Apple Newton 2100 (Pt. I)

Fast forward to 1997. I’d finished university and had a real job. It was also one of those rare periods when I had no significant financial burdens. With no major outgoings, and fresh from the penny-pinching days of studenthood, I seemed to have a lot of spare cash floating around. What was a man to do, other than spend stupid amounts of money on new tech?

So I found myself traipsing off to the (not very) local Authorised Apple Reseller to have a play with a Newton 2100. This was the latest and greatest of the Newton line: a king amongst PDAs – with a royal price tag of 699. I may have had money to burn, but not even I was stupid enough to pay full price to an Apple reseller. My trip there was simply to try the 2100 out, to make sure that the upgrade of the operating system hadn’t ruined the things that I’d come to love about the MP100. I wasn’t disappointed – although the salesman at the shop definitely was.

I had a couple of friends who were also impressed by the MP100 – but not 699 worth of impressed. They decided to buy a Newton 120 each – the same basic operating system as the 2100, but with significantly less powerful hardware. The three of us pooled our money to make a single purchase with a mail-order company in order to negotiate a better deal. So it was that in December 1998 my Newton 2100 arrived. Little did I know at the time that only two months later the whole Newton line would be discontinued by Apple.

The 2100 addressed some, but not all, of my issues with the MP100:

  • Although it didn’t have a case, it did have a removeable screen cover which is still the best I’ve seen on any PDA
  • The faster processor (162MHz rather than the 20MHz of the MP100) meant that the handwriting recognition was far faster – and it also seemed to be more accurate
  • The 2100 had a new version of Newton OS – version 2.1 compared with 1.3 in the MP100. One of the things that the engineers concentrated on when developing the 2.x series was reducing the amount of handwriting that was required. I might expand on this in a later post, but suffice to say that the reduction in the amount of writing that was required was significant
  • The synchronisation tools were still quite poor. With the abandonment of the platform a couple of months later this is a situation that was never to improve
  • It was still physically large – moreso than the MP100. The functionality and power it offered made it a viable replacement for a laptop in many ways, so its size could actually be considered as quite small. However for those occasions when you just needed an address book, it was a rather hefty lump of plastic to have to carry

On the whole it was a great machine: powerful, extensible and delivered everything it promised and more. In the next post I’ll look at some of the highlights of the MP2100.


  1. TONY KAN says:

    “The synchronisation tools were still quite poor. With the abandonment of the platform a couple of months later this is a situation that was never to improve”

    Synchronisation has been solved but if you’re using a Windows machine it will cost you. See

    NCX works on all versions of OS X except Leopard. See

  2. Mark says:

    Thanks for that information. I did actually try NCX a couple of years ago, but couldn’t get it to work at all. Perhaps it’s time to re-visit it.

    I would argue, however, that these solutions still don’t solve the synchronisation issue, though they do address the backup issue that can occur when using a Newt with more recent operating systems. A big part of the problem is that the Newt’s applications are so flexible that they can hold information which has no counterpart in most desktop or web-based PIM apps.

    I always found Apple’s supplied utilities to get a bit flaky when used to back-up a Newton with a hefty memory card in it. Hopefully these other apps are a bit more robust.

  3. TONY KAN says:

    You’re quite right. The Windows utilities does a full synchronization provided you’re using Microsoft Outlook. Unfortunately Mac OS X users aren’t as well served by the community.

    I’m a Windows user myself and assumed that NCX supported synchronization because the screenshots always showed that option there; but on closer inspection it looks greyed out.

    Even on Windows the synchronization software isn’t that reliable. One has to go back to using Windows 98 and Lotus Organizer 2.1 or Outlook 97 to get it to work. I just use Microsoft Virtual PC if I need a stable serial connection. Fortunately that is quite rare after I set up my Newton to connect to the Internet over WiFi.

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