Bondwell 2; Spectravideo rebounds with a disk-based portable for under $1000. (evaluation) Joe Desposito.
An old cigarette commercial once proclaimed: "They said it couldn't be done; they said nobody could do it." For a time, this seemed to apply to lap-size portable computers, too. It seemed nobody could build a lap-top with an integral disk drive for less than $1000.
But now Spectravideo (reincarnated under the aegis of Bondwell Industrial Co. of Hong Kong) has done it. They have produced the Bondwell 2, a lap portable with a 25-line liquid crystal display and integral disk drive for a suggested retail price of $999.95. Bundled with the system are five software products from MicroPro: WordStar, Mailmerge, CalcStar, DataStar and ReportStar.
The Bondwell 2 is a CP/M-based computer with a 3.5" micro-floppy drive built in. The case is a two-tone gray color with a handle at the rear. When you flip up the front half of the case, the display and keyboard appear.
This is where problems normally start for these portables. You turn the thing on, look at the screen, and realize you can't see anything. But not with the Bondwell. The machine features an ingenious kind of hinge that allows you to accomplish something like a dancer's split with the display. It actually can tilt from 0 through 180 degrees. Thus, no matter what type of lighting you have, the screen can be easily viewed.
Along the rear of the computer are three ports, an RS-232 serial, Centronics parallel, and one for a second 3.5" disk drive. At the bottom of the unit is a connector for plugging in a modem or additional memory.
Inside the Bondwell
The Bondwell uses a CMOS version of the Z80 microprocessor. Though our review unit ran at 2MHz, production models will have a 4MHz clock. It has 64K RAM for program and data storage, 16K video RAM, and 4K ROM.
The 3.5" disk drive uses double density micro-floppies, offering 360K of formatted storage space. Although it sometimes seems that all 3.5" drives are manufactured by Sony, that isn't the case. The Bondwell uses Tec drives.
Power for the unit is supplied by two sealed lead-acid batteries. The batteries last about eight hours and then must be recharged, which takes 12 hours with the supplied adapter. A red LED on the outside of the case flickers when power is running low (it can be seen when the unit is open or closed). However, there is no automatic shut off feature, so if you leave the computer on and forget about it, you will undoubtably drain the batteries.
The Display Angle
As mentioned, the display can be tilted to any angle, which affords excellent viewing. However, the characters on the display are not a joy to read, because the font uses only a single row of dots to form the letters, and lowercase characters like j and g don't have true descenders. A contrast adjustment, however, adds to the readability.
In the text mode, the display accommodates 80 lines of 25 characters. In the graphics mode, the resolution is 640 by 200 pixels.
The Bondwell keyboard has an excellent feel. Touch typists should be able to breeze along at their fastest rate. Alphanumeric keys are light gray, while RETURN, SHIFT, TAB, and others are a dark gray color.
For cursor movement there is a cluster of triangular keys in the top righthand corner of the keyboard. And along the top row are ten half-size keys: the ESC, DELETE, and eight function keys. By using the SHIFT key with the function keys, you can program eight additional functions.
The Bondwell 2 is packaged with CP/M 2.2 system and utilities disk, the five MicroPro packages mentioned before, and a Scheduler Plus disk. This software bundle provides most of the day-to-day software you would ever want. One drawback is that a high-level language like Basic is not included with the system. Thus, the only programming that can be done is in assembly language. Another drawback is that an operating system like CP/M and programs like WordStar might be somewhat intimidating to new users.
The Bondwell 2 documentation includes a manual for beginners on the computer itself, a CP/M manual from Digital Research, and MicroPro manuals for that company's software. The manual provided by Bondwell is not of the highest quality, but it is clear and straightforward. And it contains some useful technical information like pin assignments for the I/O ports. The Digital Research CP/M manual is written for sophisticated users, and is very helpful for those who may want to do some assembly language programming. The MicroPro documentation is for beginners through advanced users and is excellent.
Observations and Conclusions
The Bondwell 2 has all the features a lap-size computer owner would ever want--at an affordable price. However, I think the hardware outpaces the software on this machine.
Although the machine is equipped to do almost anything, in practice I had trouble doing some elementary computing. For instance, it seems obvious that users would be interested in telecommunications with a product like this. However, the system disk that I received did not include a terminal program, and without a language like Basic available, you are left to write a terminal program in assembly language. However, a spokesman for Spectravideo indicated that the release version of the system disk will include Modem 7, a popular CP/M public domain communications program.
The other gripe I have with the software is that a product like WordStar runs very slowly on this system. The LCD screen is constantly being rewritten, which takes a good deal of time. The slower clock speed of the evaluation unit might have something to do with this, but I still think that WordStar on the Bondwell 2 will suffer from speed problems.
In my opinion, this kind of computer demands an awareness by the manufacturer of what the typical user will want to do with it. High on my list of uses for this computer would be telecommunications. Not only would I want to send and receive data files, but I would also be interested in tapping the vast library of CP/M software that is available. The manufacturer doesn't give the new user a clue as to how to do this. And experienced users are left to figure out ways to accomplish these tasks with the software that is provided--a serious oversight that could be easily remedied.
In conclusion, I think that the Bondwell 2 offers tremendous value to users interested in a lap-size computer with all the extras built in. However, tapping the power of this portable will require some effort. Those who are thoroughly familiar with CP/M and have an affinity for WordStar and other MicroPro products will be most easily pleased. The hardware is so impressive, though, that if you haven't already had a CP/M close encounter of the third kind, the Bondwell 2 may well provide the incentive for it.
Products: Bondwell 2 (computer)