Notebook computing; 16- and 24- line LCD screens on five new computers. David H. Ahl.
The end of 1984 was a busy time for makers of notebook portables, with each one trying to outdo the competitors, pushing up announcement dates, and practically adding features on the fly. With all the aceleration of announcement dates, we feel sure that some of these units will not hit dealers' shelves for many months. Below are descriptions and our early impressions; watch for in-depth reviews later this spring. NEC PC-8400
The NEC PC-8400 is a notebook portable with 64K of RAM, 16-line by 80-character display, RS-232 and parallel interfaces, internal 300 baud modem and 96K of built-in ROM software. The built-in software includes WordStar-To-Go (a simplified version of WordStar), Calc-To-Go (spreadsheet), Personal Filer (filing system), telecommunications, and CP/M utilities. The 8400 uses a CMOS version of the 8-bit Z80A running at 4 MHz, the same mpu used in the 8201.
Although the display is in a hinged lid, the entire unit is only 2.25" thick (x 11.75" x 8.5"). The weights is 4.7 lbs., 0.7 ibs. more than the 8201 due to the larger screen on the 8401 and its use of four C cells (rather than the AA cells in the 8201).
The keyboard retains the excellent diamond cursor keys of the 8201.
The function keys, however, have grown to a normal size. In all, the 8401 has 68 regular keys, five function keys (doubled to ten using Shift), and four cursor keys.
The angle (contrast) of the LCD elements are adjustable as is the tilt of the screen; we found it very legible in a variety of external lighting conditions. Like the 8201, the 8401 has full cursor addressing, as well as Greek and graphics characters.
The PC-8401A package with cassette and phone cable carries a suggested retail price of $999. An external 32K RAM cartridge costs $199, and printer cable $39.50. We are promised that a CRT/disk adapter ($249), 120 baud modem ($299), and 3 1/2" disk unit ($599) will be available for the 8401 in something resembling real time. Tandy Model 200
Essentially, the Model 200 is an enhanced Model 100. Major differences include a 16-line by 40-character tilt-up screen, up to 72K of RAM in three banks of 24K each, 75K of ROM (includes the Multiplan spreadsheet), improved cursor key cluster, and enhanced software.
Software changes include a calculator function available from any program; COPY, KILL and BANK switch function key options; formatting of output for text files including width, margins, and page size (but not line spacing); and a LIST function in Text which performs a string search. Up to 225 alarms may be stored in the NOTE file; the alarm will wake up the machine if power is off at the time of a scheduled event. Several features have been added to Telcom as well.
The machine has grown slightly to 2.2" thick and 4.5 lbs. The price of the Model 200 with 24K of RAM is $999; additional 24K RAM modules (user installable) are $249.95 each. It should be currently available at your local Radio Shack. Sord IS-11C
Aimed primarily at value added resellers and national accounts is Sord's new portable, the IS-11C. The machine uses a CMOS 8-bit Z80A mpu, has 72K of ROM, 80K of RAM, a built-in microcassette recorder, 300 baud modem, serial and parallel interfaces, and a 25-line by 80-character fold-up LCD screen.
Built-in software includes a powerful word processing package, telecommunications, scheduling, and several utilities. Other software is available on ROM cartridge and includes Basic, Data Transfer (to and from MS-DOS, PC-DOS, and CP/M), Time Sharing System, and "DB-PIPS" (a combination database, spreadsheet, and graphics package).
The size and weight of the IS-11C is about the same as a pair of Model 100s (3.4" thick and 6.6 lbs.)
The machine will retail for under $1500, and a wide range of hardware peripherals is planned including a portable printer, 3.5" disk drive, bar code reader, and mouse. TI Pro-Lite
At the high end of the portable (lap-top? knee-top?) spectrum is the Texas Instruments Pro-Lite. Essentially, this is a compatible companion to the TI Professional Computer with a CMOS version of the 16-bit 8088 mpu, 256K of RAM (expandable to 768K), built-in 3.5" disk drive with 720K capacity, full-travel keyboard with 79 keys and 12 programmable function keys, and, like the Data General/One, a 25-line by 80-character LCD screen. The basic unit with MS-DOS 2.12 goes for $2995.
The word "Lite" is used as Miller beer uses it--fewer calories than the normal brew, but still quite a few. The Pro-Lite weighs in at 10.5 lbs., not including an external modular battery pack which adds a few more pounds. According to TI's research, many users don't want true portability--they want carry around-ability--so TI made the basic unit AC powered. A modular battery pack ($129), second 3.5" disk drive ($595), or combination battery/disk unit ($724) clamp onto the back of the Pro-Lite. Other available options include an 8087 numeric co-processor and internal 300 baud modem.
To exchange programs and data with a desktop TI Pro (or other PC compatible), a PC interface cable ($79), which connects to the external drive connector of the desktop machine is available. Using this cable, the drive of the Pro-Lite acts as third disk drive on the desktop machine.
Initially, TI is aiming the Pro-Lite at vertical markets through its direct sales force and value added resellers. It will not be available at retail until later in the year. Datavue 25
Another 80C88, 25-line by 80-character, MS-DOS machine is the Datavue 25. The 83-key keyboard is truly detachable and can be operated in a cordless (infrared) mode similar to the one on the PCjr. Built into the side of the system/display unit is a 360K 5 1/4" double density, double sided disk drive. The machine will be offered with either 64K DRAM chips (128K standard, 256K maximum) or 256K chips (256K standard, 1Mb maximum).
The Datavue 25 includes serial and parallel interfaces, battery backup real time clock, 16K ROM with diagnostics and I/O, and fold-away handle. Options include an internal modem and external battery pack.
Buttoned up, the machine measures 13" x 10.4" x 6" and weighs 12.1 pounds without the battery pack. Pricing has not been fixed, but is quoted as "under $2000." Short Takes
Visual Technology, makers of the Commuter, a 16-pound IBM PC compatible with dual 5 1/4" disk drives, upped the screen size of the machine from 16 lines to 24 lines by 80 characters.
Apple Computer showed its long-awaited 25-line LCD screen for the Apple IIc portable. Spring availability is promised.
Traveling Software announced a nifty software package to download the entire contents of the Model 100 or NEC 8201 to a cassette tape in a fraction of the time needed to download individual files.
And magazine publishing curmudgeon Wayne Green has started Pico, a magazine for users of briefcase portables. It's based in WGE Center, Peterborough, NH 03458.