In my wanderings through machines that can be used as dedicated, retro-distraction-free writing devices, I had already gone into a few quite forgotten places. I’m fascinated by machines that I was not able to try because, in their hay day, I was just a kid with for whom his AMIGA 500 was everything.
This time, when I saw the PANAWORD FW-K101 word processor on sale, I just could not resist buying it and trying it out. It’s a dedicated word processor with a CRT screen – one can hardly get more old-school in digital writing than this! I admit that I also bought this unit with plans to retrofit it with a Raspberry Pi and a modern LCD at some point in the future just because of how cool this stand-alone terminal-like thing looks!
When the package containing the processor came in, I tidied it up a little and tried a bit of stage design, trying to imagine how it would look like in the late 1980s when it was made and used. I had a lot of fun searching through our house for accessories I could use to recreate a writer’s or maybe a translator’s desk from that period. I hope you like the photos – I think they came out quite neat.
Anyway, this is a word processor made by Panasonic in Japan. Even though it looks like a terminal or a computer, this is a dedicated device made only for writing, and to be more precise – writing mainly in Japanese.
Sadly, even after taking the unit completely apart, I was not able to tell what technology this device is based on – there are some ROM chips and a lot of huge proprietary-looking circuits, too – nothing I could identify easily. As far as I can tell, the whole thing is a custom Matsushita (Panasonic) built system through and through with no DOS or CPM even.
The keyboard, which also acts as a lid for the whole system when it’s not in use, has a surprisingly modern layout. It has some additional keys on the bottom row used for the letter conversions necessary for writing in Japanese (before the automatic conversion systems we have on modern computers became standard). Still, it is relatively easy to use even now. It is a spring and membrane keyboard, though, so there are no fancy mechanical switches for comfortable typing, sadly – the keys are usable and have plenty of travel, but they feel very springy and weird to press. The keyboard is connected to the main unit with a detachable RJ45-type plug – I’m guessing this is also a proprietary, serial-type connection.
The main unit is quite bulky – it has not only a small CRT display in it but also a printer on the top! The printer can be used with carbon thermal ink ribbons (when printing on regular printer paper) or without (when printing on thermal paper sheets like the ones used in fax machines).
The screen is a very grey and round CRT tube with white phosphor. A switch on the unit’s front reverses the colors allowing the user to choose between black text on a white background or the opposite. This is a small but usable size of 40 letters by 17 rows or so of text.
The processor also has a 3.5-inch floppy drive built-in which allows for storing written text in a native format (no DOS or PC compatibility, as far as I can tell). This floppy functionality is quite necessary as the base unit can store only 5400 letters in its memory! This means you can only write about two or three pages of text before you have to save or print your work and clear the memory to write more. Not so different from the portable CASIO processor I tried to use before. And that’s basically it! No mouse or any of that additional features nonsense here! The only accessory port is a scanner connection on the back of the unit, which (I think) can be used with a rudimentary hand scanner to input things like graphs and simple technical drawings.
Let’s try it!
I was very lucky that my unit came in usable condition. Only the floppy drive was dead as a doornail and would not write nor read anything from the 2HD floppy I tried it with. (I later found out that the drive belt had perished completely) Other than this, the processor was working well – I was able to write some text in the editing application and even print things out!
Of course, I was not able to find any ink ribbon cartridges for this model, even after scouring the usual used-items websites, so I had to use thermal fax paper. The print quality was surprisingly good (after adjusting the print contrast knob on the front of the unit) but very slow, as expected. You also cannot write on the device while it’s printing.
This reminds me of a scene in Studio Ghibli’s “Whisper of the Heart” where the main character’s parents are complaining that the printing takes too long and thinking if maybe they should buy a second unit.
The writing itself was very slow and cumbersome too. This device is made for typing in Japanese, so it’s not geared toward English at all. Trying to write even a page or so required a constant struggle with the letter conversion keys – I was not able to find a simple English input mode this time.
Also, similarly to other devices of this type and vintage I have played with so far, it’s more of a write a simple one-page document and print affair than anything to write a novel on. It just does not work well with any long piece of text.
We have some basic editing functionality like sub- and super-script, text alignment, text background, underline, special characters, and so on. A preview thumbnail can be turned on to help you visualize how the page will look once printed, and that’s basically it – a very bare-bones device.
When I bought this Panasonic word processor, I did not expect that I would actually use it for any real work, and rightly so. I cannot stand a shop or a cafe where old fluorescent lights are flickering even slightly, and I can sometimes even see cheap LED lights flickering away. I get annoyed, tired quickly, and sometimes even nauseous. Flickering lights are my bane, and oh my, how flickery this CRT display was. When in the “paperwhite” mode (black letters on white background), I had problems looking at it for more than a few seconds. When the colors were reversed, and the contrast dropped down, it felt a bit better, but still, I felt sick after writing just a screen or so of text. I don’t know how much of this flicker is just from parts (capacitors?) getting old and out-of-specification but for me working on this device for many hours a day in an office is an image of hell.
The flickery screen did not make it easier to take nice photos either, but I think I managed some cool shots. I have to admit that the unit looks quite cool in an understated, retro way. I think I will try to retrofit it with a modern display and a single-board computer, especially since the floppy drive is just a standard-size module that can be easily replaced with something more modern – a multi-card reader, maybe?
Anyway, trying out the Panaword was a very neat way to slip back in time and pretend to be a translator working from home in the late ’80s, even if for just a few minutes. I guess that next, I will have to try to fax the things I printed…
3 thoughts on “Retro Writing 12 – The Panaword”
That is a fantastic piece of kit! I had a Sperry DOS computer which was very similar ‘luggable’ format back in the 00’s. Love seeing your adventures in old tech for writing implements 🙂
Straszny hardkor taka maszyna!
Ogólnie to świetnie że małżonka panu zezwala na takie urządzenia.
U mnie wszystkie panie od razu mnie wyśmiewają jak pokazuję co kupiłem…
Jaki edytor planuje pan użyć na raspberry i ew. wyświetlacz? Mi mocno przeszkadza 60hz i jak się da wolałbym więcej (pozostałość po pisaniu na crt – też na amidze)
Myślę że użyję coś jak Micro albo Wordgrinder – w sam raz na taki wyświetlacz. Mam też nadzieję zainstalować trochę ładniejszy terminal (jakieś kolory i czcionki lepsze) no i podpiąć ten szary guzik na obudowie tak żeby robił co robił oryginalnie – odwrócenie kolorów (czarny tekst na białym tle) to chyba trzeba będzie w Pytonie jakoś.. Co do wyświetlacza to tylko jakiś po taniości z Aliexpress więc jakoś niezbyt ale pasuje wymiarem nieźle.