From Psion Series 5 to Nokia E90 - the Times, they are a-changin'

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Steve Litchfield photographs an odd couple and muses on the trade-offs needed to get from Psion Series 5 to Nokia E90....

As I mentioned in a recent AAS podcast, my trials of the Nokia E90 reminded me strongly of my feelings when I got my very first Psion Series 5, back in 1997, ten years ago, almost to the day. But I hadn't owned (or even seen) a Series 5 in years and wanted to snap a few photo comparisons. Step up a friend who had a 'spare in a drawer'!

Take a moment to absorb the size differences. It's easy to think that the E90 is 'huge' and probably isn't that different to the old Psion that we knew and loved a decade ago. But the form factor reduction is dramatic:

Nokia E90 and Psion Series 5

Nokia E90 and Psion Series 5

Quite a difference, the size of the Series 5 after all these years really surprised me. However, a bigger shock was to come, and in the opposite direction. After going from Series 5 to Nokia 9210 to 9500 and now the E90, I was used to a gradual reduction in keyboard size and key travel. But I was gobsmacked to open up the Series 5 for the first time in many years and see the scale of the Psion keyboard:

Nokia E90 and Psion Series 5

When Ewan mocks me for bringing up the subject of Psion yet again on AAS, I reserve the right to point people back to photos like these. The market for a Psion Series 5 may be different to that for 99% of Symbian OS smartphones, but there's still a big, big niche for a data-centric portable, instant-on device with an insanely great keyboard (witness the recent launch of the Palm Foleo, even though this is somewhat larger). And with that full-travel keyboard Psion pretty much nailed it, in my opinion. Here are another couple of shots of the difference in the keyboards:

Nokia E90 and Psion Series 5

Nokia E90 and Psion Series 5

Now, before you start yawning and muttering about Steve having his head stuck in the past, I should make the obvious point that the Psion was, in hindsight, a very limited device. It didn't seem to at the time, but the goalposts have moved. Not just within the ground but moved out into the solar system.

Comparing the two devices, the AA-powered Psion Series 5 comes out on top for having such a superlative keyboard, plus it has the equally super Data, a flat file database that has yet to be equalled (or even approached) by any third party offering. There was a touch-screen (if you like that sort of thing), its Agenda is vastly superior to the E90's Calendar and, arguably, the built-in Office suite was more capable too.

But in every other way, the E90 trounces its ancestor, quite apart from being a fraction of the size and much more robust. The 800 pixel wide bright colour screen, the rechargeable battery, the integrated high speed data and Wi-Fi, the built-in Web browser and Email (unbelievably, these were (free) add-ons on the Series 5) and the rolling in of functions from other standalone devices (3mp camera, VGA camcorder, A2DP music player, GPS) puts the icing on the cake.

The photos above show a big size difference but the true difference would be bigger, as the 1997 package would have had to include all these extra devices, all laid out beside and with their different power adapters and batteries and connection cables. Looking back, the sheer integration and convergence in the last 10 years is marked, to say the least.

Still, that Psion keyboard is worthy of one last, lingering photo, before we move on... 8-)

Nokia E90 and Psion Series 5

After 2 months of E90 use, the keyboard is my biggest negative with the device. It's better than the E61's, but only just, and the latter is half the size, weight and price. In a followup to this article, I'm going to be examining the qwerty-keyboarded options available today. Which one represents the best value and best performance? Watch this space!

Steve Litchfield, AllAboutSymbian, 11th June 2007