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Portable computer - Epson HX-20

Epson HX-20

  • Object:

    Portable computer

  • Place of origin:

    Japan (manufactured)

  • Date:

    1982 (manufactured)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Polythene, other plastics and metal components in silver, black and red colours; paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Richard Fossett

  • Museum number:

    W.16:1 to 20-2009

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The Epson HX-20 was the world's first laptop computer. Replete with a battery life of up to 50 hours, microcassette drive and inclusive printer, it was an office on-the-go. The computer was designed to be light (it weighs only 1.7kg) and the same size as standard American letter paper, making it easy to carry. A user's data could be stored on microcassettes, allowing information to be stored elsewhere, or transferred to another user with a microcassette drive. While not being used, it could be carried, along with its accessories, in a sturdy plastic case. The HX-20 did not sell particularly well, but its design is very significant. Being the first laptop, it was highly influential on all subsequent designs, in terms of appearance, technology, size and portability.

Physical description

Epson HX-20 portable computer, with accessories and instruction manual.

Place of Origin

Japan (manufactured)


1982 (manufactured)



Materials and Techniques

Polythene, other plastics and metal components in silver, black and red colours; paper

Object history note

Given to the V&A in 2009 by Patrick Fossett. The donor was a mechanical engineer who worked all over Europe in the 1980s. He used the computer mainly when he was based in Brussels. Using a computer was unusual in his office, at first his colleagues were sceptical. He used it mainly for a specific type of complex calculation. The computer was his personal possession. In private he used it to create a database of his Vivaldi record collection. He used the Epson HX-20 for a year or two, after which he replaced it with a desktop computer. The computer travelled with him from Brussels through Germany and to the UK. In an interview (24 June 2009 by Christopher Wilk and Jana Scholze) he recalls his main motivation for using the computer was interest in technology. He believed computers would become very important.

Historical significance: Probably the first laptop computer therefore it has a significant influence on the computers market in terms of appearance, technology, small size and portability.

Historical context note

The Epson HX-20 was aimed at business and educational users. A brand new example would have cost $795 in 1983. It has a memory of 16k which could be extended to 32k with an external module. It is the size of an American sheet of letter paper and fits easily into its case. It is surprisingly lightweight, only 1.7 kg (including the rechargeable battery). The battery kept the HX-20 running for 50 hours and needed 8 hours recharge. At this time it was extremely efficient. The computer language was 'Epson Basic', called EBasic. It was oriented towards business, engineering and educational applications. Graphics were not a strong point. The display is a 20 character by 4-line liquid crystal display (LCD) unit. The screen is a 'window' onto a much larger virtual screen and consisted of 120 x 32 pixels or dots. It could be moved horizontally and vertically.

Data was stored on a microcassette which came either with software or empty. The microcassette recorder could come as a built-in feature. There was a cheaper version of the HX-20 without the recorder. The built-in microcassette was the precursor of the floppy disc. A small adding machine type printer is built into the machine, using rolls of plain paper (2,1/4 inch wide). An external printer could be connected as well.

Descriptive line

Epson HX-20 portable computer with accessories and manual book, made of plastics, metals and paper by Epson Japan, 1982.

Labels and date

[Gallery 76]


The ‘HX-20’ is regarded as the first laptop computer. It was designed to be the same size as standard American letter paper and to fit into a briefcase. The unit is astonishingly light, weighing 1.7kg, including the rechargeable battery which gave it 50 hours of battery life. A small screen, a microcassette recorder and even a small printer are all built-in features.

Designed and made by Epson
Plastic, metal and paper
Given by Richard Fossett
Museum no. W.16-2009


Plastic; Metal; Polyethylene


Product design; Electrical appliances; Plastic

Production Type

Mass produced


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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