Atari Portfolio, the handheld PC that immortalized the Terminator | Digital Trends Spanish


Remember Terminator 2: The Judgment Day? In his opening scenes, a teenage John Connor hacks into an ATM and rakes in a good amount of dollars by using an Atari Portfolio, the first handheld in history. It was 1991 and it seemed that the future was now closer than ever.

Atari Corporation, a small company that continued the legacy of the iconic Atari Inc., popular in the 1970s and 1980s for its home video game consoles, anticipated the major manufacturers of the time, such as IBM, Apple or Commodore.

And although it could revolutionize the market, it did not.

What the Atari Portfolio was like

Handheld computers or Palmtop PCs were devices the size of a pocket calculator. Unlike other similar computers, they were based on DOS and featured a PC architecture and BIOS that were mostly compatible with IBM computers.

And although the Atari Portfolio is remembered as the first, strictly speaking it was not created by Atari Corporation, but by the British company DiP Research, which launched it in 1989 in the United Kingdom as DIP Pocket PC.

Atari observed that the device could revolutionize technology by providing a freedom that seems natural to us today thanks to smartphones. In this way, it obtained a license to commercialize it in the main markets such as Atari Portfolio.

Weighing less than 500 grams and the size of a VHS, the Atari Portfolio was presented as a solution for those who needed to work on the go and not be tied to the then gigantic desktop computers.

The device was equipped with a rotating LCD screen with a resolution of 240 x 64 pixels, which only allowed to display 8 lines of 40 characters. In addition, it had a small QWERTY-type keyboard, which considered functions, direction and number keys.

In addition, it had applications such as a text editor, a spreadsheet (compatible with Lotus 1-2-3), a phone book, and a calendar organizer. And in terms of autonomy, it was capable of lasting up to six weeks with just three AAA batteries.

Storage was its weakest point. It had a memory card that had less capacity than floppy disks of the time: between 32 and 128 KB (although it later added a 4 MB version). Although they could be replaced, they cost almost half as much as a new console.

Why it wasn’t more popular

The Atari Portfolio inaugurated a market that would later be dominated by HP and Sharp. PDA – personal digital assistants – were anticipated, where the Apple Newton, all Palm devices, and Microsoft pocket computers.

Despite this, Atari decided to discontinue it in 1993. Why was it not persistent or more popular? On the one hand, it was a device that was ahead of the time, since when it was released not even the use of home computers was widespread.

Another factor was the crisis faced by Atari Corporation. Despite the good reception the Atari Portfolio had, its sales were not enough to contain the losses it faced in the video game console segment, where it was unable to withstand pressure from Sega, Sony and Nintendo.

The fate of the Atari Portfolio seemed to be sealed from before. Not even John Connor or the Terminator could change it.

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