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The Gadgeteer


Gadget Review

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Psion Series 5mx

Gadgeteer Hands On Review by Julie

August 29, 1999

I have noticed that there is still no mention of the new 5mx machine from Psion, so wanted to offer my own brief review of it.  There are several excellent reviews already available that go into extreme detail about the specific differences from the Series 5, so I am not going to cover this material.  See the site for that info.

p5mx1.jpg (5515 bytes) p5mx2.jpg (3270 bytes) *

In summary, the 5mx is twice as fast, has 16MB internal memory (twice the memory), and has updated applications including: email, web browsing, jotter, sorting in the spreadsheet, outline view in the word processor, and a stylish (IMHO) silver-grey case.  The basic form factor is unchanged from the 5.  You can download JAVA to it as well from the included CD.

I used to be a Newton user, then switched to the Pilot for basic organization capabilities when the Newton was discontinued.  I realized after a few months of use that I was really looking for a significantly more capable machine than the Pilot, so began a detailed review of the options.  As luck would have it, the 5mx had just been announced by Psion.

I spent over a month thoroughly researching its capabilities (something that I recommend to anyone who is considering the purchase of a gadget that is supposed to assist them it all aspects of their mobile life).  I read all the web sites, all the reviews (including the excellent Gadgeteer site), and perused all the software that is available.  There were a few things that particularly impressed me about the device:

1) Operating Environment.  EPOC32 is a mature OS with a nicely streamlined user interface.  The UI does not tend to get in the way of getting work done.  It multitasks, and task switches nearly instantaneously.

2) Robust Applications.  Each of the built-in applications seem more like their desktop counterparts than 'watered-down' pocket versions. The word processor supports style sheets, imbedded graphics, and even spreadsheets/graphs; the built-in email app supports multiple mail boxes; the agenda program supports imbedded graphics and very flexible scheduling.
I don't feel that I am making a significant compromise in doing work remotely with the device.

3) Hardware/Form-Factor.  The Psion 5mx has the nicest keyboard of any device in its class.  I can actually touch-type at 40-50 WPM on it. The display is decent (not the best in its class, but perfectly usable) -- and is supported by the special hinge mechanism (so tapping on it doesn't tip the machine over).  The pen is ergonomically shaped and weighted.  It has a Mercedes-like feel to it from an engineering perspective.  Definitely not just another 'clamshell HPC'.

p5mx3.jpg (6705 bytes) p5mx4.jpg (3214 bytes)

4) Software Availability.  There is a tremendous following of developers for the Psion (many of which are located in the UK).  I have had no trouble locating applications for all of my needs.  Much of the software is even freeware or shareware.  For business-oriented people, there are project management applications, presentation programs (that display/edit PowerPoint!), financial programs, and others.  In the entertainment category, there is a huge amount of shareware games available including SimCity(tm), Defender, and other well-known games; there is also a Spectrum emulator that runs the 4000+ program library of 8-bit games at full speed.

5) Global "Zoom".  This one really surprised me.  In all of the built-in applications (even the System app), and in many of the 3rd party apps, you can scale the onscreen text/graphics between four different levels.  This zooming does not affect printed output -- it is mainly for ease of editing/navigation.  It works nearly instantaneously and is TREMENDOUSLY useful in getting real work done.  For instance: I am able to zoom way in on the word processor and see very clearly what I am typing, then zoom out for full page width display (the display is 640 pixels wide) in order to properly format paragraphs and move things around.

6) Battery Life.  I am still using the two AA batteries that came with the unit.  I have had over 20 hours of on-time (with 5%-10% of that backlit), and still show about a 60% battery level.  It should also be noted that I have spent a considerable amount of that initial 20 hours using the serial port (to transfer software and documents to it) and the IR port (to print to the HPLJ5MP laser printer at my office).

7) Emulator.  There is a freely-available EPOC32 emulator for the PC.  This was a very nice way for me to be able to really try out the built-in applications before I purchased the machine.  I entered sample agenda items and contacts, played with the word processor and spreadsheet, and navigated the system program for example. You can find this emulator at Registration is required but it is free and fast.

8) Macintosh Support.  While not as robust as its PC counterpart, Psion does provide an optional Mac connection package.  It includes the cable adapter and software for performing backups, installing software, and even mounting the Psion 'disks' on the desktop for complete finder integration.  I routinely drag-and-drop documents between the Psion and my Mac.  For these simple operations, the Mac connect package works very seamlessly and elegantly.

Of course, there have been a few things that annoy me as well:

1) You have to use the pen (or a fingernail if you are brave) to launch any of the applications.  It would be nice if there were keyboard shortcuts for at least the built-in apps.  You can, however, download freeware macro programs that offer this functionality.

2) Lack of categories in the Agenda and Contacts programs.  You can have separate Agenda files, but I prefer to view all my schedules at once. You cannot have multiple contact files.

3) No PC-Card slot.  There is a CompactFlash slot for memory expansion (I have an 80MB card in mine!), but there is no support for PC Cards.  You can purchase a PC Card adapter that allows the use of modem cards, but there is no support for Ethernet cards and other such devices. I miss this from my Newton, where I could connect to my office Ethernet directly and check email/synchronize  REALLY fast.

Despite these relatively minor shortcomings, I have found the Psion Series 5mx to be the closest thing to an ideal mobile digital companion as is currently available.

Excellent keyboard
Decent display (640x240x16 greys)
Excellent industrial design
Excellent and mature OS (I have yet to need to reset my machine for any reason)
Decent built-in applications
Excellent battery life (25-30 hrs continuous with 2 AA Duracell Ultra batteries)
Decent memory and expandability (CF slot)
Decent connectivity and desktop compatibility (Mac and PC)
Decent speed and responsiveness
Lots of 3rd party software and developers
JAVA support
Built-in programming language
Infrared port for printing/beaming
VCard compatible contacts app

Somewhat fragile opening mechanism
No PC-card slot or built-in modem (Psion does have an external PC card adaptor that connects serially)
Not color (I don't see this as a major con personally, but some do)
No categories in Contacts


has anyone tried using "Grafitti Anywhere" with "Textplus"?

any comments?

I have the Single Tap Recognition off because I have a hard time using it. That is, I don't know how to do punctuation marks.

With it off I can do the normal dot-punctuation mark manuever but i can't select a word on textplus by this method. i just found out that i can do that by using the up/down buttons and doing a 'return' stroke.

any suggestions?

posted April 07, 2003 20:32:51 PM by deuro_mcfile

I realize this is kind of an old thread to resurrect, but those interested in choosing a way to write on the whole screen might be interested in this review.

posted January 17, 2003 14:13:05 PM by kezza


If you like Jot, you might try a free program called Newpen. It allows writing on-screen, and shows your Graffitti strokes as well. You can find it at

posted January 02, 2003 23:09:29 PM by palmfox

I like the sliding mechanism on the T|T, but I agree with Judie, sometimes it's a pain to have to open it to enter text. Since I just bought the T|T and have already spent some additional cash on mission-critical upgrades (Ababall to Kickoo's Breakout, for example), I'd rather not shell out more money for Jot.

I just discovered "Grafitti Anywhere" since an updated OS5 version was recently uploaded to PalmGear. It's a free utility that lets you enter Grafitti "on screen". It has a couple of nice features, but since I've never used Jot, I can't compare feature sets. Home page is at: (Okay, not much of a home page, but it links you back to PG for the download...)

I've also only done some limited testing, because I haven't put a screen protector on the T|T yet and I really don't want to scratch up the gorgeous display, but so far it's worked great. Works fine in Docs To Go, too, Judie... :)

No affiliation with the authors, just a happy (potential) user...



posted January 02, 2003 13:04:01 PM by Bander

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