Blast From the Past: HP 360LX

Back before the ereader boom, I collected various handheld gadgets which I could adapt as ereaders. This was back in the heady days of 2008, when my only practical choices for ereaders were Kindle, Sony, Bookeen, and Ebookwise. There was also Irex, but frankly they were too expensive.

This post is an expansion and update to one I wrote in 2008. This gadget has remained the same, but the market has shifted drastically. I thought it would be interesting to show you a device that I liked back then, just to show you how much things had changed.

Let me put the change into perspective.

Back in 2008, Pandigital was still making digital picture frames, Pocketbook were just getting started in the Ukraine, and Hanvon had just released their first 5" ereader in China,. The founders of Onyx hadn't left Irex yet, and Jinke had a couple of partners in Europe (but none in the US).

And tablets? Hah. They cost around $1k, and the price went up from there.

So I started looking for alternatives.

The 360LX was one of Hewlett-Packard's first Handheld PCs (HPC). There are earlier models, but based on the number of 360LX that have been on Ebay I'd say that this was the first popular model to hit the market. This one came out in 1997. It has a 60Mhz CPU, 8MB RAM, CF card slot, PC card slot, keyboard, touchscreen, and runs WinCE 2.0.

The screen is what first caught my eye. It is a rather funky looking 6" HVGA widescreen with a resolution of 640 by 240.

When HP started developing HPCs, they decided to ignore the standard set by Microsoft and use what was at the time a bizarre screen geometry. This was a brilliant decision; the keyboard is wide enough that I can sue 3 or more fingers, and and the 360LX folds up small enough that I can still put it in a pocket.

The first nice feature is the backlight because it can be turned off. I've tried the 360LX under may lighting conditions (from bright sunlight to a darkened room), and it has worked in all lighting conditions. Plus, there are keyboard buttons for the back light and contrast. I don't have to be able to read the screen in order to adjust it.

The next notable feature is the battery. The 360LX runs on 2 AA batteries. It also has a backup battery, and supports hot swapping the AAs. I think I've gotten about 7 hours use from a pair of rechargeables. The battery situation is also something of a weak point; you have to make sure they don't die on you.

It's a 14 year old design, but in some ways it still beats modern Android or iOS gadgets. It ships with Pocket Office, which means it has better document creation abilities and more format support than any current mobile office suite. It can also run several apps at once.

Reading Experience

I've never found the need to look beyond Mobipocket. It works well, and at the time I bought the 360LX I had a large collection of DRM free ebooks for my Kindle.  I used this one (the later versions don't work). I found it to be quite usable.

The screen refresh speed is adequate. Unfortunately, this never became my main ereader because there is a bug in this version of the Mobipocket Reader. Screen rotation does not work, so I can't hold it vertically and read. Plus, dictionary lookup is very slow.

Pro

  • runs on 2 AA batteries
  • supports Mobipocket
  • keyboard
  • big screen (compared to a PDA)
  • pocketable
  • back light can be turned on & off

Con

  • slow program loading
  • slow dictionary lookup
  • Mobipocket Reader doesn't support screen rotation
  • weighs just over a pound
  • menu is in Portuguese

Cost: $65*
$55 HP 360LX
$10 2GB CF card
*(I don't include the cost of the batteries or card reader because I already had them.)

My recommendation (from 2008):

It's a pretty decent reader for the price. I found it on Ebay from a seller I highly recommend (usedhandhelds). He had quite a few left.

My recommendation (current):

I still like this as a toy, but there are a bunch of cheap options now. You can get the Literati for under $50, and cheap basic ereaders for under $100.

About Nate Hoffelder (11588 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

5 Comments on Blast From the Past: HP 360LX

  1. How big is that thing? It looks a little like a Psion (PDA) that my husband had years ago, He loved it until it died on him. As I recall, it ran on AA batteries.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psion_3

  2. I still have a Casio A-20 in a drawer somewhere. It was/is great for playing IF and reading.

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