[ Retro Scan ] HP 95LX

August 30th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Hewlett-Packard HP 95LX HP-95LX Handheld Computer Pocket Computer Palmtop PC User's Guide Cover scan - 1991HP-95LX: Like a computer-shaped cookie that you can’t eat

In case you didn’t know, the HP 95LX is a small, portable IBM PC compatible machine running a full version of MS-DOS that ran off of two AA batteries. It marked the beginning of HP’s palmtop computer line, which I wrote about recently in a slideshow for PCMag.com.

The HP 95LX is special to me in particular because I’ve had one for over 20 years now. My dad bought the machine slightly-used from a friend not long after it came out. After fiddling around with it for a while, he gave it to me, and by 1993, I had it in my collection.

Using an RS-232 serial cable my dad built for me, I managed to transfer some MS-DOS programs to it (a few text-mode games mostly, and a few HP 95LX apps I downloaded from CompuServe), that I remember taking to school and using once or twice just for kicks. I also used that serial cable to hook the 95LX to a modem so I could call BBSes with it.

The worst thing about the 95LX — aside from its 1/4 CGA screen that doesn’t let you run many MS-DOS apps — is that if you don’t have a plug-in memory card, you lose all your saved data on the RAM disk if it runs out of batteries. Sure, it has a backup coin cell battery (or maybe two), but if that runs out, you’re out of luck. The PC Card-like memory cards cost a lot of money back in the 1990s, so I never had one until recently.

Still, it’s an amazing little machine. Very capable — if you have the patience to use it. A few years later, HP got everything right with the 200LX, which is still a popular portable MS-DOS machine among certain diehards today.

[ From HP 95LX Users’s Guide, 1991, cover ]

Discussion Topic: Did you own a palmtop PC in the 1990s? Tell us about it.



5 Responses to “[ Retro Scan ] HP 95LX”

  1. John Labovitz Says:

    During 1995–1996, the 95LX was my travel computer. I had a PCMCIA modem, so could dial up to my ISP wherever I found an RJ11 jack; later, I got an acoustic coupler, so could even fetch my email from a phone booth! Once I was able to dial in via a seat-back phone while flying, just for fun. This was LONG before wifi…

    It felt extremely well-made (like old HP calculators) and solid, and lasted a surprisingly long time on those easy-to-find AA batteries.

    Even with the tiny chiclet keyboard, I could write articles about my travels — mostly using my thumbs, as I recall. I’d coded a little email bot (hooked up to procmail on my server) which would take the emailed articles and publish the articles on my website (meer.net/~johnl at the time). Proto-blogging, I suppose.

    I never much liked MS-DOS, but the 95LX included some excellent software that fit the machine’s size. It was a lovely little machine.

  2. Benj Edwards Says:

    Wonderful memories, John. I loved those days when calling a BBS or online service on the road (I did it from a moving car with a cell phone in 1996 and it felt crazy) was a strange, futuristic thing.

  3. Gene Says:

    I collect all things HP, calculators and some palmtops.

    The 95LX was great for a couple of reasons.

    Lotus 1-2-3. You can’t overemphasize this. A pocket unit with the industry standard spreadsheet. Killer in many meetings.

    Size. You had that spreadsheet in a tiny unit that ran for 20 hours without a charge. Compare that to 2 hours in a 7 pound unit.

    Other PIM apps.

    DOS.

    HP calculator with solver. This was a great feature few really ever bothered to try.

    Bad thing? It had a bug where the IR port would stay on and batteries would drain rapidly when off.

  4. jistuce Says:

    i did not have a palmtop in the 90s.

    But “you lose all your saved data on the RAM disk if it runs out of batteries.” reminds me of the TI CC-40 dad had kicking around(closest thing we ever owned to a device in this class, though significantly larger, and featuring a ONE-LINE text display).
    No official external storage solutions existed after the WaferTape drive was cancelled(because it was too unreliable to release as designed). And the unofficial solutions are rare as hens’ teeth. So… yeah, that sure was a thing.

  5. Luis Says:

    Id love something like this but for modern Linux.

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