Compaq Concerto, the impossible touchscreen convertible laptop of 1992

Thanks to its detachable keyboard, it turned into a tablet that you could interact with by using a pen, just like today's 2-in-1 computers. 

Tablet, 2-in-1 or laptop? It's not easy to define the Concerto, a device so far ahead of its time that it still doesn't have a precise definition to this day. Designed in 1993 by Compaq, the company that was acquired by Hp in 2013 and then disappeared in the dark, Concerto contained a complete computer in a small grey plastic shell. But there was more. 

Its ace in the hole was the removable keyboard. The Concerto was such a ground-breaking device to be considered a limitless Apple Newton. Once you removed its Qwerty keyboard, the Concerto turned into an independent computer that could be used thanks to a stylus pen. The Compaq Concerto was what we would call a tablet today. The computer also had a mount, which allowed the screen to be held vertically even after the keyboard was removed.

Of course, without the keyboard the computer wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as today's devices. The square shell contained a 9.5-inch monochrome VGA display with a resolution of 640×480 pixels, a 486SL Intel processor running at 25 or 33MHz, 4 MB of RAM, a 120-MB or 240-MB IDE hard disk drive and an integrated 3.5-inch floppy drive.

It came with DOS 6.2 plus Windows for Pen Computing 1.0, a software suite for Windows 3.1 with some extensions dedicated to the use of the stylus pen (Pen Computer was the original name for tablet). The stylus pen had been designed together with Wacom, market leader in the graphics tablets industry. It looked like a regular pen, it was powered by four button batteries, and it could be detected even from a few inches away, allowing you to move the pointer without touching the display.

A touch of the screen was all it took to simulate a mouse click, and it also had a button which could indicate double-click or right-click. Long story short, the Concert was unique, and therefore, it had a mind-boggling price. When they launched it in Italy it cost 4.7 million lire, which is about 3,700 euros, at least twice as much as a laptop of the time. It was the price to pay for being so ahead of the game, and what should have been its flagship, the stylus pen, was not so precise. Just like other "futuristic" devices (Apple Newton in the first place), the handwriting recognition was not easy: the user had to learn to write as the computer wanted, and not the other way around. This is one of the reasons that led the Concerto to disappear within a few years.

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