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Apple Newton MessagePad 2100

By Brandon Miniman October 1, 2008, 1:41 am

Many have heard of the Apple Newton, but few know much about the device. To this day, there is still a following for the Apple Newton, 11 years after the last one went on sale. What is so special about the Newton? And why did Apple kill the product? In this article, we'll answer both of those questions, plus show you a lot about the Newton that you didn't know. Read on for an interesting look at the father of handhelds...


Let's talk specs. The Newton MessagePad 2100 uses an Intel StrongARM processor running at 162MHz and has a large 6.1" 16-scale 480×320 monochrome touchscreen display (which comes out to 95PPI), 8MB ROM, 4MB RAM, and 4MB extra storage via the expansion slot (seen below). It has two PCMCIA card slots and infrared IrDA for wireless file transfer. To interface with your computer, it uses the trusty serial interface which is now just about extinct. For even more specs on the Apple Newton MessagePad 2100, click on to PDAdb.net.

DeviceSize (inches)Weight (grams | ounces)
HP iPAQ Glisten

4.44" x 2.47" x 0.52"

132 | 4.65
Samsung Omnia Pro B7610

4.44" x 2.27" x 0.63"

156 | 5.61

4.74" x 2.63" x 0.43"

157 | 5.53

4.33" x 2.09" x 0.59"

117 | 4.12
Acer neoTouch S200 F1

4.66" x 2.48" x 0.47"

130 | 4.58
T-Mobile Touch Pro2

4.56" x 2.33" x 0.67"

188 | 6.63
Samsung Omnia II

4.64" x 2.36" x 0.48"

129 | 4.55
Palm Pre

3.96" x 2.34" x 0.67"

133 | 4.76
Acer Tempo M900

4.68" x 2.44" x 0.67"

188 | 6.63
HTC Snap

4.58" x 2.42" x 0.47"

120 | 4.20
HTC Touch Pro2

4.56" x 2.33" x 0.65"

178 | 6.28
Samsung Propel Pro

3.92" x 2.41" x 0.60"

137 | 4.83
HTC Touch Diamond2

4.24" x 2.09" x 0.53"

117 | 4.12
Pantech Matrix PRO

4.17" x 2.00" x 0.85"

151 | 5.34
Verizon Samsung Omnia i910

4.41" x 2.24" x 0.49"

122 | 4.30
HTC S743

4.57" x 1.70" x 0.64"

140 | 4.94
Samsung Saga

4.88" x 2.44" x 0.53"

130 | 4.56
LG Incite

4.21" x 2.20" x 0.55"

120 | 4.20
HTC Touch HD

4.53" x 2.47" x 0.47"

146 | 5.15
T-Mobile G1

4.63" x 2.19" x 0.67"

158 | 5.57
Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1

4.35" x 2.07" x 0.67"

158 | 5.57
AT&T Samsung Epix

4.56" x 2.41" x 0.51"

125 | 4.41
Palm Treo Pro

4.44" x 2.36" x 0.55"

133 | 4.69
Sprint Touch Diamond

4.01" x 1.98" x 0.55"

124 | 4.37
Apple Newton MessagePad 2100

8.28" x 4.67" x 1.08"

640 | 22.5
HP iPAQ 910

4.48" x 2.52" x 0.59"

154 | 5.43
E-TEN Glofiish V900

4.17" x 2.38" x 0.68"

147 | 5.18
HTC Touch Pro

4.01" x 2.00" x 0.71"

165 | 5.82
Samsung Omnia i900

4.41" x 2.24" x 0.49"

122 | 4.30
Palm Treo 800w

4.41" x 2.28" x 0.73"

140 | 4.94
HTC Touch Diamond

4.01" x 2.00" x 0.45"

110 | 3.88
i-mate Ultimate 9502 4.56" x 2.36" x 0.70" 200 | 7.05
Palm Treo 500 4.30" x 2.40" x 0.60" 120 | 4.23
E-TEN Glofiish X650 4.20" x 2.30" x 0.60" 136 | 4.79
Samsung SGH-i620 3.70" x 2.30" x 0.60" 126 | 4.44
AT&T BlackJack II 4.48" x 2.39" x 0.51" 116 | 4.09
Motorola Q9 / 9h

4.60" x 2.60" x 0.50"

134 | 4.70

T-Mobile Shadow 4.10" x 2.10" x 0.60" 150 | 5.30
HTC TyTN II4.40" x 2.32" x 0.75" 190 | 6.70


Before continuing with the review, I want to share a bit of history on the Newton so that you can have a better appreciation for the vintage handheld device.

The Name

Why the "Newton"? Remember Isaac Newton and the story of the apple? Apple...Newton...get it? Newton was actually the term used to describe the operating system, not the hardware. Apple used the name "MessagePad" to describe the actual hardware. Over time, people began to refer to the device as the "Apple Newton"; – and the MessagePad branding almost became secondary.

The Concept

When Apple began development on the Newton, they never intended to create a PDA-like device. They wanted to redefine the personal computing experience by making it more mobile, and more natural via handwriting recognition. Instead of doing that, they really started a new category...that of the Personal Digital Assistant, redefined by Palm in 1997 when they released the first true palm-sized mobile computing device, the Palm Pilot, which could easily fit in a pocket and still perform PIM-related tasks.

I believe that the Newton was actually the precursor to the Tablet PC. The rhetoric used in some of Apple's early promotional videos echo what Bill Gates has been touting about the Tablet PC platform since its introduction: this idea of natural interaction with a device that is as intuitive as a pen and piece of paper. The Newton has dozens of little technologies that make interacting with the device quite natural: scribble a word to delete it, highlight someone's name to send them a fax, and so on. What's interesting is that many of the basic functions that made the Newton so great still haven't made their way into mobile devices of today, though that's probably a matter of intellectual property.


Between 1993 and 1997, there were 8 iterations of the Newton released. The earliest model, known as the H1000, had a 20MHz CPU with 4MB of ROM, 640KB of RAM, a 336×240 monochrome display, and 1 PCMCIA slot for expansion. The final Newton, called the MessagePad 2100, is the unit that this article is about.

The Newton's Discontinuation

So why did the Newton never succeed in a big way, thus leading Apple to discontinue the project? Well, coming from an Apple press release in 1998, Steve Jobs (then interim CEO) put it this way: "The decision [to discontinue the Newton] is consistent with our strategy to focus all of our software development resources on extending the Macintosh operating system." In other words, they weren't selling enough Newtons.

TV Commercials

As you'll see in the videos below — Apple's marketing strategy for the Newton is much like that of the iPhone. The ads are scenario-based that present a problem, and show the different ways that the device could be of assistance. The slogan for the Newton at the end of the commercials was "Newton Communicates" — which was appropriate for a time when there needed to be a bridge between being connected (at the office/home) and being out and about with no access to electronic communication devices. The Newton could do wireless data via a PCMCIA slot such as the Motorola 100D card.


Here we begin with the unboxing video. As mentioned in the video, it's not much of an unboxing, because we don't have the Newton's original packaging to work with.

In this video, we take a tour of the hardware. We find that there is an inbuilt holder for the stylus, plus a smartly-placed stylus rest. We also find that of the two PCMCIA expansion slots, one is filled with 4MB of flash memory — and a quick comparison to the current flash memory standard for handheld device, microSD, lets use so how far we've come in the miniaturization of memory.

If you've skipped the other videos thus far — watch this one. It shows just how the Newton operation system functioned.

We find that there are many features of the device that make interaction quite natural and intuitive. Interestingly, many of these features can't be found in modern mobile devices.

To copy a word, just double tap and drag. To draw a shape...just draw, and the Newton will smooth the lines. To make an appointment for Bob, just write "meeting with Bob." In fact, with the Assist button mentioned in the video, you can do all of the following commands:

  1. call/phone/ring/dial+name 2. fax 3. find/locate/search for/look for + query item 4. mail/email+name 5. print 6. remember/remember to/remind me + task 7. schedule/meet/meet me/talk to/breakfast/lunch/dinner/holiday/birthday/b-day/bday/anniversary + name 8. time/time in/what time/what's the time in + location

Beyond the note application, the Newton includes other PIM basics like a contacts and calendar application, a calculator, and others. Flip over to page 2 where we'll talk about battery life and the like.


The Newton has a pretty good built-in help system that explains everything in detail.


I'm not too sure on the capacity of the battery, but I know that it's enough to allow for excellent battery life. Based on my time with the device, I'd estimate the battery to last 15-25 hours, which may not seem like a lot, but remember that you don't leave the Newton on all the time like you do with a cell phone.


It's hard for me to come up with a wishes list because in order to do so, I'd have to bring myself back to 1997 — and that was a long time ago. If I were a buyer of this device 11 years ago, there are a couple of things that I would take issue with.

To start, the MessagePad 2100 is big — it's in between a paper notebook and a handheld device. So, which is it? Should I carry it in my briefcase? And, if so, doesn't that take away some of mobility of the Newton if I have to stop on the street and open my briefcase to take it out?

Although the Newton is expandable in terms of software and hardware (with the two PCMCIA slots), I found that out of box software to be a bit limited. But then again, perhaps that was Apple's intention — to keep things simple, down to the basics and essentials.


Back in 1997, this model cost $1000. Today, you can find one on eBay for less than $100 depending on model.


  • Unmatched simplicity and intelligence
  • Excellent battery life
  • Expandable via PCMCIA


  • (Was) expensive
  • Large and bulky
  • Lack of modern features like WiFi, color screen, etc


The Newton represented a new paradigm in computing. Unfortunately, the time wasn't right for such a game-changing device, but it helped pave the way for the modern mobile device. I've found my experience with the Newton to be surprisingly fun and interesting, and might go so far as to say that it may replace my standard yellow notebook that I use while traveling. The Newton is better than a Tablet PC because it has far greater battery life, is cheaper, lighter, and completely focused on being an easy to use PIM companion, and that's where it really excels. Sure, its capabilities are limited, but I have a newfound appreciation for this device, and I hope you do too having gone through this article.


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