Technologizer: World’s Weirdest Portable Computers


By Harry McCracken

There aren’t many pieces of technological design that simply can’t be improved upon, but the clamshell-style laptop computer case–introduced by Grid Systems in 1982–may be one of them. That’s why the vast majority of the portable computers built ever since have used it. But for more than a quarter-century now, inventors have been trying to top it, with folding screens, screens on stalks, folding keyboards, two-screen clamshells, tri-fold clamshells, and more. Most never even get off the drawing board. Herewith, a gallery of designs from Google Patents (click the filing dates to see the patents). There’s only one in here I might have considered buying, but on some perverse level I admire them all.

Portable computer

Patent filed October 18th, 1982

Here’s the groundbreaking granddaddy of all clamshell-style laptops–Grid’s Compass 1101, which also sported other, less lasting innovations such as a plasma display and bubble memory. The hinge was in the middle rather than the edge, but machines such as the TRS-80 Model 200 soon changed that. I wish my MacBook Pro had a fold-out foot like the one seen here.

portable computer

Three layered laptop computer

Patent filed October 27th, 1987

Okay, I understand that not every portable computer can be a wafer-thin MacBook Air. But this one seemingly combines an Apple II-like computer with a superchunky display with an Epson FX80-style dot matrix printer–it looks like it would have made for a machine that was around eight inches thick. I make no guesses about how much the whole contraption would have weighed, but I bet the shoulder strap depicted in this illustration was there out of necessity.

portable computer


[This post is excerpted with Harry’s permission from his Technologizer blog.]

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