ISSUE 511: The high tech office- Aug
Hot-selling portable PCs offer wide range of features
Portable computers are hot -- in more ways than
one. Easy to pick up and carry, they're also easy to steal (watch out
in the airport security lineups and never leave one in plain view in
your car). They're also hot sellers, with an ever-increasing share of
the otherwise flattening computer market.
As a result, there's a growing range of portable
choices and, if you're looking for one, a growing possibility of
confusion. Try and define your needs, as well as your budget, and keep
in mind that all portables involve some compromises. Be sure to try out
the keyboards, pointing devices and screens to see if you can work
comfortably with them. Here are some of the choices:
This new product category offers light weight and low
price -- small machines such as Hewlett Packard's Jornada 820.
The Jornada weighs in at around a kilo or so, has a long battery life
and is priced well below $2,000.
The catch is that PC companions run Microsoft's
scaled-down Windows CE, not a more-standard Win-
dows 95/98 or NT and, as a result, can't run standard software. As the
name suggests, they're designed as a companion for the desktop PC where
you do most of your work. The systems let you keep up with e-mail and
do some limited word processing and other work on the run using
These computers are the same size as the PC
companions, but run on a more standard operating system, which allows
for the use of a wider range of software. Expect to pay about double
for the increased flexibility, while getting about half the battery
With both PC companions and mini notebooks be sure to
try out these smaller-than-average machines to be certain you can use
the slightly scaled-down keyboards.
These computers feature larger screens and keyboards
than the minis. They achieve their size and weight advantage by making
the floppy and CD drives external units. The total weight of the
notebook is around two kilograms. Most of the major manufacturers have
products in this class in the $3,000 to $4,000 range.
These computers offer the most models, ranging in
price from just under $2,000 to around $4,000, and weighing in around
three kilograms or so. The lowest-priced models include a
duller-looking passive matrix screen. These screens will show ghosts
and are difficult to use for game playing or multimedia. But we don't
do that at work, do we?
By the time the price goes up to $2,400 or so, most
feature better 12-inch active matrix screens. At that price, there are
a reasonable number of choices, including Apple's
just-announced iBook (not available until September), which combines a
fast processor, exceptional battery life and a rugged case (if you're
prepared to tote around an orange or blue computer). Personally, I'd
budget a bit to upgrade all of these models from the standard 32 megs
of RAM to a more usable 64 megs.
Higher-priced models offer larger screen sizes and
include both CD-ROM and floppy disk drives at the same time.
These systems hold down the top end, in features,
weight and price. They typically weigh in at 3.5 kilograms or more and
can be a bit of a burden if you're frequently running through airport
terminals. But as the name suggests, they promise enough power and
features to let you get rid of that office desktop and use one as your
only computer. Look for 14- to 15-inch screens, a powerful processor, a
large hard drive, lots of RAM and perhaps a DVD rather than a CD-ROM
drive. Prices are in the $4,000 to $5,000 range. Apple's newest
PowerBook G3 models have lost a few pounds and gained in battery life,
making them nice options in this range. *