Blast From the Past: Palm Foleo

Palm-Foleo-1A few weeks back I finally managed to add an extremely rare computer to my collection.

The Palm Foleo debuted back in 2007. This was going to be Palm's breakthrough product in the new netbook market niche that everyone was just beginning to notice. Unfortunately for Palm, this wasn't all that great of a design, and the Foleo died before it ever hit the market.

I picked one up on Ebay for $200. It was in reasonably good cosmetic condition for a 4 year old device. It didn't come with the power adapter, but I picked one up at Radio Shack (12v).

For more posts on antique gadgets, click here.

I haven't used it extensively, but that's because it's not very usable by today's standards. I did try it enough to understand what an odd little beast it was. First and foremost among its quirks is that it didn't have a home screen or desktop. Unlike virtually every device made since Windows 1.0, the Foleo displayed its list of installed apps as a dropdown menu in the upper left corner. That menu pops up over what ever you have open at the moment.

Actually, that menu design made sense. The Foleo lacks a trackpad, and while the track pointer works well, I'm  not sure it's up to navigating around a desktop. Placing the menus in the dropdown means that you can open another app without removing your hands from the keyboard.

Speaking of apps, the Foleo died with such speed that not very many apps  were made for it. Most of what I've found were the beta releases of office apps, and I've also found that some older Flash games will run on it. I couldn't find a reading app, but Ibis Reader, a browser based Epub app, worked okay.

The Foleo is (by today's standards) under-powered and it's running an out of date web browser. Its other major limitation was that its email client required a phone to sync with. While I'm sure that made sense to Palm, it also hobbled the Foleo.

The Foleo on top of my Dell Inspiron Duo

It has a 10" screen, Wifi, USB port, SD card slot, and an internal CF card slot (in the battery compartment). The CPU is rated at 416MHz, and it feels slower than devices I've owned with comparable CPUs.

But the rest of the hardware design is surprisingly solid. I haven't touched it in a couple weeks and it still has a nearly full battery. For a device that is in sleep mode, not off, that is a remarkable achievement - especially considering the age of the device.

BTW, this isn't the first netbook, not by a longshot. But it was one of the first to be marketed under the name netbook (even though it never hit the market).

The original netbook was released by Psion in 2003. It really was called the Psion Netbook, and that is where the name first appeared. It had a 7" touchscreen and a cramped keyboard, as well as several card slots and ports. It ran one of the last versions of EPOC, the OS that Psion developed for their line of pocketable organizers.

That was the first of several netbooks that Psion released before abandoning the niche. There was also a Windows CE model called the Netbook Pro. And the Psion Series 7 had slightly different hardware and was the very last EPOC device to be released. Shortly afterwards Psion sold the rights to EPOC to Nokia, who turned it into Symbian.

Getting back to the Foleo, I have to say that it's not a bad design. If not for the fact that it was dependent on a smartphone, I would think that this design would have done well back in 2007. It certainly had the hype and the developer support. Had it been launched as a standalone device it would likely have at least held its own.

P.S. Does anyone know who developed the hardware design? They're good. I'd like to see what else they've worked on.

About Nate Hoffelder (11477 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."

7 Comments on Blast From the Past: Palm Foleo

  1. >>>The CPU is rated at 416MHz

    The guts of it are the same as a Palm PDA of that time!

    Did IDEO design it?

  2. I think you are wrong, they were just light years ahead of its time & poorly marketed.

    Dumb display devices that are dependent on a smart phone for processing power, like the Foleo format, will be the norm with in 3 years.

  3. I just picked up a Foleo on eBay and am trying to get it to communicate with my Palm Treo 650. So far they seem to talk on Bluetooth, but nothing useful happens. The Foleo setup documentation tells me I am supposed to go to a Palm website to get updates for my phone in order to use it with the Foleo. That URL goes nowhere these days except a generic HP support screen. Do you have any idea how I can go about getting the needed updates for my Treo 650 to talk with the Foleo?

  4. So I was working for Palm back when the Foleo was gearing up for launch. I actually had one supplied to me for my job. I have to admit, I loved it. I was really, *really* upset to have to give it back, and it wasn’t until years later that I found out I didn’t actually HAVE to give it back, I could’ve kept it. Really, REALLY wish I had. I know it seems like a joke without a punchline, but the problem was that people didn’t truly understand what the device wasn’t about. It wasn’t *really* a netbook, in the sense that we’ve come to know them. It was a smartphone companion. It was intended for people that relied on their Palm smartphone for work and travel because a full laptop was too cumbersome. Yes, it had the same processor as the smartphone line of the time, that was intentional. Yes, it had limited capability, it wasn’t supposed to replace your computer. It was literally meant to give you a larger interface for your phone, that’s it. And in that capacity, it worked really, really well. I was more prone to keep up with my emails on my Foleo than on my smartphone *or* my PC. It just worked out really, really well.

    Fondly enough, it wasn’t the weak specs that actually killed the project. At launch, the device would only work out-of-the-box with the Centro. That update that Chris U. was talking about was screwing up other phones left and right. My team actually discovered the problem when we were installing it onto our personal demo 700s and 755s, it had to be installed before certain other (really common) applications, or it would essentially break…something. I forget what, maybe the email. Regardless, it was a really bad bug. And I’m pretty certain it wasn’t ever intended to work with the Treo 650, it was just too old by that point.

    I still have my Centro, and would love to get my hands on another Foleo, but damn they go for a lot on eBay when they come up!

2 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Asus Padphone is Not the Wave of the Future - The Digital Reader
  2. Palm Foleo Now Listed on Ebay - The Digital Reader

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.