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Patience Needed in Search for Perfect Portable

December 09, 1985|Richard O'Reilly | Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for The Times

There is no segment of the microcomputer marketplace that is more diverse and difficult for the buyer than that of the so-called lap-top portables, the briefcase-sized computers.

More than with other kinds of computers, the designers of lap-top models face severe constraints of size, weight, battery life, screen legibility and compatibility with desk-top computers. The results are always a compromise, and the task of the buyer is to find the compromise that least conflicts with his or her needs.

Of all the briefcase-size portable computers, the Kaypro 2000 is the sleekest. Encased in satin-brushed charcoal-gray metal, rimmed with black rubber bumpers and subtly labeled in lighter gray lettering, the Kaypro 2000 would look at home in a Porsche.

Priced at $1,995, this 11 1/2-pound portable is a true MS-DOS computer with 256 kilobytes of random access memory (RAM), which is expandable to 768K, and a single 3 1/2-inch disk drive, which stores 720 kilobytes of programs and data. The keyboard, unlike that of any other lap-top portable, is detachable on a long coiled cord and has full-sized keys with oversized keys for Return, Shift, Insert, Delete, Backspace, Control and Tab.

Small Screen

The small screen is the most negative aspect of the Kaypro 2000. The 25-line liquid crystal display (LCD) screen does have good contrast to aid readability, but a screen more than twice the existing 8 7/8-by-2 3/4-inch screen could have been installed.

As has been Kaypro's practice since its beginning, the Kaypro 2000 comes bundled with plenty of software. There is the WordStar professional package, which includes MailMerge, CorrectStar, a program that even checks misspellings phonetically, and StarIndex, a program to create indexes and tables of contents.

There also is Polywindows Desk Plus, a set of software tools that you can call to your screen while running other programs that includes a calendar, appointment book, calculator, alarm clock, telephone dialer, text editor, file cards and a keyboard utility that lets you use single keys to produce a string of characters or commands.

Mite Package

There also is a travel expense program and a telecommunications package called Mite. A $295 accessory 1,200-baud modem can be installed inside the Kaypro 2000. Unfortunately, a standard modular telephone connector won't fit it.

Other accessories include a choice of two expansion adapters. One costing $155 gives you a parallel printer port and a place to plug in a color video adapter as well as external disk drives. A more complete unit, costing $795, comes with an IBM-standard 5-inch disk drive, room for another disk drive and expansion slots for two adapter or function circuit boards.

The Kaypro 2000 is well made, very portable, nicely equipped with programs and is IBM-compatible. Its internal rechargeable batteries are good for about four hours' use with an average amount of disk access. A $25 rechargeable battery pack is available to extend its use away from electrical outlets.

Undoubtedly the most popular lap-top on the market has been Tandy's Model 100. And the Tandy 200 with larger screen and more memory seems destined to succeed as well.

Now Tandy has introduced the Model 600, which has a smaller screen than the Model 200 but more memory.

The Model 600 uses the same family of microprocessor as do MS-DOS computers, and it is equipped with special versions of popular programs that run under the MS-DOS operating system--Microsoft's Word and Multiplan, programs for word processing and spreadsheets. Yet the Model 600 is not a true MS-DOS computer, nor is it compatible with either of the two earlier lap-tops.

Instead, it is a hybrid. The Model 100 and 200 don't have disk drives but rather store data and run programs in a special battery-powered operating memory that keeps the contents stored safely when the computer is off.

The Model 600 uses the same expensive non-volatile memory, even though it is equipped with a 360K, 3 1/2-inch disk drive. Thus you have to copy files and programs from the disk into the computer's memory (a maximum of 224K) before they can be used. It is a slow, awkward and absurd process--in contrast to the speedy operation that a disk drive normally allows.

The 11-pound portable comes with a built-in 300-baud modem and has a base price of $1,595. But it really costs $2,393 with its full complement of memory, without which it is severely limited.

80-Character Lines

It does display 80 characters across its LCD screen, compared to 40 characters for the Model 100 and 200, but the characters are smaller and thus harder to see. They are, however, larger than those of the Kaypro 2000 because the Model 600 displays only 16 lines of type on a screen about the same size. The Kaypro model displays 25 lines.

The word-processing and spreadsheet files that it creates are compatible with desk-top versions of Word and Multiplan, and the programs work much the same although not identically. Maximum file size is 64K.

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