Portable Computing

April 14th, 2010  |  Published in mac and iphone  |  7 Comments


On the left: a 32GB iPad from 2010. On the right: a 24KB Tandy 102 from ca. 1990

Apple iPad Tandy 102
CPU Apple A4, 1GHz Eight-bit Intel 80C85, 2.4 MHz
RAM 256MB 24KB
Networking 802.11n Wi-Fi 300 Baud Modem
Weight 1.5 lb 3.1 lb
Dimensions 9.56″ x 7.47″ x .5″ 11.8″ x 8.46″ x 2″
Power Source 5-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery
10 hour battery life
4xAA batteries
20 hour battery life
Display 1024×768 pixels @ 132ppi 40×8 characters, 240 x 64 pixels
Retail Price $599 $799 ($1,570 in 2010 dollars)

I was issued a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 for my first newspaper job in 1990, which I started right around this time that year. I took it everywhere, and because I lived in and was covering a town about 15 miles down the road from the newspaper’s offices, I used it to work from the living room couch some days. When I was done with my copy, I’d plug in the 300 baud modem and squirt it up to the regional office.

I’m pleased I’ve got that Tandy around to witness the arrival of the iPad, because in 20 years and over a dozen mobile devices (where “mobile device” = “something portable I’ve used to get work done”), nothing has come close to pleasing me the way the Model 100 did. It had outrageous battery life, weighed less than any laptop I’ve owned since, and I wasn’t afraid of bumping it now and then, because it had the industrial design we’ve come to associate with Fisher Price “Lil’ Office Worker” gear.


The closest I’ve come since the Model 100 was a Handspring Visor with a folding keyboard and word processing software. The biggest problem with that setup was that it came along after working through CMSs was a regular part of my day, which made it impossible to use the Visor to do all my work.

I’ve owned a few eeePC models (the earliest 701 series with an 8″ display and the later 1000H with a 10″ display), but they always felt badly cramped and poorly thought out.

The iPad and wireless keyboard weigh in at under three pounds. If I ever need to take some work along, I’ll be able to pack the keyboard in my suitcase and use it when I’ve got a lot of typing to do, but leave it behind when I just want to read. The soft keyboard is surprisingly usable, too. Given a slight incline, the iPad in landscape mode can be used for light typing.


  1. Howard says:

    April 14th, 2010 at 8:46 pm (#)

    Still love my TRS-80 Model 100/102! I owned a Model 100 that I took to sea with me (Navy) back in the 80’s. I ran it for six months off of one 6V lantern battery. I used to write notes and such on it. Great device.

    I still own two Model 100’s, along with a Model 102 and a 200.

  2. Hmmm says:

    April 14th, 2010 at 9:08 pm (#)

    How did this end up on Linux News? Dual-boot that overpriced iPad with Slack and then I could see it. News-mercial?

  3. Adrian says:

    April 14th, 2010 at 9:38 pm (#)

    If the Tandy floats your boat, perhaps the NEO or Dana might, too: http://www.neo-direct.com/

  4. mph says:

    April 15th, 2010 at 7:54 am (#)

    @Adrian: You have no idea how close I came to ordering one of those a few years back, Adrian. Another nice one in my collection is the Tandy WP-2, which uses the tablet form factor but has an 80 column display. Firmware’s pretty similar to that found in the Tandy 100.

  5. lizardb0y says:

    April 15th, 2010 at 2:57 pm (#)

    The Cambridge Z88[1] (by Sir Clive Sinclair) was quite popular amongst writers as well, for amny of the same reasons. It used EPROM as its mass storage medium. I have both a Tandy 102 and a Cambridge Z88, and prefer the 102 for the keyboard and construction, but the Z88 had the most remarkable built-in applications[2].

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Z88 [2] http://www.worldofspectrum.org/z88forever/z88apps.htm

  6. OTE says:

    April 15th, 2010 at 10:41 pm (#)

    Another good one from this era that was rugged, quick to boot and lasted forever on a battery complete with microcomputer drive, 300 baud modem and crammed with 64kB ram was the Epson PX-8. Still have mine around and it is a good machine, even today for field use.

  7. Brian Proffitt says:

    April 20th, 2010 at 11:22 am (#)

    As your former editor at that venerable publication, all I can say is those Tandys made my teeth itch. :)


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