My 23 Year Old Tablet Computer
By James Grahame
What with all the talk about Apple's forthcoming iPad, I decided to dig through the closet for my old Cambridge Z88. Introduced in 1987, this lightweight tablet was a serious attempt to revolutionize portable computing.
True, it didn't have a touchscreen or wireless connectivity. However, it managed to cram a silent rubber keyboard and 640 x 64 monochrome LCD panel into a tiny frame perfectly sized for airplane or boardroom use. It also shipped with a decent set of productivity tools that made it a genuinely useful portable computer.
Almost 23 years after it rolled off the assembly line, mine functions perfectly. It's still quite useful as a dedicated word processor, actually. The Z88 runs for about 20 hours on 4 x AA batteries, which is quite impressive even by today's standards. This one has a 128 K RAM pack and a 1 MB EEPROM pack for non-volatile program storage (which would have been absolutely enormous back then). Someone was nice enough to port Lemmings, too, so I can sneak in a quick game while waiting for inspiration to strike.
One thing the Z88 has that's missing from devices like the iPad is a decent built-in programming language. It offers a capable BASIC interpreter that can prove quite handy for solving financial or engineering problems in a hurry. All in all, it's a neat little package for DIY tinkerers that was years ahead of its time. I can only imagine what designer Clive Sinclair would have done with today's LED backlit screens and extreme miniaturization.
While this little machine eventually lost its battle against an onslaught of boring beige MS-DOS laptops, you can still buy new old stock Z88 computers and accessories from Rakewell Limited in the UK. Prices start at £80.