNP level 5 protocol=)
    • Hard disk extension unit (about the same size as the tablet): 40 MB HDD, 3.5″ FDD

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