May 6, 2011 The eMate is not a Netbook


The eMate is not a Netbook. Wikipedia defines a Netbook as a category of small, lightweight, legacy-free, and inexpensive laptop computers. Although the eMate has a small 6.81 inch display, weights just 4 lbs., lacks an optical drive, and cost $800 in 1997 it is not a Netbook. The word Netbook implies a clamshell computer with a network connection, and out of the box the eMate 300 has none.

The origins of the Netbook can be traced to the Network Computer (NC) concept of the mid-1990s, but the eMate has no Ethernet jack for dependable wired access, and no wifi for convenient wireless internet. Its IrDA infrared port is best used for beaming small snippets of information, and the Newton 2400 bps fax modem was an optional accessory. Even Apple’s Internet Enabler software, vital for deciphering a TCP/IP connection, was never preinstalled. It takes a complicated bootstrap process with a “old world” Mac to get the eMate online, and once you have struggled through that mess you have all of the eMate’s 25MHz ARM processor, 1MB of RAM, and no browser to surf the internet with. The eMate is a hobby of a network computer at best but still Wikipedia lists it as an example of one of the very first Netbooks.

In the fast paced race of technology it is hard to tell who came in first, especially when the contested title is for a loosely defined category like world’s first Netbook. If you ask the internet what was the world’s first Netbook you get answers like…

The ASUS Eee PC 700, the first mass-produced Netbook, and the first computer to bear the generic Netbook title didn’t appear until 2007, ten years after the introduction of the eMate. With all these contenders (many that came before the eMate), and no network connectivity out of the box it is hard to see how the eMate was the world’s first Netbook.

The eMate may not be a Netbook, but it is a great personal digital assistant with a built-in keyboard. Designed for the education market the eMate features a rugged case and the same touch sensitive backlit 480×320 resolution display found in the most expensive Newtons. Its stylus, full-sized keyboard, infrared port, and serial/LocalTalk ports gives it a unique set of I/O for such a portable 4 lb. computer. Power comes from a built-in rechargeable battery pack that can last up to 28 hours on a full charge. And although the 25MHz CPU is slow by today’s standards it is more than enough for jotting down notes, managing an address book, keeping a calendar, word processing, database, spreadsheets, and drawing. In short the eMate is what you think it is, a durable PDA with a built-in keyboard for productivity on the go.

eMate 300 photo graciously provided by Paval of