These days most of us carry around a powerful little computer with us all the time, but where did it all start? To go back to the beginning of pocket computing we have to travel back 40 years to find the Sharp PC-1210.
Sharp had been making LCD calculators since the early 1970s and by the end of the decade they were competing successfully in the nascent microcomputer market. Back in those days one of the main uses of a micro was BASIC programming, and the Sharp PC-1210 was certainly capable of doing that. Well, to an extent.
Powered by twin 4-bit CPUs with a quite usable QWERTY and numeric keyboard, the PC-1210 also had a 24 character dot matrix display. You could also buy an optional interface for a cassette or printer, making this potentially a very versatile little thing.
Perhaps the biggest problem was memory – just 896 bytes of RAM in the original model, although carefully managed to make it usable. Later versions (the PC-1211 and PC-1212) increased this to 1920 byes which was a lot more useful.
The PC-1210 and its successors were a niche success, and over the years the range was improved and diversified into products aimed at engineers, mathematicians and scientists on one hand and people who wanted a personal organiser on the other. Somewhere in the 1990s these personal organisers fizzled out to be replaced by PDAs and then smartphones.
Today the Sharp PC-1210 series is a pretty uncommon find, and many seem to have faulty screens. However later models are available too, and prices vary from a few tens of pounds to several hundred depending on conditions and accessories. Alas, Sharp are not in the computer business anymore and have struggled to make a profit in recent years. In 2016 they were effectively taken over by Taiwanese giant Foxconn – and surprisingly both companies have recently branched out into coronavirus masks in addition to electronics.
Image credit: Armin.maas sb via Wikimedia Commons