Samsung Sensor SP-386SX. (microcomputer) (evaluation)
by Erin Richter
The Samsung Sensor SP-386SX offers a lot to those entering the computer world. Easy setup, compact design, and built-in features--which cost extra with other systems--make the Sensor a remarkably complete package.
Getting the system up and running took me only about ten minutes, thanks to the installation and setup guide packed with clear illustrations. If you lack computer experience or need more reassurance, the VHS videotape manual and the User's Guide lead you from setup through your first work session with step-by-step introductions to the system's hardware and software.
Samsung packs quite a bit into its system box, which has a small 15 x 13 3/4 inch footprint. The sturdy metal case opens easily. Inside, you'll notice a roomy and accessible layout, which should simplify installation of boards and extra memory.
However, you may consider additions and upgrades unnecessary. The Sensor comes with a mouse port, parallel port, serial port, Super VGA graphics, and 2400-baud internal modem--all built into the motherboard. In addition, the Sensor has an external floppy disk drive connector for adding the Sensor SP-FDD 5 1/4-inch External Disk Drive. For most computer users, especially for those just entering the computer world, these features will make the two IBM AT-compatible expansion slots more than sufficient.
The Sensor comes with 2MB of RAM, expandable to 8MB on the motherboard using SIMM chips. Adding memory expansion boards lets you expand to 16MB. The motherboard's speed is factory set at 16 MHz but can be switched to the slower 8 MHz.
The fan, located at the back of the case, remains relatively quiet--just loud enough to let you know the computer's on. And there's enough space in the system box to allow for adequate ventilation.
The system includes a mouse and a sleek keyboard. Function keys line the top of the curved, 101-key keyboard. Slightly crisp, the keys offer an audible click, adequate resistance, and enough space for good finger maneuverability. I especially like the oversize Enter key and the location of the Ctrl key in the lower left-hand side of the keyboard. The mouse rolls smoothly, and it comfortably fits the contours of the hand.
The motherboard video configuration supports 256 colors at 1024 x 768 screen resolution. With a .31-mm pitch and antiglare screen, the Sensor's Super VGA monitor helps ease the strain of using a computer. My eyes and neck appreciate the size and tilt-swivel capabilities of the 14-inch monitor. Conveniently, the monitor power switch is located on the front of the monitor, and the brightness and contrast controls are within reaching distance to the side. Likewise, for convenience, the computer power and reset buttons are located on the front of the case.
Samsung has covered all the bases in the Sensor's complete documentation, and misplacing one of the eight sunflower-bright manuals should be next to impossible. The clear and thorough manuals divide discussions of the system and application software into individual sections, each with its own table of contents and index. Most of the manuals include tech support or troubleshooting sections of some sort, and many include a glossary. The manuals are easy to read, and many include helpful illustrations.
Although designed for almost everyone, the Sensor really shines in its attention to quelling the fears of those new to the computer world. The video manual and the User's Guide suggest that users take a tour of the system through the System Tutorial, perhaps the most informative application that accompanies the Sensor.
The System Tutorial impressed me with its realistic graphics and detail. It goes beyond the system's basics to include information on computers and disks in general, quite comforting for the computer wary. It also takes you on a tour of your computer's insides if you're not confident enough to open it up and look for yourself. (And just in case you haven't plugged in your computer at this point, it shows you how.)
Several of the other applications included with the Sensor help keep you organized. You get YourWay, a personal management system; Balance Point, an application for check writing and personal finance; The Norton Utilities; The Norton Backup; GW-BASIC; Microsoft Windows 3.0; and MS-DOS 4.01. (An offer to upgrade to YourWay 2.0 for $49.95 is included in the Sensor paperwork.) As an added bonus, the Sensor also comes with a free month of Prodigy, the interactive personal service that provides news, educational programs, games, shopping opportunities, and more.
To test the Sensor's performance, I added YXQUEST's XyWrite, Interplay's Dvorak on Typing, and Disney's Arachnophobia to the system's applications. The Sensor handled these with no hangups. I found Dvorak on Typing and Arachnophobia a bit hard to hear. This computer's sound system, like that of most PCs, would greatly benefit from an external volume control.
The hardware technical support staff responded courteously and calmly to my volume control inquiries but told me a technician would have to check out the system. The Sensor provides a 6-month on-site labor/12-month parts warranty, clearly detailed in the documentation. Samsung provides hardware support for free through a toll-free number, but software support costs $1.50 per minute after the first minute.
With all it has to offer, the Sensor successfully fulfills its goal of being operable and productive for users without any specialized knowledge or training. The 40MB hard drive and two expansion slots may not be powerful enough or offer enough flexibility for every computer user. But the price, compact design, thorough documentation, and added hardware bonuses make the Samsung Sensor a formidable contender in the 386 race.