Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006

October 26, 2013 • Editorials

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

HP Omnibook 300

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
– 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 SS2

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 SS3


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!


4 Responses to " HP Omnibook 300 at 20: A Retro Tech Look-Back "

  1. Mitchell Oke says:

    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!

  2. Gary Bunker says:

    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.

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