While many credit Apple’s Newton as being the first pen-based PDA, Amstrad’s PenPad (PDA600) actually beat Apple to the market place by several weeks back in 1993. Unlike the Newton, the PenPad’s hand writing recognition software did not read (or misread) flowing script. You had to write each individual letter in an area at the top of the screen, an interface the PalmPilot later adopted. The PenPad was advanced enough, however, to have a trainable character recognition system.

The PenPad’s “PDA” designation was changed in mid-development when Apple’s press releases about their forthcoming Newton had already coined the PDA term.

The PenPad was based around the venerable Z80 chip. The basic model had 128K RAM and could be expanded to 2 megs. It debuted at a price of $400 (versus the Newton’s astounding introductory price of $900). The PenPad was a decided flop.

It ran its own proprietary OS that let you take notes (the base model’s 128K could keep only about 20 notes), enter items onto a to-do list, and enter phone numbers into a phone book. A built-in speaker let you dial numbers via tone dialing. Software let you transfer data between your PenPad and a PC over a serial cable.

The PenPad used 3 AA batteries and had large power demands. Battery life was about 12 hours.