Two of the most attractive laptop computers to be introduced recently are the Toshiba T1100 and the IBM PC Convertible.
They are similar yet differ in important ways in how they attempt to provide MS-DOS software compatibility in a lightweight, rechargeable, battery powered, easily carried portable computer.
The $1,999 Toshiba T1100 comes with 512 kilobytes of operating memory (RAM), a single built-in disk drive, an 83-key keyboard and an 80-column by 25-line liquid crystal display that shows black characters on a light gray-green background (the kind used in digital watches and calculators). It comes with MS-DOS 3.2 (but not Basic) and a very nice vinyl case for carrying its nine pounds.
The $1,995 IBM PC Convertible is equipped with 256K of memory (expandable to 512K), two disk drives, a keyboard with 78 keys, a similar flip-up LCD display screen and a very nice carrying handle to heft its 12.2 pounds. The handle also does double duty as a wrist support when typing. IBM's PC-DOS 3.2 is $95 extra and includes Basic. Additional memory, in units of 128K, costs $195.
Both machines have 3 1/2-inch disk drives that use sturdy plastic-encased diskettes small enough to slip into a shirt pocket. Since desktop MS-DOS computers such as the IBM PC and its multitude of imitators use 5-inch diskettes, the problem with these portables is how to run existing MS-DOS software on them.
Toshiba, in my opinion, opted for the best approach. It offers a $599 external 5-inch disk drive that can be plugged into the portable and defined as either the primary (A) or the secondary (B) drive. A second 3 1/2-inch drive is also available as an external unit, priced at $499. Thus, the Toshiba can run standard MS-DOS programs--including copy-protected ones--on 5-inch disks.
IBM, on the other hand, has no 5-inch drive option for the PC Convertible but does offer 3 1/2-inch external drives that can be attached to its various desktop PC models. Therefore, you either have to buy new software for the PC Convertible on 3 1/2-inch disks or equip a desktop PC with the external 3 1/2-inch drive and copy software from 5-inch disks to the smaller format.
That will prevent you from using your existing copy-protected software, such as Lotus 1-2-3, on the PC Convertible unless you can overcome the copy-protection feature by using a program such as Copy II PC.
In fact, for this review I made software copies on the Toshiba to run in the IBM portable. I found both machines quite compatible with desktop PC software, although my tests were by no means exhaustive.
While both the Toshiba T1100 and IBM PC Convertible have LCD screens, there are differences between them. Proportion, for instance. A normal desktop PC has a screen that is 1.5 times as wide as it is high, and text characters and graphics images are designed to look normal with those proportions.
The Toshiba T1100 has a screen 2.3 times wider than it is tall, and the IBM PC Convertible is even more stretched out at 3.1 times as wide as it is tall. The result is that characters are more squat and graphic images are flattened.
I liked the Toshiba's slightly more upright character set better than the IBM's.
But I seriously disliked another feature of the Toshiba screen. It is built to display high-intensity (or bold) characters with a blinking underline under them. Many programs use such characters in their command menus, and the sight of all those blinking underlines drove me nuts.
However, if you ask for it, your dealer or Toshiba will give you a utility program that disables the blinking underline. The IBM screen simply ignores the high-intensity attribute and displays them like other characters.
I found the IBM screen more difficult to see, primarily because it remains more vertical than the Toshiba's and so is more difficult to light properly for maximum contrast.
The Toshiba screen will actually fold back flat on the unit, making it ideal for real laptop work (the IBM would be hard to see on an airline pull-down seat table.) Another reason for the full fold-back of the Toshiba screen is that the computer comes equipped with a port on the back allowing you to plug in a standard color monitor, and the LCD screen folds neatly out of the way.
IBM requires you to buy a $325 adapter, which attaches to the back of the PC Convertible, to allow it to run a color monitor. Its LCD screen easily detaches to get it out of the way.
IBM also requires another add-on adapter ($195) to connect a parallel (or serial) printer, while the Toshiba comes with a built-in parallel printer port. An alternative to the IBM parallel/serial adapter is a $295 dot-matrix thermal or ribbon printer that attaches to the back of the PC Convertible. If you buy a special cable ($45), you can detach the printer and set it beside the computer. Either way, it runs off the computer's internal rechargeable battery.