RETRO TECH: Philips Velo 1

One of the hottest gadgets of Christmas 1997 was the Philips Velo 1. It was a Handheld PC (sometimes called a “palm top”) and it was absolutely tiny:


When closed, this bad boy was smaller than most paperback books. It ran a Philips MP3910 chip at a blistering 36.864 MHz (yes, that was sarcasm). It had 4 whole megabytes of RAM and 8 whole megabytes of storage space. It rocked a 480×240 monochrome monitor, had a built-in 14.4kbit/s modem and connected to your computer using RS-232.

It was, compared to even the cheapest Chinese knockoff electronic organizers of today, absolutely awful. But it was also bad ass! I could whip this puppy out at a bar or restaurant and people would crane their necks to get a peek at it. And connecting to the Internet via dial-up on this thing made a lot of people (even me) absolutely giddy! Seriously – it almost seemed like something out of a James Bond movie!

I once worked at place where I had a very specific job; it was made very clear to me by the management that if I had nothing to do, I was supposed to sit at my desk and do nothing. As a contractor, I was not allowed to have an email address. The company’s firewall prevented access to (literally) 98% of the Internet, and I was “strongly discouraged” from bringing in books or magazines to pass the time. So I’d sneak in my Velo 1 and connect to the ‘Net via dial-up. I’d check email and surf a few sites… but the main thing I’d do was talk to this 19 year-old Israeli girl I’d met on ICQ (and no, it wasn’t “that kind” of chatting; she just seemed to be online ALL THE TIME).

While I loved my Velo 1, the main problem with the thing is that it ran Windows CE 1.0. Just typing that made me wince! (Get it? Windows CE? WinCE? Wince?) That OS was a complete disaster. As you can tell by the above picture, the operating system looked just like Windows 95 or Windows 98… which would have been great, except Start Menus and taskbars and system trays are a horrible idea on a device with a 5.1″ screen. And the device, for some godawful reason, supported multitasking, which meant that you’d sometimes have to use the built-in stylus to manually move windows around… on a 5.1″ screen. I was able to eventually upgrade it to (IIRC) Windows CE 2.1, which was slightly better. But still, there just weren’t a lot of apps for WinCE out there, and many of the ones that did exist weren’t that great. And synching the device via serial port seemed to take FOREVER, even though the amount of data being transferred wasn’t all that much.

It’s really amazing that this device was almost “cutting edge” in its day… but less than three years later Compaq would release the insanely popular iPaq 3630. The iPaq had a vivid color screen, a 206 MHz processor, supported Wi-Fi via CF card, had a vast array of accessories (including a folding keyboard, which I used to take notes in meetings), and syncing with a desktop PC didn’t totally suck, either. The Velo 1 seemed like 1950s black and white TV, while the iPaq seemed like a late 1980s color TV. But a mere 30 months separated the two products!

9 Replies to “RETRO TECH: Philips Velo 1”

  1. I have one somewhere in the storage room. And guess what? It still works! Bought it for 5$. And it has upgraded flash card (CE 2.0) and RAM (8 MB I think). BTW, do you remember the LCD being washed out when it was new? Or it just aged?

  2. I think you could adjust the contrast, but I don’t ever remember it getting super dark. My most vivid memory of it was how slow everything was if you were using the modem — minutes would go by trying to check email. I guess it just didn’t have enough cpu for the communications stack and running applications. Oh yeah, and the fact that the memory got wiped if you removed the battery… which meant you had to resync it.

  3. I had a Velo 1 back in the day, but sold it for a Newton MP2000. I reacquired one a few years ago and just got it “going” recently.

    It did feel like magic, connecting to my dialup ISP and hitting the Internet on that thing back in 1998. I’m responding because, while I didn’t have the Velo 1 at the time, later (late ’98) I had a Philips Nino with the Click On Modem…

    …and I was working as a contractor that had to wear a suit every day doing IT Y2K prep work at Freddie Mac in NoVA. And, like you, I had no accounts of any sort on the local PCs, so when there was no work, there was nothing at all to do. So, I would take the Nino Palm-size PC into the fax room and jack into the Internet and pull down Usenet threads and then go back to my desk and read them. It was awesome! Same scenario, different Philips WinCE device.

    And, wow, how Philips dropped the ball. They had the best WinCE devices out there, then just faded out of the scene.

    I ran a Nino blog back in 1998. I have it archived here:

  4. @blakespot Hahaha! No way! You were also a Y2K guy? Did you see this:

    Yeah, for the first half of the three months or so that I worked at IBM, we sat in the training room. Later, after they’d laid off a bunch of people, they moved us to some spare cubes. The phones had a data jack, which is where I hooked up the Velo 1.

    Weird to think that my phone is, like, 80 bajillion times faster than the old Velo, but it certainly is!

  5. Hi, I have a Velo 1 I’m reconditioning and it doesn’t have the power supply. Any one know the volts and Mah reading on the velo 1 power stock adapter? The polarity would be nice to know as well.

  6. I have all original VELO 1 complete with original PSA power supply adapter, original manuals, original CDs, etc. Also have original and upgrade ROMs. Can supply any info.

    BTW, original spec on original PSA label is, believe it or not,
    output = 12VDC 500mAh,
    input standard US 120V blah blah,
    polarity to follow.

    Li’l confused on 12V wherein serialled soldered rechargeable battery pack is just 2 AAs @ 1.5V per, soldered together
    VELO 1 can also run on
    simply 2 AAs
    1.5V per
    rechargeable or not.

    BackUp battery is CR2032 @ 3V.

    3 + 3 = 6 … and 2032 is non-rechargeable … and just backup … so, assumably, only kicks in on low to no main battery flow. This means VELO 1 runs on literally ~3V, screen and all, unplugged.

    Where’s the need for 12V ?

    Not complainin’ in that Philips obviously supplied top notch PSAs. BTW, this original Philips factory PSA has been literally plugged in since the 90s and it is still fine and going strong.

    If I take all batteries out and just run via PSA on wall power, I’m sucking up to 500mAh @ 12V but, if I simply run on battery, I’m only supplying ~3V, ~1.5 x 2 or 2032 @ ~3V.

    Little confusing. Unless I have specs on serialled soldered 2 AAs battery pack wrong. Will have to double check. But that cannot be because VELO 1 will run JUST on backup 2032 @ 3V.

    It’s ~4a, I’m lying in bed typing this on an tablet, and I’m too damn tired to get up and check specs and polarity right now. Any questions/comments to

  7. I have 2 Philips Velo 1 disassembled, only for those looking for parts to, perhaps, repair or assemble 1. If anyone wants it, i can ship worldwide. Only have to pay the shipping costs. It comes with:

    – 2 casings
    – 2 battery caps
    – 1 pen
    – 2 screens (apparently with problems)
    – 3 serial connection bases
    – 1 Philips Velo 1 Upgrade CD
    – 2 Windows CE CDs (1 win ce 2.0)
    – 3 Velo Software CD’s
    – 1 Philips original power supply (not tested)
    – 1 manual Velo 1 User’s Guide
    – 1 software manual
    – And some brochures

  8. Im looking for the 8mb Ram module. I have the CE 2.0 Rom module, but I need the Ram to use it. Anyone have a clue where I might buy one of find one etc ?

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