Most people today have a laptop, but current models have come along way from the original Epson HX-20.

What is the Epson HX-20?

The Epson HX-20 was invented by Yukio Yokozawa in 1980 and is considered the be the first laptop computer. Yokozawa worked for the company today known as Seiko Epson and received the patent for his invention. It was originally launched in Japan as the HC-20, and only became known as the HX-20 when it was introduced to the US market the year after.

It became a massive hit at the COMDEX show in Las Vegas because you could carry it with you. Portable, battery-charges computers were a brand new trend at the time and it was all the more interesting due to its practical size.

Features and Benefits of the Epson HX-20

The Epson HX-20 came in two colors (silver and cream), was the size of an A4 paper and weighed 1.6kg. In 1982, it was mass-produced in both the Japanese and US markets where it was labeled as the fourth revolution in personal computing by BusinessWeek.

The laptop came with two programs. One was a monitor application that enabled users to manipulate the memory of the system. The other was the BASIC programming language developed by Microsoft. It also came with a digital clock that could easily be set.

The HX-20 also came with a dot-matrix printer the size of a pocket calculator. It was able to print 42 lines per minute, each with a maximum of 24 characters per line.

In terms of storage, the HX-20 offered a built-in miniature micro-cassette recorder that customers could add on for an additional $135. Despite its now primitive technology, it automatically backed up the data twice without any additional work on the user’s part. Each micro-cassette tape could hold around 50 kilobytes of data. Users who wanted additional data storage could also buy an external cassette recorder and an external floppy disk drive.

The laptop also came with nickel-cadmium batteries, which were not only rechargeable but could also last 50 hours. That’s quite a lot considering that today’s laptops only last for a few hours before having to be recharged. As opposed to modern computers, however, the HX-20 didn’t automatically turn off when idle. So inattentive users could easily deplete the battery.

The LCD screen was only 32 pixels high and 120 pixels wide, and could only show four lines of text with 20 characters on each. Although this seems extremely tiny by today’s standards, it was actually the largest LCD screen available at the time.

The Legacy of the Epson HX-20

Despite the many extras customers could buy and attach to the Epson HX-20, it was lampooned by critics. Only a year after its initial release, BYTE magazine wrote that it didn’t sell well because it lacked accessories and an operating system enabling users to store data on cassettes. The only praise BYTE had for the laptop was for the accompanying dot-matrix printer, which they called amazing.

A year later, the TRS-80 Model 100 hit the international market and quickly overshadowed the success of the Epson HX-20. However, the TRS-80 Model 100 wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the HX-20, as much of its design was based on the first Epson.

Image courtesy of oldcomputer.info.

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