This is the Dauphin technology DTR-1, and yes, that's 'Dauphin' not 'dolphin.' And before you say "oh,
that's not the French pronunciation." Well, it's not a French company,
it's an American one. For instance, we have Dauphin Island, Dauphin County, and Dauphin Technology. I didn't make it up,
that's just how it is here. Anyway, let's get back to the DTR-1, which was
manufactured through a partnership with IBM in May of
1993, starting in a price of two thousand four hundred and ninety five dollars
Dolphin was founded in 1988 by Mr. Alan Yong, in the village of Lombard, Illinois.
He'd moved on from his Chinese restaurant business to start a computing company with a focus
on mobile hardware, and before the DTR-1, they were known for making
monstrous ten thousand dollar laptops that sold largely to the US Department of Defense.
After experimenting with various pin based computers like the Dauphin
5000 and striking a deal with IBM to make use of their underutilized Austin, Texas
manufacturing facility, they decided to build a more all-encompassing, yet compact computer system
which became the DTR-1. And DTR stands for desktop replacement, by the way. The idea was that this was the only
computer you would need. You don't need to take a sub notebook or a laptop with you, and can leave the desktop at home. This
is your computer now, and it was pretty impressive!
It was not only the most compact 486-based machine at launch, weighing 2.5 pounds or just over a kilogram,
but it released several months before Apple's Newton, making the DTR-1 one of the first fully featured
tablet PCs on the market. And by that, I mean it could run complete desktop PC software suites written for MS-DOS
6.0. and Windows 3.1, of which it came with both.
But despite its feature set the DTR-1 only sold around
4,000 units and it's no big wonder because this thing kind of sucks, but before we get to the suck,
here's what you get in this illustrious looking package! First up is the first carton which provides an external power supply,
and this was really the first problem with the computer. And at a high rate of failure it gets very
hot, and it was infamously prone to melting. There's chocolate bars that hold up better than this. Then, you also get the DTR-1
itself, which is quite a sleek
industrial design for the time, with a six-inch black-and-white back-lit LCD at 640 by 480 resolution,
controls above the screen for brightness, contrast, sleeping, and a turbo mode,
serial, Ethernet, and at 2,400 bps dial-up modem, a
PS/2 keyboard connector, VGA video output, a parallel printer port, a power connector, a
hybrid floppy/IDE hard drive port, a
power switch, and a spot for holding the battery, which provided up to 2 hours of battery life in the best-case scenario,
and usually it had a sliding cover on the top of the unit, but that one is missing from mine.
On to carton number two, which provides a Dauphin-branded smooth-grain leather portfolio case,
**Mmm**, a keyboard cable extension, because the one on the keyboard itself is annoyingly short, the electronic stylus, and yes,
it takes a trio of type 393 button cell batteries to work,
and it comes with some extra stylus tips. And,
finally, the 84 key PS/2-compatible keyboard, which is pretty small and really cheap feeling.
It's a 75%-sized keyboard, about the size of a ZX spectrum, actually. It's almost worse than that, though. Somehow,
it's not good.
And, of course, what's behind carton number three? Well, an assortment of software such as Windows pen
extensions, and the PenCell spreadsheet from Dauphin. It also originally had some Windows and MS-DOS disks,
but those were long gone when I got this one. Also, has a 128-page instruction manual providing a thorough walk-through of each feature.
Seriously, it's pretty in-depth.
And then, there's the best part of this package: an extensive history of this particular machine!
I love when computers come with this kind of providence, and the history, and all of that. All this paperwork is great! The original owner
saved the ads that he looked at which led him to the system in the first place.
Turns out, he bought it from one of those ads from Tredex, in October of
1994 for seven-hundred, forty-three dollars, and 52 cents. Yeah,
that's a hefty discount,
which was a result of IBM's attempt to unload their warehouses of excess inventory at a heavy loss, just a year after it
launched. And the rest of the paperwork...
I can't show you everything, because there's a lot of private information in here,
but a fantastic story is told through a series of
faxes, receipts, and letters. Pretty much everything failed with this Dauphin DTR-1 here. The power supply, the
keyboard, the stylus, the battery, even the operating system itself. It all just died, and he had to send it back, poor guy, like,
five, six times it looks like. I love this one particular letter. It says "Trying to call them only served to increase his dissatisfaction"
Customer service was not the greatest,
partly due to the fact that Dauphin had gone bankrupt by that point, and he was being passed around from company to company that had
just been stuck with the responsibility to provide spare parts and repairs.
And there's no record of it in here of this unit ever being completely
fixed, which I guess is why it ended up on eBay twenty some years later, and I bought it. But anyway,
how is it at its desktop
replacement experience? Well,
let's just go over the full monty here, starting with the case, which folds out and holds the tablet to make it resemble a laptop
configuration. It's pretty neat, in theory,
but you start running into problems when you want to plug stuff in. The cables just get in the way of the case and just
everything. For instance, the floppy drive cable plugs in the bottom
and is just too bulky, propping up the tablet and sort of a catty-cornered way.
And then, of course, using your own keyboard and mouse is possible,
but it makes it look like a medical experiment gone wrong, or something. It's on life support;
this is sad, but, hey, at least I don't need to buy an expensive desktop that works a million times better. *sarcasm*
Anyway, you turn it on and calibrate the stylus on startup. And the pin works with the BIOS setup utility and whatnot, so, that's very
Handy. And, yes,
you need the battery-powered stylus because it's not a resistive or capacitive touchscreen. It works more like a Wacom tablet than anything.
But, yeah, it boots into MS-DOS 6.0,
and you actually do need a keyboard here, unless you install third-party
on-screen keyboard software that works with a mouse, and in that case the pen will let you do some stuff.
But, yeah, you really do need a keyboard to use this, and yes, it can run DOS games,
but I wasn't able to do that, due to a variety of problems with the hardware and the software.
For one thing, the BIOS was not reading the floppy drive at all. It just made noise, and that was it. And then, they couldn't
get the serial port to work either, and it--just nothing was seeming do anything. So, I just went straight into Windows 3.1,
and it's pretty neat. Although,
it's not particularly well-tailored for pen usage, even with the pre-installed pen extensions on there. As a result,
it's pretty much
just Windows 3.1 that you're controlling it with a pen, instead of a mouse.
And yes, the pen acts as a mouse, as you would expect.
You can hold down the button on the pen and then tap the screen to click on things, and then just move it around,
and it's fine. It's actually pretty accurate for stuff like MS Paintbrush, as you might expect.
I quite like drawing on this thing. And then, of course, playing games like solitaire is quite
enjoyable, in sort of a silly way.
It's not the greatest to look at because of the small black-and-white screen that it's on, but it's novel, it's different.
I like that.
It's just really hard to click smaller items on-screen, which is most things
because they haven't really scaled Windows to make it work for a smaller screen like this, and the on-screen keyboard
application is laughably tiny. It's almost useless.
It's ridiculously small. The handwriting recognition, which is a big selling point of this, is also iffy at best.
But then again, so is my stylus, to be honest
I don't think it's quite working properly. Sometimes, it clicks. Sometimes, it does it on its own.
It's just sort of held together by tape and positive thinking, but even with a perfectly working stylus,
I would say stick to the keyboard for typing. Although,
this thing is awful. It feels more like a toy than it does a piece of business hardware. Ah--eh--
Oh, well. Inside of the DTR-1 gets pretty interesting. You might be wondering "How do they cram all this hardware into here?"
Well, through using lots of daughter boards and scaled-down components. You get a 25 megahertz Cyrix 486 SLC CPU
4 to 6 megs of RAM,
6 in this case, and a 20 or 40 megabyte hard disk drive, this one being the 40 meg.
And yeah, look at this little thing. This is actually pretty rare.
This is an HP Kittyhawk microdrive. It fits in the palm of your hand,
it weighs about 1 ounce, or 28 grams,
and it uses an IDE interface, and even includes impact protection by use of a built-in accelerometer.
Pretty advanced stuff for the time, but it was also another infamous flop, and maybe that's a story for another day.
But anyway, while the form factor impressed and all the specs were kind of interesting on the surface, in
actuality and in practice for what people actually wanted, it just didn't work.
Nobody was buying these things. In fact, other than a nice group of people using it as a portable Ethernet packet sniffer,
I haven't actually heard of many folks finding much of a use for this, other than just for collecting purposes,
and often knew it. I mean, there were some problems that they addressed in the DTR-2 in
1994, such as giving it a 50 megahertz 486 SLC2
PCMCIA expansion, a larger 90%-sized keyboard, 128 megs of hard disk space, and voice recognition,
instead of having to use the stylus for getting all this stuff written in there.
But you know, it just wasn't enough. They declared chapter 11 bankruptcy in January of
1995, with around 50 million dollars in debt, and 90% of that was owed to a single, unnamed supplier.
Ugh--Now, they did recover a year later and continued to do business for another decade, but it was no
Thanks to the DTR-1 or 2. It really
is no wonder that this thing flopped. The screen and operating system is sub-optimal for serious work,
it has a low battery life, a low hard drive capacity, a lofty price, failure-prone components, and, to top it off,
they had dubious business relationships with their major component suppliers that screwed them in the end. As
Dauphin founder Alan Young said about learning from the experience, "If you are a little mouse,
don't dance with an elephant." Well, Dauphin danced with the elephant, and this is what happened, and it's pretty fascinating.
I'm kind of glad it did because it's an interesting thing to show you, and I hope that you enjoyed seeing it.
And if you did enjoy this episode of LGR, then, awesome! Perhaps you would like to see some of my others.
I do hardware and software and company retrospectives all the time, so, stick around for those.
There's new videos every Monday and Friday. And as always, thank you for watching!