Newton 2x00 FreeDock

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There are unexpected benefits to being an intermediary for Newton purchases in Germany. During Christmas time 2004, a friend in the USA asked me to purchase something for him that I've been wanting to get my trembling hands on for a long time - a FreeDock docking station for the Apple Newton MessagePad 2x00.
This amazing piece of hardware was developed around 1997 by Florian Biehler, head of
F. Biehler Systementwicklung.

Behind almost every image below lurks its high resolution counterpart. Just click the image to see an enlarged version in a new browser window.

Front view (click for larger image)Here we have the FreeDock in all its beauty. The case is plastic. It has a surface that looks like leather, but isn’t.
Just in case you are wondering why I have used such an unusual background: Hey, it’s almost Christmas, isn’t it? Apart from that, this background is most certainly way more pleasing than the surface of my kitchen table...

Rear view (click for larger image)The view from the rear. The FreeDock has a fair amount of jacks and connectors that I will describe in more detail in a second.

View from left side (click for larger image)View from the left side...

View from right side (click for larger image)...and (surprise!) from the right side.

Bottom view (click for larger image)The bottom view reveals four solid rubber feet that are not glued, but fastened in a way that will ensure they will never start exploring their surroundings unheralded. As long as you don’t pry them out, the FreeDock will never slide on your table.

Interconnect port connector (click for larger image)On the front side there is only one connector. It fits into the Newton’s interconnect port.
By the time this image was taken, I was hardly able to keep my itchy fingers away from the tools needed to crack this unit open. But, of course, this being not my property, I refrained from doing so...

Innards of FreeDock (click for larger image)...until the owner kindly allowed me to go ahead and have my way. I then got in touch with Florian Biehler to make sure that he wouldn’t object to publishing detailed images of what I consider his intellectual property. Thanks to the broad-minded permissions of both Florian and the FreeDock’s owner you can now have a glimpse at the FreeDock’s insides.

Printed circuit board soldering side (click for larger image)Its innards mainly consist of a printed circuit board that is populated by connectors and some additional electronics.

Printed circuit board component side (click for larger image)This is the board from the other side. The only integrated circuit is a Max232, a 5V-Powered, Multichannel RS-232 Driver / Receiver .

Interconnect port connector (click for larger image) The board is connected to the interconnect port connector via a ribbon cable.

Rear connectors (click for larger image)The connectors on the back are (from left to right):

9 pin SubD connector (serial connections like modem, PC serial port, ...)
8 pin MiniDIN connector (serial connections like modem, Mac serial port, ...)
3.5 mm audio in jack
3.5 mm audio out jack
7.5 Volt AC adapter jack (Newton adapter powers both FreeDock and Newton)

The FreeDock’s audio input can’t be used with a normal microphone because unfortunately the 1/1000th of a Volt that the average microphone puts out is not sufficient to drive it. Line inputs expect voltages in the100mV range, i. e. a level at least 100 times higher.
The input will, however, work happily together with the line output of your stereo or your computer’s sound card.

There are different opinions on whether it is safe to route a speaker output to a line input. Be aware that the FreeDock’s audio in jack is most likely (via the interconnect port) wired directly to your Newton’s main logic board. Overdriving the audio in jack with too high a voltage could result in permanent brain damage to your Newton. If you want to connect a speaker output, make sure that the volume of the device you connect is initially at its lowest setting. Increase it very slowly until it is sufficient to make a decent recording on your Newton, but make sure not to increase it beyond that point.

The FreeDock’s audio output can’t drive speakers or headphones directly. You probably won’t damage anything if you connect a headphone (my own Newton survived this), but there won’t be enough volume. Connect this output to the line input of your stereo or sound card.
Since my computer’s sound card does not have a line input, I used its microphone input instead. This worked fine after I used the mixer application that came with the card to set the microphone volume to an acceptable recording level, thus ensuring that the recording was not distorted due to overmodulation.
Once this was done, it took only a few minutes to record a text note that I had the Newton read to me via SpeakText. Click
here for what is most likely the world’s first Newton text note available in mp3 format...
Pardon? You want the text note, too? Well, you need to import this rtf format
text file into your Newton. The Newton will gladly read it to you, provided you have SpeakText (13kB Newton package or 6kB zipped Newton package) and MacInTalk (243kB Newton package or 154kB zipped Newton package) installed.

After transferring an audio recording to my desktop computer that easily, I tried playing a song in mp3 format on my PC and recording it on my Newton. This was so easy that I quickly and selfishly decided that the owner of the FreeDock would have to wait one more day for his new toy. I sure hope he’ll forgive me for it after he reads this page!
For the rest of the day, and for three quarters of the night, I copied all of the recordings of my Edison phonograph cylinders onto a 20MB card.
Aren’t we living in an amazing time? Some of these cylinders were recorded more than a hundred years ago.

Newton plugged in (front view) (click for larger image)Your Newton’s interconnect port plug is a very fragile thing. It has the annoying tendency to allow ridiculously small forces to tear it off the main logic board. If this happens, it cannot be repaired; it is impossible to solder the interconnect port connector back onto the main logic board in a way that will last for more than a couple of days. So plug your Newton into the FreeDock carefully, and be sure you don’t tilt or twist it.
The Newton rests upside-down in the FreeDock, so the stylus' silo isn't accessible. Unless you have an extra stylus, you'll probably want to remove the stylus before setting the Newton on its FreeDock.

Netwon plugged in (side view) (click for larger image)The FreeDock holds the Newton at a viewing angle that makes me wish I had one (a FreeDock, that is, not a viewing angle). This would make writing and testing Newton software so much easier...

Interconnect port door (click for larger image)The Newton’s interconnect port door is open while the Newton is plugged in.

AutoRotate (click for download)Since the Newton rests upside-down in the FreeDock, you might be asking yourself if the screen orientation has to be changed whenever you plug or unplug the Newton. Fortunately, there is FreeDock AutoRotate. This is a Newton package developed by Thorsten Lange from Wenk Products Medizinische Datentechnik GmbH. FreeDock AutoRotate is accessible through the Newton’s Preferences dialog and can be set to automatically adjust the screen orientation when the Newton is plugged in and restore it when the Newton is removed.

Another application that you’ll find very helpful is Daniel Padilla’s
Audio Changer. This little utility places a button in the status bar (where the Info and the Rotate buttons live) of your backdrop application. Tapping this button will toggle the sound output between the FreeDock and the Newton’s internal speaker.

Direct sound to FreeDock Direct sound to internal speakerThis button’s icons are misleading - there is no headphone involved. The left picture shows the button when the sound is routed to the FreeDock, the right picture shows how it looks when the sound is played through the Newton’s internal speaker.

Well, that’s about it. If you happen to have a FreeDock lying around that you’d be willing to part with, please
let me know! Unfortunately, the star of the page you just had the amazing patience to read has started his journey back to his owner a couple of days ago.

Dead links? Questions? Anything unclear? Any syntactical or grammatical errors in this description? Feel free to tell me about it. Yes, really. Don’t be polite, be helpful. If you’re not being helpful, how am I supposed to improve my English!

Nothing like that? This page really helped you? Wow! What a perfect reason to sign my guest book...

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