Psion Series 3

Vital Statistics

Introduced 1991
Retired: 1998
Launch Prices: £269 (3a 256K), £399.99 (3a 2 MB), £269.95 (3mx 1 MB)
Quantity Sold: 1,500,000
Countries: Worldwide
Dimensions: 165 x 85 x 23 mm
Weight: 275g with batteries
Ports: RS232C serial (9600 baud on Series 3), 19.2Kbps (3a+), Infra-red (3c, 3mx)
CPU: NEC V30H @ 3.84 MHz (Series 3) or 7.68 MHz (Series 3a, 3c), NEC V30MX @ 27.6 MHz (Series 3mx)
Usable RAM
: 256K/512K (Series 3), 256K/512K/1MB/2MB (Series 3a, 3c), 1MB/2MB (Series 3mx)
Built-in ROM: 1 MB (3, 3a, 3c), 2 MB (3mx)
Colours: 2 colours (black and white)
Screen: 5.16" LCD with resolution of 240x80 (Series 3) or 480x160 (Series 3a, 3c, 3mx)
Sound: Internal beeper, 12-bit sound recording (3a, 3c, 3mx)
Built-in Language: OPL
Variants : Acorn Pocket Book / Pocket Book II

more ...


What's it like today?


Fun Factor:
3/5
Geek Factor: 4/5
Rarity
: S3 (Quite rare), 3A/3C (Fairly common)
Typical value: £20-£40 (3, 3a, 3c)
Boxed & Mint: £70-£90

The Psion Series 3 was a huge step up over the Organiser I and II it replaced in 1991. With a full graphical 97x39mm LCD display, a full QWERTY keyboard, and an icon-driven menu system, it was largely responsible for starting the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) market. It was able to provide up to 30 hours of life from two AA cells, which made it very usable on a daily basis either in the office or while travelling, and had a backup battery coin cell which kept the data contents safe during battery changes.

Some aspects of the successful Psion Organiser series were brought forward into the Series 3 range, such as the expansion slots, but the format was changed. The series 3 had two slide-open expansion bays on its underside. These bays supported flash memory cards on which you could store data files. Psion as well as third-party companies developed application software memory cards which were purchasable separately. Another great feature that helped sell the Organiser series was the built-in programming language, OPL (Organiser Programming Language), which enabled users to create their own programs.

The built-in applications were System Shell (for settings), Data (a database application), Word (a comprehensive word processor), Agenda (a personal management application), Time (clock and alarm manager), World (world info database), Calc (a calculator that supports OPL extensions), and Sheet (a spreadsheet application).

It's innovative clamshell design did suffer from a few flaws. Over time, the ribbon cable which attached the LCD display to the keyboard section would fail, or the hinges would crack, causing the clamshell to not open properly.

Acorn were licensed to produce their own OEM version of the Series 3, called the Acorn Pocket Book. This was identical to the Series 3 in terms of hardware, but the internal software applications were updated to reflect a different market. Aimed at children and young students, the Agenda application (an electronic diary and Rolodex) was dropped, and the names of the other apps changed ('Word' became 'Write', 'Sheet' became 'Abacus' and 'Data' became 'Cards'). Aside from the names, these applications behaved the same. Acorn also rebranded the 3Link interfaces, calling them "A-LINK". All Psion Series 3 software is 100% compatible with the Pocket Book.

 

In 1993, Psion released an upgraded version of the Series 3, called the Series 3a. This provided a larger screen (126 x 45mm) with twice the resolution (480x160) and 3 shades of grey (white, grey, and black), and came with either 256K or 512K of RAM. It also got a CPU upgrade with double the clock speed, now running an NEC V30H at 7.68 MHz. These addressed two of the main criticisms of the Series 3 (the small screen and the poor performance, even though they were a massive step up from the forerunning Organiser series). Further enhancements with the 3a included a built-in microphone for voice recording, and an I/O port for a modem, printing, and for PC synchronisation of files. An optional Psion fax/modem could be purchased that permitted communication at 19,200 baud. Using this device the user could send faxes, email, browse the web, send SMS messages, and more. In order to operate the fax/modem, the user had to install special Comms applications via the 3-Link cable or from the 3Fax/PsiMail software.

In 1995 Psion released 1MB and 2MB RAM versions which also came with more built-in software in the ROM, including a spell checker and thesaurus, communications software (so you no longer had to install it separately), and a Patience game.

All this additional software had previously been available as optional extras for the 3a.

Once again, Acorn were authorised to produce their own variant, which they called Acorn Pocket Book II in February 1995. It was essentially the 3a hardware plus some of the applications that were omitted from the original Pocket Book, including the Agenda (called 'Scheduler') plus a new 'Plotter' (graph plotting software). This additional software meant the Pocket Book II came with a 2 MB ROM.

 

In 1996, Psion further improved their Series 3 range with the introduction of the Series 3c. This came in either 1 MB or 2MB variants, but kept the same CPU and screen as the 3a.

On the hardware side, the most notable additions with the 3c were an IrDA-compatible infra-red port and a faster serial port, permitting communications up to 57.6 Kbps.

The Psion 3c has a slightly different external appearance to the earlier variants: a redesigned badge is placed centrally on the lid, the lid has fewer undulations than on previous models, and a port for the infrared connection is visible. The plastic case is painted matte dark grey.

The built-in software also received some new additions. The 3c now sported a Jotter application for drawing, and a File Manager were added for easier access to files.

Acorn chose to drop out of the PDA market after the Pocket Book II, so there was no 3c-equivalent OEM'd by Acorn.

 

 

The final PDA in the Series 3 range was introduced in 1998. The Series 3mx came with a faster processor (NEC V30H running at 27 MHz), back-lit LCD screen, and more built-in software. The built-in Word processor got a much-needed update to support full Microsoft Word format with export capabilities for other popular word processors, the database became fully configurable by the user, the spreadsheet became Lotus 1-2-3 compatible, a sound file editor, and more. The SSD slots supported expansion cards of up to 4 MB each. With the optional parallel link cable, you could print directly to a printer, and with the optional PsiWin serial link and software you could easily transfer files to and from a PC or Apple Macintosh. The cable could also be used to provide email facilities via a modem.

Lots of homebrew / shareware software was written over the years for the 3, 3a, 3c, and 3mx. One of the more notable that most Series 3 owners will be aware of is the 3-Lib library, maintained by Steve Litchfield since 1994.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the Series 3 range's life a number of accessories were made available to assist with connectivity and productivity. Some of these were:

 
3Link RS232 interface for serial communications with a PC, serial printer, or modem. Provided with PsiWin communications software. 3Link Parallel interface used for connecting your Series 3 directly to a printer. The Psion has all common printer drivers built-in. A Fax modem which connects directly to the serial port on the S3c. The unit comprises a battery powered (2AA cells) V32bis modem with fax V29 facility. To make use of the fax element users needed to purchase a copy of PsiFax software. Used in standard modem mode the unit can transmit and receive data at 14.4 kbps with MNP5 data compression Solid State Disks (SSD) to increase the storage or memory capacity available for programs. Two SSDs may be fitted, with two types available: RAM (with lithium backup battery) and Flash (no backup battery needed). Capacities range from 128KB to 8MB. A stylish leather case to provide excellent protection for a folded Psion Series 3/3a/3c/3mx computer  

 

 

 

This page was last updated on 9th January 2015.