PSION MC-400 MOBILE COMPUTER
The MC-400 Mobile Computer makes a great first impression with its Macintosh-like graphic user interface (GUI), multitasking operating system, and nifty touch pad.
Weighing only 4.3 pounds and measuring about 2 × 12.5 × 9 inches, the MC offers an acceptable 640 × 400 LCD screen (black letters, no backlight). It has 256K EPROM and 256K RAM, with connectors for options: Fast Serial Link, microphone and speaker, and 12V adapter.
The MC offers great battery life—60 hours of continuous use with eight AA alkalines and 8 hours with NiCads. When the computer is inactive for five minutes, it turns off to save power.
To be valuable, though, a non-compatible must offer distinct advantages outweighing the benefits of compatibility. It must be friendly with PCs without undue additional effort and expense.
The MC's built-in software looks great but lacks power. The text processor doesn't count words, check spelling, or display the current line and character position. The diary is useful, but the monthly calendar displays Monday through Sunday (instead of Sunday through Saturday). The alarm function works but lacks a snooze feature. The free-form database is simple but not very powerful.
The Psion MC-400 accepts up to four solid-state disks at one time.
The MC is hurt by a general lack of standardization. Although it includes a standard parallel port, you have to provide the instructions that let your printer take advantage of special capabilities, such as bold or italic print. (A company spokesman says that a word processor to be sold separately will contain printer drivers.—Ed.) It includes an RS-232 serial port and file-transfer software for sending files to a PC, but you must use a noncompatible cable with a round, miniature serial plug (not included).
The MC uses solid-state disks (SSDs), which are really just memory but which emulate disks. The MC accepts up to four SSDs at once, available in several styles and sizes: Flash EPROM and RAM (each up to 512K) and ROM (2MB). Psion offers an SSD drive for a PC.
The full-sized keyboard has a good feel and layout but isn't exactly like a PC keyboard; some of the symbol keys are swapped. A numeric keypad is part of the alphabet keys.
At first the touch pad is fun, but it can be difficult. It's easy to move the pointer but hard to be accurate.
The MC-400 is unique, but for about the same amount of money you can get a lightweight PC compatible with more memory and standard keyboard, connectors, keys, and floppy drive. It may not have the MC-400's visual appeal, battery life, touch pad, and futuristic memory disks, but it will run far more software and offer easier data exchange via floppies. Add a desktop tools package, and you'll have more powerful and flexible software than the MC-400's—and you'll be able to get help from PC users and computer dealers.
J. BLAKE LAMBERT
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