Tandy Model 200. (evaluation) Owen W. Linzmayer.
The Tandy Model 200 portable computer is a surprising machine. Surprising for what it's not, more than for what it's got. Ever since word leaked out that a successor for the phenomenally successful Model 100 was in the works, people have been waiting eagerly for its release. Journalists had speculated that it would be a 64K machine with 80-column display--possibly even an IBM compatible. They were wrong. Herein we take a close look at the real Model 200. Family History
To fully appreciate the Model 200, a layman's understanding of the Model 100 is in order. Briefly, the Model 100 is a notebook-sized portable computer with a 40-column by 8-line liquid crystal display (LCD) and a built-in 300 baud modem. The computer can be equipped with 8 to 32K of RAM and has several useful programs residing in ROM. One of the most appealing points of the Model 100 is that there is effectively no operating system, thus making it a very friendly machine for even a novice to operate. All of these features combine to make the Tandy Model 100 the most successful portable lap-sized computer to date--admittedly a tough act to follow. Enter the Model 200.
As the name implies, the Model 200 is an enhanced version of its predecessor. Major differences include a 40-column by 16-line flip-up display, 24K to 72K of RAM, 72K to 104K of ROM, improved cursor key cluster, and the Multiplan spreadsheet in ROM. Bigger, but Better?
Because of the flip-up display, the Model 200 is slightly larger than the Model 100, measuring 2.2" x 11.8" x 8.5" and weighing 4.5 lbs. In addition to 16 lines of 40 characters, graphics can be displayed on a 240 x 128 pixel matrix.
My immediate reaction to the display was, "why not 80 columns?" The reason offered by Tandy is that 40 columns is considerably more legible than 80. This, of course, was true during the design stages of the Model 200, but today several 80-column LCD displays are available with excellent legibility. However, I can't blame the folks in Ft. Worth for not wanting to count on such improvements.
Although the display flips open to only one position, a contrast adjustment and non-glare coating assure excellent legibility under almost any lighting conditions. When closed, the display protects the 56-key, full-stroke keyboard. In fact, the 200 keyboard is identical to that of the 100, so if you are accustomed to the latter, you will have no qualms with its implementation on its successor .
The four cursor keys are arranged in a logical diamond pattern, a major improvements over the Model 100.
The 200 offers four special and eight function keys labeled PASTE, LABEL, PRINT, PAUSE/BREAK and F1 through F8. These are located in a single row above the main keyboard and provide one-key command entry, with software-selectable commands displayed on the bottom line of the LCD screen. The top line contains a continuously-updated status report, with the remainder of the menu screen filled with the names of programs and files stored in memory. Like Memory in the Bank
As I mentioned earlier, the Model 200 can be loaded with up to 72K of RAM, in three banks of 24K each. You can switch from bank to bank using the appropriate function key. The Model 200 also has the ability to copy files from one bank to another, though you cannot access more than one bank at a time. The partitioning of memory in this manner allows you to make efficient use of each bank. For instance, you can use bank one as a workplace to run a program copied from bank two that requires a data file originally stored in bank three. Each bank has its own menu, and neither switching banks nor pressing Reset disturbs the contents of memory. By the way, to add more memory, be it RAM or ROM, chips are inserted into the empty sockets found under a removable cover on the bottom of the Model 200. Compatibility Confusion
The Model 200 is almost identical to the Model 100 with regard to hardware specifications and abilities. Inside you have a 80C85 running the entire show at a clock rate equal to that of the Model 100. On the back panel of both machines you find a Reset button, RS-232C female DB-25 connector, system bus connector, parallel printer connector, and phone and cassette DIN sockets. The RS-232C connector can be used to interface to an external 1200 baud modem if the built-in 300 baud unit is too slow for your tastes. In addition to this, you can use this serial port in conjunction with Telcom, the ROM-based telecommunications package, to interface the Model 200 to any other computer with a serial port. Located on the left side of the Model 200 is the bar code reader port and a sliding switch that selects between direct-connect (modular) or acoustic modem use.
The Model 200 can be powered by either an AC adapter or four AA batteries (10 to 16-hour life from alkaline cells). To extend battery life, the computer automatically shuts off if the keyboard has not been touched for a predetermined length of time.
Using the NOTE.DO file in the Model 200, you can program up to 255 alarms and short messages. If you need to be reminded of an appointment on April 20, you can have the computer remind you several hours, days, or even weeks in advance. When the time specified in your note matches that of the internal clock, the Model 200 beeps and a message flashes across the bottom of the screen. The alarm function also has the ability to "wake" the machine if the power is off!
Just about every piece of hardware designed for the Model 100 will function properly with the Model 200, provided that it doesn't require accompanying machine language software. For instance, you can use the Tandy Disk/Video Interface (reviewed December 1984) which gives you external 80-column capability and a 170K 5-1/4" disk drive.
Model 100 software written entirely in Basic with no PEEKS, POKES, or machine language subroutines will run on the Model 200. This may not be as limiting as it sounds as much of the commercial software and most user-written programs do not use machine language functions. Hidden Treasures
The beauty of both Tandy portables is that very nearly all of the software you need is provided in ROM inside the machine. The built-in software consists of a text editor, telecommunications package, address and schedule organizers, Multiplan (63 columns by 99 rows) spreadsheet, and Microsoft Basic. None of these programs can hold a candle to similar desktop versions, but then they weren't meant to. These programs were designed to be functional, not full-featured.
Packed with the Model 200 are three supplementary manuals: Tandy 200 Multiplan, Telcom Reference, and Basic Reference. In addition to these, the Tandy 200 Technical Reference Manual is available as an option. Model 100 Criticisms R.I.P.
When Associate Editor John Anderson first reviewed the Model 100 in August of 1983, he was very impressed, though the review was not without criticism. Almost everything that disappointed John has been corrected on the Tandy Model 200. You now have a ceiling of 72K of RAM compared to a maximum of 32K with the Model 100. The auto-dial feature of the modem now encompasses both touch-tone and pulse dialing. The cursor cluster has been greatly improved, and formatting of output for TEXT files is possible.
The Model 200 with 24K of RAM is priced the same as the Model 100 when it was introduced, $999. Each additional 24K RAM module (user installable) retails for $249.95. To some extent, pricing defines your competitors; also at the $1000 price point are the Epson PX-8 Geneva and NEC 8401. Right for Whom?
Although several notebook computers--all with rather different features -- exist at the $1000 price point I have some difficulty trying to determine who the customers are. People who were infatuated with the idea of a truly portable machine and people who needed one for their jobs, mainly journalists, have already purchased one. Those looking for compatible desktop power in a portable are looking at units like the DG/One and the Morrow Pivot. So who needs a Model 200?
Frankly, I think that manufacturers will have to look to developing vertical markets--alone or by cooperating with VARs--to find significant new business. So far, this hasn't been part of Tandy's game plan, but maybe it will be in the future.
Please don't get me wrong: I like the Model 200, although I was a bit disappointed to see such a conservative machine so hot on the trail of the blockbuster 1000 and 1200. If you need a portable and have resisted getting one, perhaps the Model 200 will tip the scales for you. But I question how many scales will be tipped before some major new markets are tapped.
Products: Tandy Model 200 (computer)