I like unusual computers. So it was love at first sight when i spotted the Sharp Mebius PC-NJ70A in Japan around summer 2009. A laptop with a color TFT touchscreen where others have a boring touchpad. Unfortunately i didn’t wanna spend the 80.000 Yen that the machine costed in 2009 when it came out – which was like over 800 USD at that time. Well a few weeks later i bought a used one for 30.000 Yen – still a lot, but a price where i simply got weak.
Obviously it gets boring to just change the background pictures and even the included bowling game only entertained me for a short while, so curiosity made me wanna inspect the hardware a bit further. Luckily Sharp was kind enough to release a firmware update for the touch pad, so with a bit of editing and extracting i could get hold of the actual Compressed ROMFS image from the installer. If you have 7zip you can simply extract it and look at the complete system of the touch pad.
The surprise was pretty big when i realized that the touch screen is more than just a TFT – it’s actually a complete computer with RAM, flash-based SSD, ARM processor and even USB, networking and sound. It runs a customized Version of Wind River Linux 2.0 which is optimized for embedded systems.
This fact makes it one of the most overlooked systems ever – shame but noone ever really hacked this system even though it has loads of potential. I think the main problem that leads to the lack of attention is the availability. While this laptop was sold in quite large numbers around Japan it was never released outside of Japan – which is a shame.
A few months after the release of this laptop some Linux activists in japan threatened to sue Sharp since they obviously used all kinds of GPL software – but failed to release the source code. So Sharp did release the source code half-heartedly.
Originally Sharp had big ambitions for this laptop – they released an additional game (Kinda DDR clone) for the touch pad on their – now defunct – Mebius Club website. Since Windows 7 came out shortly after the laptop was introduced they also released a “new” version that came with Win 7 – the PC-NJ70B (impressive naming scheme here). The NJ70B also came with more touch pad games – which Sharp “forgot” to make available for the owners of the old NJ70A laptops. Sharp also promised an SDK to develop custom appz and games for the touch pad – needless to say that they never released that promised SDK.
After all this machine is so interesting (Well the touch pad is…) and had so much potential – it’s a shame they abandoned it so soon. I am sure that if this was released in the US along with the promised SDK, the Linux sources and everything it would have become an iconic machine with a cult following. There are limitless possibilities of appz, hacks and utilization scenarios for this “2 computers in one” netbook, but we’ll probably never see them since noone outside Japan knows about it (And the Japanese never cared much about Linux it seems).
So here goes hoping that my website will at least interest a few people in this unique machine.