Epson NB3s. (Evaluation)
by David English
Now that Epson is shipping its new NB-SL line of notebook computers, the company has discontinued its previous notebook--the NB3s. As a result, the NB3s can now be bought at a bargain price, making it a highly competitive machine.
For an early-generation notebook, the NB3s is extremely small and lightweight. It's only 1.7 inches high, and it weighs just 5.8 pounds including the battery. The hard drives come in 20MB, 40MB, and 60MB sizes, and they're removable--so you can easily carry an extra hard drive with you. The 60MB drive I tested worked fine with Stacker 2.0, providing a 120MB hard drive in a very small package.
Epson also offers an optional lightweight docking station that lets you add two standard 16-bit cards and a proprietary 200MB hard drive. The docking station has its own handle and can be carried with the NB3s attached. Epson even offers a special carrying case that accommodates both units, which together weigh only ten pounds. This combination, unique at this price, would allow you to add both network and multimedia cards and easily move the whole thing between your office and home.
For a notebook computer, the keyboard has an excellent feel. The NB3s uses the much-preferred inverted-T cursor-key layout, though the Insert and Delete keys are awkwardly placed to the right of the space bar. There's also a standby button that you can use to shut down most of the unit's power quickly without having to reboot. As is true with most early notebooks, pressing the standby button will lock up the system when you're in Windows' 386-enhanced mode.
As for the NB3s's disadvantages, there are three main ones: a very short battery life, a slower-than-usual processor, and the inability to switch automatically between normal and inverse modes while in Windows. The rechargeable battery runs only 1 to 1 1/2 hours, though this is somewhat mitigated by Epson's including two batteries with the unit. The processor runs at 16 MHz, rather than the 20-and 25-MHz speeds more common in today's notebook computers.
Not being able to switch automatically between normal and inverse modes requires a bit of explanation. Because white text against a black background can be hard to read on an LCD screen, most notebook computers switch from inverse to normal when moving from a text-based to a graphics-based application. The NB3s doesn't do this automatically, but it does include a program that you can use in your batch files to make the switch for you. Unfortunately, this program doesn't work under Windows. If you prefer black text against a white background and use Windows, you'll have to put up with a certain amount of frustration. If you prefer white text against a black background or don't use Windows, you'll feel perfectly at home.
If the slower processor, shorter battery life, and inverse-mode problems don't bother you, the NB3s is a nice little notebook. Its small size and lightweight docking station make it a good choice for shuffling between your office and home. Since the NB3s was discontinued earlier this year, if you see one for a bargain price at your local discount store--as I did recently--consider picking it up and giving it a try.