HP Omnibook 300 at 20: A Retro Tech Look-Back

HP Omnibook 300 at 20: A Retro Tech Look-Back

HP Omnibook 300

As we look forward to new technology, sometimes it is instructive to look back to our favorites. I recently looked at the Iomega Zip Drive, but now I want to highlight one of my all-time favorite laptops: the HP Omnibook 300. This laptop was built by the calculator division rather than the PC division and remains one of the best.

By 1993, I had been using Hewlett-Packard calculators for more than 15 years, and was using the HP-48GX at the time. I was also using the HP 200LX, which was a hybrid of a PDA, computer and calculator. So when HP announced the Omnibook 300, I was sold!

Just think about some of the specs:
– 2.9lbs
– 9″ screen
– 386SXLV processor
– 2MB RAM
– Full sized keyboard
– Pop-out mouse
– 10MB Flash storage or 40MB hard disk
– Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word pre-installed in ROM, along with HP PIM apps and Microsoft Windows 3.1

Now some of these things are fairly ordinary, such as the processor – the 386 would rule the laptop roost for another couple of years before mainstream 486 laptops appeared. Also, a 9″ screen was nothing remarkable at that point. Same for the 2MB of RAM and 40MB hard disk.

HP Omnibook 300 at 20: A Retro Tech Look-Back  HP Omnibook 300 at 20: A Retro Tech Look-Back

So why the fascination? I think it all stems from the Omnibook 300 coming from the HP calculator group. Let me detail the crazy innovations:

Powered by Four AA Batteries

Could you imagine being out and running out of charge on your laptop, but being able to pop in a set of AA batteries and be all set for the rest of the day? That is what the HP Omnibook 300 promised – and delivered.

Pop-Out Mouse

Introduced at a time when a mouse was still optional for using a laptop, many folks carried a big clunky desktop mouse around with them, that was inconvenient for use in cramped areas. The ThinkPad 700 with TrackPoint came out only a few months earlier – but in a 6.5lb package for $3000! So having a laptop that was small and light – and relatively inexpensive – with a mouse that would simply pop out and work … was a revolution. It was – and is – one of my favorite all-time computer design elements.

10MB Flash Storage

We think nothing now of computers with no moving parts, but 20 years ago? HP made the silent laptop a reality. With no spinning disk, the HP Omnibook 300 was much less apt to suffer failure. Again, today hard disk failures are relatively rare – but 20 years ago they were way too common if you tried to walk around with your laptop running.

Built-in Microsoft Word & Excel and HP PIM Apps

Storage was expensive in 1993, and applications – Microsoft’s Office suite in particular – were getting larger and larger. The HP95LX from 1991 had Lotus 1-2-3 built into ROM as well as a full PIM suite, but it was unheard of in a computer – and still is. Yet the result is that it launched those apps very quickly and left loads of space for files.

HP Omnibook 300 at 20: A Retro Tech Look-Back  HP Omnibook 300 at 20: A Retro Tech Look-Back  HP Omnibook 300 at 20: A Retro Tech Look-Back

Legacy

Ultimately I left the HP Omnibook 300 behind, and moved on to the Omnibook 800CT when it came out in 1997. The 800CT had a 10.4″ color screen and a 166MHz Pentium processor, 48MB RAM and a 2GB hard disk! All of this in the same package as the Omnibook 300! It is actually still a solid little laptop that I have kept around – it has an external floppy drive and CD-ROM drive that allow you to hook in other apps. And the built-in PIM works great for synchronizing data with the HP200LX.

Did you ever have one of the classic Omnibooks? What is your favorite legacy laptop?

Check out my hands-on video!

HP Omnibook 300 at 20: A Retro Tech Look-Back  HP Omnibook 300 at 20: A Retro Tech Look-Back  HP Omnibook 300 at 20: A Retro Tech Look-Back  HP Omnibook 300 at 20: A Retro Tech Look-Back

About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!
  • Mitchell Oke

    In a way mobile tech was more interesting back in those days. I remember picking up a Jornada 680 Handheld PC about 10 years ago, was great fun to tinker with. Had a WiFi card for it an everything!

    • Look for one of these for the HP Jornada 720 coming sometime soon-ish 😉

      Actually the WiFi was an issue – the cards and drivers that work best don’t support WPA2 security (which is what we have) …

  • Gary Bunker

    Video is private or Youtube is having a conniption.
    I remember when that laptop was introduced, and I had such high hopes for the all-PCMCIA future.

    • Thanks Gary – it is public now! Yeah, even now it is hard to justify paying such a premium for less storage, especially on something like a MacBook Pro. For me, I like having BootCamp on there, so I need >500GB … whereas on something like an Air 256 would be fine.