Now that Foxconn bough Sharp for $3.5 Billion (a straw), many of the Sharp aficionados feel like an era has ended. You may not know it, but until very recently, one could still buy a Sharp pocket computer. The cherry on the cake, these ultimate machines were natively programmable in C language! Well, I guess that Foxconn will not pursue this route.
The story of Sharp and pocket computers goes way back into the ’70s. In 1977, the PC-1200 (first programmable calculator of the brand to be labeled Pocket Computer – or PC) was introduced. A year later, the PC-1300(S) was introduced, also as a pocket computer, but this time with a mini-FORTRAN programming language (more on that later). In 1980, Sharp dropped its bomb with the PC-1210 (PC-1211 and PC-1212 shortly), the first pocket computers programmable in BASIC. In less than 5 years, Sharp wrote the pocket computer history. Ok, there was a serious competitive landscape with Casio on one side of the Pacific Ocean, and TI & HP on its other one.
But regardless, Sharp arguably led the pack. This week, I am pleased to share a few pictures of the PC-1300S I recently acquired. This machine is remarkable in many aspects. First, although it is battery powered, it is not a pocket computer – try to fit this beast in your pocket! Besides this sizable detail, it is programmable and therefore qualifies as a computer. Even better, it is said to be programmable in mini-FORTRAN. I believe that if this ever has been claimed by the company, it must have been done by a marketing genius. Nothing in the manuals speaks FORTRAN, and the use of **, DO and CNT is an argument pulled by the hair.
What it really is, is a keystroke programmable calculator with good support for tests, branching, and subroutines. The VFD display is really nice – a bit weak from a brightness point of view and has no way of adjusting it – with alpha capability (a big step-up from the segments only VFD of the PC-1200). The magnetic card reader (to read and write programs and data) is the jewel of the crown to me. Circa 79, one could find a similar feature in the TI-58/59, HP-65/67 and the Casio Pro fx1 for the most known. A with the latter, the user had to swipe the card thru the reader of the Sharp. These solid plastic cards’ (same for the Casio – although not the same cards) edges exhibit high-contrast markings used as a time synchronization mechanism.
No need for motors and wheels, and overall, this system aged better. In the same package, a small thermal printer was also available. It used the well recognizable silver thermal paper and was great to keep a trace of the programs and the computations. Beware though, prints on this media tend to vanish over time. Not too shabby for a ~38-year-old computer! As a collector, I also appreciate the low serial number of my model (995). Not sure how many of them were made, but the sticker has more space for digits… I could not resist also share a few family pics. Enjoy!