The term portable computer is now almost exclusively used to refer to portable computers that are larger than a laptop, often use conventional parts and usually do not run on batteries. Smaller portable computers are referred to by their more specific terms:
- The laptop (or desknote or notebook) with a flat panel display and keyboard, requiring a seated position and both hands. A relatively recently introduced modification has been the Tablet PC, which essentially is a laptop operated with a stylus on a sensitive screen.
- The palmtop which is something between a laptop and a PDA (q.v.).
- The pocket computer, which was mostly a phenomenon of the 1980s, and combined the features of an alphanumeric calculator, a small home computer (usually programmable in BASIC), and a PDA (q.v.). Manufacturers of these included Tandy/Radio Shack, Hewlett-Packard, Casio, and Sharp Corporation.
- The personal digital assistant (PDA), usually held in one hand and operated with the other.
- The wearable computer with handsfree interface, and usually some voice capability (speech recognition and speech synthesis).
Portable computers have been increasing in popularity over the past decade, as they do not restrict the user in terms of mobility as a desktop computer would. Wireless Internet, extended battery life and more comfortable ergonomics have been factors driving this increase in popularity.
The first portable computer was the Osborne 1, developed by Adam Osborne. The first IBM PC compatible portable computer (and indeed the first IBM PC compatible, or "clone," of any kind) was the Compaq Portable. The first full-color portable computer was the Commodore SX-64.