LGR Covers the Atari Portfolio


I have many opinions but at the same time? that keyboard just plain looks… not great to type on. And yet I want one. I want folk to hack it, or gut it and put a pi zero in it or… Something.

It’s… cool.


I’ve never had the chance to try the Portfolio keyboard, but I can say that I could just about touch-type on the Psion 3 keyboard. I’ll admit that I have relatively narrow fingers…


I had the same impression, when they were new (along with several other sub-format PCs in the 1990s) – not very practical, and for this even socially awkward.
However, today, I’m quite impressed and weren’t offended at all by having one. :slight_smile:
The same is true for the IBM handhelds, which were also covered by LGR. Definitely cool nowadays.

BTW, the screen looks surpirisingly good (sharpness/contrast).


Well, if you don’t like the keyboard you might like a TRS-80 Model 100. Same 40x8 character screen (same 240x64 pixels), but with a “real” keyboard. Much less RAM, though.

I would guess that any software for the TRS-80 Model 100 could be easily ported to the Portfolio (would it work without modification at all?).

Oh I absolutely love the model 100 but this thing just appeals to my sense of retro future along with the fact T2 is one of my favorite films and having either one of these or a gutted shell that has a pi inside would appeal to me.

I just… those keys look like utter mush with the consistency of dead flesh. However the unit is small and for what it is? It manages to do a lot.

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I imagine the key feel is like a Casio or Sharp calculator - soft rather than clicky. But (hopefully) very competently decoded, with rollover and without bounce. In some ways a soft keyboard with small low profile keys might be less of a shock than a full size raised key keyboard with the same kind of mechanism - which is, I think, what the Z88 and perhaps the NC100 have, although the NC100 is reputed to have a much better feel than the Z88. (And the WP-2 better yet - so, I think, you can’t really judge by looking.)

If a person comes from a sturdy clicky Model M type of keyboard background with a tendency to thump the keys, I think they will need to adjust. Those who are closer to touch-typing might be happier.

One geometrical observation: with a given key-to-key distance, a smaller key is more hittable even with big fingers, because the right key is just as easy to hit and the adjacent wrong keys are slightly harder to hit. Small keys with gaps between is a good ergonomic choice.


(I’ll admit, I’d always thought the Portfolio was a straightforward DOS machine - the limited compatibility is an interesting note.)

Quick screengrab here of a range of comparable and contemporary machines, an article from PC Mag July 1991 which might be readable here.:


The Model 100, despite its fairly lovely keyboard, ran a slow 80c85. It didn’t drop any keystrokes, but if you were a fast typist you’d have to wait for it to catch up. The Portfolio was a DOS(ish) machine, so porting wouldn’t be trivial.

The HP 200LX I remember as having a HP calculator style keyboard. While these are great on an HP48 and other calculators, they’re not so wonderful for typing: very hard, small and with a short clicky throw.

The Z88 has a keyboard that grows on you. Yes, it’s squishy but the typing is positive and quick. Its only two downsides are:

  1. it picks up lint, as it’s a slightly sticky material like silicone rubber;
  2. it can be destroyed very easily by carelessly stowing it in a bag, or worse, into the supplied silver Coroplast carrying case.

Regarding keyboards with calculator style keys and the geometry of distance vs. key-size, the Oric 1 may have a word in this. I’ve never seen one in person, but I’m told it’s a – well – special experience. :wink:

(Much actually depends on the sturdiness and the stability of the keyboard’s base. What made the Model 100 and siblings great for typing was probably the metal bar reinforcement of the keyboard PCB.)

I guess, you really have to experience it. – Does anyone have personal experience with the Atari Portfolio?

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While this was not what I expected to be my primary concern with retro-keyboards, it turns out it’s actually very high on my list! I expected poor key feel to be a higher priority for me, since that’s one of my beefs with modern keyboards. However, what I find myself most often regretting is 1-key rollover (I couldn’t touch type nearly as fast in the 80s, so I didn’t notice?) and OH THE BOUNCE. To be fair, I think a lot of these keyboards were less prone to accidental repeat when the contact surfaces had fewer decades on them. :wink:


I always found the Portfolio keyboard surprisingly usable, but just with a couple of fingers and thumbs typically. There was enough space between the keys that mistakes were minimized. I still have a couple of my Portfolios.

For “serious” data entry, there was the version of the software that ran on a PC, and then you could transfer the spreadsheet or whatever for portability and smaller updates.

I did own a TRS Model 100, and while it was easier to type on the more limited screen and transfer capability made it far less useful.

(Disclaimer: At one point I was the engineering project manager for the Portfolio products within Atari, so Stockholm Syndrome could be at play.)


First off, nice t osee you again Jim.

On the other. ENgineering project manager…

Hmmm, any fun stories that have survived the mists of time?

AFAICT, the TRS-80 Model 100 and Atari Porfolio screen have the same practical screen space -same 240x64 pixel resolution, same 40x8 characters of text. But the form factor of the Model 100 forces the screen to be angled “flat” against the table so it’s not so great in that respect.


It may be also the pixel size of the Model 100. The similar NEC PC-8201 has a slanted display and the Olivetti M-10’s may be even tilted upright, but they are still less than ideal. I guess, the smaller display of the Portfolio is probably to its advantage.


We built a few little add-ons that never shipped. I did a tiny hard disk interface for a non-standard disk that someone (Toshiba?) was eager to sell, but which consumed so much current you needed either to be plugged in or add another battery pack rather defeating the portability aspect.

There was a very limited edition 512K version.

The Portfolio was built at a factory here in Shizuoka, not that far from where I live now.


Maybe i"m just dense and not paying attention but did they ever make a floppy drive for the thing? Being able to take data from the portfolio to and from a desktop seems like it’d be pretty handy.

I think the power budget of a floppy would have ended up requiring a pretty chunky peripheral with its own battery pack. Atari didn’t make one. I don’t recall a third-party option.

There were two fast and easy(?) ways to transfer between the Portfolio and a desktop machine:

  • An ISA card with a remote “head” with a Bee Card slot. The cards had a FAT filesystem, and so were low power floppy replacements.
  • A straight-through parallel cable connecting the printer port on a PC to the parallel adapter of the Portfolio. This allowed you to navigate the Portfolio’s files and do quick transfers.

And then of course you could have used a standard serial file transfer program, but that wasn’t as convenient.