Roger Frost achieves his quest for the ideal laptop with Psion's Series 7, a machine which is currently being tested in schools
UK company Psion has earned a place in the pockets of many. Its electronic organisers are computers with a wellfeatured diary, to-do list and address book, and it stands up to the competition. That they are often seen in staffrooms, hints that they have been easy on the pocket in the other sense too.
When schools bought them in bulk some years back, they gave whole classes access to word processors and spreadsheets and helped realise something many of us are still dreaming about. The Psion Series 7 realises the same dream but it does it big and in colour. With an eye on this goal, Lambeth's Education Action Zone (EAZ) has started using Psions with pupils aged 9-10 years.
Psion devotees might see it as a Series 5 pocket organiser grown up to mini-notebook size. However, the applications here do as much as most people use on a big machine. For instance, Psion's Word handles text formatting, spell-checking, thesaurus, bullets, tables and graphs. And then there are touches which really suit a machine for someone on the move: you set alarms to remind you of weekly meetings and you can leave emails half written or expenses half calculated and return to each later. It has the sense to save your work without bothering you and offers shortcut buttons to applications, while clicking the "zoom" button gains a perspective on a page - which is so important on a smaller screen.
While the software really delivers, the physical design is also super. The screen is bright and cantilevers back to a good angle, and the case is leater-bound, making it a joy to carry. Every part, from a handy keyboard and stylus to tap the screen to a tidy power supply offers a tweak of delight.
A little more money buys a standard modem - which these days really ought to be in here - the software for Web browsing and email is ready to go anyway.
Keeping up to date with work on your Windows PC is handled by software which transfers files between that and this. PsiWin does the job of converting from one to the other as invisibly as you would want.
Put the Psion beside a pile of rival Windows CE machines, and the latter only promises more in the way of networking, (USB) peripherals and printing than is easily delivered in practice. Those with the time to go fix that may rejoice, but ultimately it's neck and neck for compatibility. More to the point, the three Lambeth primary schools using them in a pilot project have clearer goals - like developing literacy and numeracy. Helped by an EAZ which funded 100 Psion Netbooks (a modified version not available in shops) this computer offers the size, software and robustness that's unusually apt for the purpose.
For portability and software designed for the job, the Psion 7 feels ahead of its competition. Only pedantry rates a regular laptop as the ideal.
Psion Series 7 - Mini-notebook size computer with 7.8 inch colour touch-screen, 16Mb memory, Lithium battery, Microsoft-compatible "office" suite. Ports include PC card; compact flash card. Price: pound;550 + VAT
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Suitability for purpose *****
Ease of use *****
Quality of output ***
Value for money *****