A Brief History of my Early Tech

As a teenager I was somewhat obsessed with early “Personal Electronic Organisers”, ancestors I suppose of today’s smartphones. For a while I’ve been trying to pull together a list of exactly what devices I owned, from the earliest devices up until the point everyone had a flat black rectangle in their pocket.

Acknowledging that this is of somewhat niche interest (i.e. probably only to myself), here’s all the electronic organisers and early phones I remember having. Hopefully it helps out someone else doing some 90s gadget archaeology, or just someone reminiscing about that particular Wild West era of pocket tech.

Presented with particular thanks to the Old Organizers Collection and Mobile Phone Museum.

Oregon Scientific… Something

Oregon Scientific electronic organiser with 2-line display and gap in lid Oregon Scientific electronic organiser (model unknown) (source)

The exact model number of these things seems lost to time—there are a couple of eBay auctions out there for them, but the devices themselves don’t seem like they were ever marked with a model number, making it hard to track down. I’m pretty sure mine was a light grey version with red buttons, but if that memory is true, the internet seems to have also forgotten all about that variant.

The Canon DM-320 seems to have been a rebrand of the same unit, and is a little easier to track down, though I haven’t been able to find any information on which company originally made these. They were made from 1995-8, and I particularly like that there was a World Cup 1998 version!

Oregon Scientific DB-139

Oregon Scientific electronic organiser with 2-line display some more buttons Oregon Scientific DB-139 (source)

This very similar device lost the hole in the lid, but gained a proper number row on the keyboard and moved a few of the buttons around.

Sharp EL-6051

Sharp electronic organiser with 2-line display some more buttons Sharp EL-6051 (source)

This definitely felt like an upgrade over the previous Oregon Scientific devices, though with hindsight I’m not sure why. Here the second line of the display is only seven-segment, rather than full alphanumeric. It does tout an “E-MAIL” button though—I wish I had more details of exactly what that was and how it worked!

Sharp ZQ-1350

Sharp electronic organiser with 3 or 4-line and more feature buttons Sharp ZQ-1350 (source)

No email function here, but we have a backlight, todo and anniversary reminder functions. I love that these devices still retain a “quick reference guide” on the inside of the lid.

Packard Bell DB32

Electronic organiser with a wide screen and numpad next to the keyboard Packard Bell DB32 (source)

This was a Christmas present at some point in the late 90s, and I remember loving how much information you could fit on a screen that was a whole 24 characters wide!

Oregon Scientific AM-638C (maybe)

Bigger organiser with the screen and numpad in the top of the case, keyboard at the bottom Oregon Scientific AM-638C (source)

This one is a bit more of a mystery to me. My vague memory of owning something like this is that it was Hewlett-Packard branded, but if that’s true, the internet is silent on the subject of that existing. Mine had yellow buttons rather than red, but the general layout and look of the device is definitely the same.

Psion Organiser II

Much chunkier 2-line device Psion Organiser II (source)

My vague recollection is that some family member, maybe my aunt, got me this. It’s older than even the earliest electronic organisers at the top of the list, dating back to 1986, and it showed in its simple display and A-Z keyboard! It was programmable though, and I spent a long time playing with simple EPOC programs, which must have been frustrating on a 2x16 character display.

Motorola m3788

Early mobile phone with rubber buttons and simple display Motorola m3788 (source)

My first mobile phone, right at the tail end of the 90s. I think my parents bought this for me, before my “electronic organiser thing” turned into a “phone thing” and I started buying my own. Buying pre-paid cards so I could afford those 12p text messages, those were the days!

Nokia 3310

Classic late 90s Nokia candybar phone Nokia 3310 (source)

Everyone had one of these. Snake! Programmable ringtones!

I have a vague memory that I wanted a Nokia 7110 when they became cool, but I couldn’t afford one, so bought a push-release keypad cover case for my 3310 that made it look kind of similar.

Mitsubishi Trium MT-343 Geo

Early WAP phone with flip-down keypad cover Mitsubishi Trium MT-343 Geo (source)

My first phone with internet access, from the days where “WAP” had nothing to do with Cardi B (then aged 7). You could extend the antenna to give you a false sense that this would improve your painfully slow GSM data rate.

Motorola V100

Odd semi-transparent blue clamshell device with a full keyboard and LCD display Motorola V100 (source)

Is it weird that the thing I remember most about this device was the smell? It never seemed to shake its “new rubber” whiff. The other thing I remember about this is reading about the September 11th attack on it, again via WAP at glorious GSM mobile speeds. It was an odd device, more organiser than phone, though you could make and receive calls by plugging in a headset.

Ericsson R380 World

Phone with a keypad on a flip-down section, to expose a larger screen Ericsson R380 World (source)

I think I was given one of these in a broken state at some point; it powered on but I couldn’t get it to connect to a network. A cool design, the keypad itself could flip down to reveal a wide touchscreen.

Palm m105

Touchscreen Palm Pilot Palm m105 (source)

Another early 2000s device and my only one in this form factor. I remember trying to sync this thing to my work computer to download my calendar, back in the days before IT security would have a fit about that.

Psion 3a

Electronic organiser with a full widescreen display and (comparatively) large keyboard Psion 3a (source)

This was on my wishlist for a long time before I could afford one. I can’t remember what year I finally bought one, I think something like 2004, when I was at university and used it to write while on buses and trains. I broke it out again on its 16th birthday and it was still just about alive and kicking, though the screen failed on it a few years later.

Sony Ericsson W800

Early 2000s candybar phone Sony Ericsson W800 (source)

My first phone with a colour screen. My wife (then girlfriend) worked in a phone shop and probably got me some discount on this.

Nokia N95

Candybar phone with large screen and slide-out keypad Nokia N95 (source)

My first arguably-smart phone, I bought this after the first iPhone came out as its Symbian operating system supported apps when the iPhone didn’t! In particular I remember the ShoZu software being able to upload my photos straight from my phone to Flickr. Very cool.

HTC Magic

Early android phone with touchscreen and trackball HTC Magic (source)

And at last, the smartphone era. Who needs electronic organisers now, when phones can do everything they could and a million more things besides. My first Android phone was the HTC Magic with its trackball; one of the last interesting-looking phones before the dawn of the “black rectangle” era.

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