Ministry of Prose: making words work for your business

One in a semi-regular series of ponderings, musings and contemplations on the interaction of words and psychology in business. Just don't call it a blog...



Alex Cruickshank's writing machines: Psion Series 3mx

February 2016

What a difference a year makes. 12 months ago* I was sitting in the audience for my daughters' ballet performance, surreptitiously writing a blog post using a Psion 5mx. Today I'm doing the same thing, but this time with a Psion 3mx.

There are plenty of similarities between the two machines. The 3mx pre-dates the 5mx, or at least its parent design does. The Psion 3-series launched in 1991 and I first got my grubby hands on the improved 3a version in 1994. I found it very hard to let go. The 3a and its replacements, the 3c and the 3mx, became as much a part of my life for the next decade as today's smartphones are for business users around the world.

Psion Series 3mx

I used them for my diary and calendar, to write technology reviews, features and interview notes, to keep track of accounts and, in a convoluted way, to manage emails and even update my early websites.

The things that made the 3mx great were similar to those that later pushed the 5mx into so many business users' pockets. Powered by two AA batteries that only had to be changed about once a month, the sleek clamshell design contained a daylight-readable LCD screen (with backlight on the 3mx) and a 58-key keyboard.

That keyboard wasn't like the 5mx one: it had chiclet-style keys similar to those on today's laptops, only much smaller. The key-caps were slightly curved, which made them easy to find and tap. As with the 5mx, a few batches had overly-stiff keys, but most, like the one I'm using today, were very light to the touch. With practice it's possible to brush lightly over the keys and develop an odd-but-fast typing style.

It didn't suit everyone, but I could easily reach 50pwm typing with my thumbs, holding the 3mx in both hands. I made mistakes, of course, but those were easily corrected later once the document had been transferred to a PC via serial cable. For quick note jotting and first drafts, the 3mx was perfect.

Well, almost perfect. It was dogged by weak hinges and flimsy screen cables, both of which tended to break with frequent use. Repairs weren't too tricky, though, and I've carried out preventative maintenance on the ones I now own, reinforcing the weak points with epoxy resin.

I still prefer the 3mx to the 5mx. Although it's older, less powerful and has no touchscreen, I find the design more elegant and the software more robust and efficient for my needs. Now I've managed to get it transferring data wirelessly to my PC via infra-red which, if you don't know better, is like an archaic version of Bluetooth only directional and more secure.

This is yet another in my collection of monochrome portable writing devices. Mono LCD screens were really a sweet-spot for electronics devices designed with writing in mind. Nothing since has come close to equalling them, though various e-ink devices currently launching on crowdfunding sites promise a similar experience.

Similar, but not the same. I'll stick with what works, including the lovely and elegant Psion 3mx.

* This blog post was drafted in December last year, but only finished now.

Alex Cruickshank is CEO and Chief Wordsmith at Ministry of Prose and can write the word 'quick' on a Psion 3mx in just three apparent moves.

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