Gadget Hall of Fame: Apple eMate 300

Apple always despised netbooks. Well, apart from the one it made in the 90s...

Steve Jobs famously shot down netbooks at the launch of the iPad in 2010, proclaming to his disciples that the mini laptops weren't better at doing anything other than being cheap. 

Yet thirteen years before the arrival of Apple's giant iPhone, it launched a portable computing device that looks suspiciously like a precursor for the derided (and, to be fair, now defunct) netbook.

Running the lovely Newton OS, the eMate 300 was Apple's first and only touchscreen laptop. So what's the story behind this curiously curvaceous laptop and why should you want one?  

What's the story?

In 1997, Steve Jobs returned to work at Apple after a 12-year hiatus. It was a time that marked the beginning of the end for the Cupertino clan’s first foray into handheld computing – and one of the final nails in the coffin was the eMate 300.

While it ran the same Newton OS as its MessagePad PDA brethren, the eMate would require a BFG-sized pair of trousers to fit in any pocket.

Still, despite its short life, the eMate was hugely influential. See that translucent shell? This was a full year before the same trick was pulled with the iMac G3. Fast forward another year, and Apple released a laptop called the iBook that was, like the eMate, equipped with a handle.

But it was also child-like, designed for schools and a distraction from Mac OS. The eMate met its end in 1998, the full stop at the end of an era, but many are still going strong... 

What should I look for?

The eMate came with 2MB of expandable flash memory, which avoids the fragility and short lifespan of a traditional spinning hard drive, meaning that many working models are still out in the wild. 

Unfortunately, the same can’t always be said for the battery. In its heyday, the eMate could last for an incredible 28 hours on a single charge, but twenty years means significant lithium ion degradation - so check there’s an AC adaptor included.

The 480x320 greyscale touchscreen also supports handwriting recognition, so make sure the stylus is to hand. Oh, and if you find one with a clear case going cheap in a car boot sale, we'd snap it up - these were rare prototype models that have been known to fetch upwards of £6500.  

Also in 1997...

The first Harry Potter book came out, NASA's Pathfinder probe hit Mars - oh, and there were these cultural bombshells...

Brass Eye

Chris Morris’s comedy terrorism went nuclear with this current affairs spoof, which made utter fools out of celebs keen to be seen supporting a seemingly good cause.

Remember: alcohol’s not a drug; it’s a drink!

Starship Troopers

With tongue lodged firmly in cheek and an assault rifle shoved equally firmly into the rear end of a crazy intergalactic insect, Troopers satirised both fascism and green alien gut-gore with equal nuttiness.

Audio Highway Listen Up Player

Regarded as the first portable digital music player, the Listen Up never made it out of the US. And this despite having an FM transmitter and being the size of a pager (remember them?).