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March 1996 Reviews

Click here to see a list of all products reviewed this month.


Mobility and communications are key among the 28 hardware
products reviewed this month, with notebooks, modems, PDAs
and a ready-to-run Web server leading the way.

(Editor's Note: The WinMag Box Score rates products on installation, usability, supporting materials, functionality, performance and utility. We use a 5-point scale:
1 poor, 2 fair, 3 good, 4 very good and 5 outstanding. A list of recommended desktop systems is at the end of the Reviews section; in future months, other hardware and software products will be added to the Recommended list.)

Head to Head: Voice/Data Modems
Boca Research, Cardinal and Connectware

Head to Head: PDAs
HP OmniGo 100 and Palm Pilot 1000

Austin Direct WebFoot

Boxlight Multibook C300

Socket Communications

GPS Card

NEC MultiSync LCD200

Amquest Hypermodem

28800 Model AM2814I-HY

HEAD TO HEAD: Voice/Data Modems

The Modern Modem: Valuable & Voluble

by Sara G. Stephens

Next time you have to shop for a new modem, you just might want to consider kicking in a few extra bucks-okay, maybe 100 extra bucks-to get a modem that can handle voice as adeptly as it does data. I looked at three of the latest in the current crop of high-speed, voice-enabled modems.

Boca Research V.34 Office Communicator

Boca Research's strength is innovation, and the V.34 Office Communicator proves that the tradition continues. The package boasts easy Plug-and-Play installation, full-duplex speakerphone, voice mail, and a fax modem that faxes at 14.4Kbps and sends data at 28.8Kbps.

The half-card Office Communicator is VoiceView-enabled, and has a leg up on the competition with DSVD, which allows for the simultaneous sharing of voice and data over a single phone line. Although the other two products mentioned here also use VoiceView, which lets you send data to another VoiceView-certified modem by temporarily muting the handset, the Office Communicator's DSVD sends the voice and data streams together-seamlessly and with no handset interruption. Again, the computer on the other end must also be DSVD-enabled.

An AutoComm Port Detection utility made installing Office Communicator a snap. It doesn't get much easier than this. The unit also comes with Intel's personal conferencing program, ProShare Premier 1.6, which strengthens the product's position as an office workhorse. On the other hand, the package's centerpiece software, the stripped-down MediaWorks shell from Midisoft Corp., presents a surprising-and unsettling-departure from previous editions' use of FaxWorks (the comm app of choice for the Cardinal and ConnectWare units). I can't say much for the change in venue, but what I miss most from FaxWorks is its fax-on-demand feature.

The Office Communicator's full-length user manual, succinctly packaged in 70 pages, is of the down-and-dirty breed: Don't look here for friendly fonts and faces. The package also offers scant documentation for the included apps.

Although Boca Research offers tech support via BBS, CompuServe, the World Wide Web, fax retrieval, tech-support fax and standard free phone support, an urgent problem led me to use the $2-per-minute 900 line "for immediate access to senior-level technicians." I shuddered to think, after I hung up with no answer, what kind of response the "pro bono" caller to tech support receives.

Cardinal MVP288XV

The Cardinal MVP288XV is a clear case of "no news is good news." This product unites the best features of all comm packages. For one, it's an external modem, unlike the other two units reviewed here, which makes installation a snap because you don't have to crack open the computer case to get it cranking.

Like its competitors, the Cardinal is VoiceView-enabled-and unlike Boca Research's product, its communications app is the preferred FaxWorks 3.0. This package offers all the usual capabilities, including voice mail, fax mail, address book and, best of all, fax-on-demand.

FaxWorks provides scripts that automate log-ons for online services such as CompuServe and Delphi. The software also lets users enter credit card numbers to send faxes or place long-distance calls. The terminal app's BBS list offers a robust A-to-Z listing of popular BBSes, each complete with information such as number of phone lines, ftp, mail, telnet and whether it's subscription-based.

The FaxWorks manual is thorough and easy on the eyes. Technical support is offered via a standard phone number plus fax, BBS, e-mail and America Online.

Cardinal's Getting Started Guide is a folded card with easy-to-follow, numbered diagrams of the six steps required to set up the modem. Step 6 is split into two boxes, one for Windows 3.x and the other for Win95 environments. Its Reference Manual offers helpful, easy-to-understand troubleshooting information based on frequently encountered problems.

Connectware PhoneWorks 28.8

Connectware packs all the "nouveau-standard" capabilities into its multimedia package, including speakerphone, voice mail, Caller ID, and 14.4Kbps fax and 28.8Kbps data transmission. This three-quarter-card solution is harder to install than the other products mentioned here. It relies on hard jumper configurations for setting comm ports and IRQs.

The unit's Modem Diagnostics utility is a misnomer. It scans your system for attached modems, but it spits back details of symptoms rather than an explanation or a solution. Based on a diagnosis such as "No modem detected," all you know is to shut off your machine, remove the board, juggle some jumpers (the manual offers suggestions for alternative settings), reinstall the board, run the diagnostic app again and see if you somehow managed to back into the right combination.

PhoneWorks does score well for its winning communications software-FaxWorks 3.0, the same package used by the Cardinal unit. And PhoneWorks earns lots of bonus points for its bundled copy of Internet Phone, which lets you place "toll-free" Internet voice calls.

-- Info File --
Boca Research V.34Office Communicator
$291; $222 without DSVD (street)
Pros: DSVD; installation
Cons: Software; no fax-on-demand
Boca Research
407-997-6227, fax 407-997-0918
WinMag Box Score 3.5

Cardinal MVP288XV
$209 (street)
Pros: Installation; portability; software
Cons: Difficult-to-read indicators
Cardinal Technologies
800-775-0899, 717-293-3000
WinMag Box Score 3.5

ConnectwarePhoneWorks 28.8
Pros: Software; freeInternet phone
Cons: Installation; diagnostics
800-357-0852, 214-997-4111
WinMag Box Score 3

Head to head: Hand-held PCs

A Pair of Palm PCs

by Jim Forbes

While personal digital assistants (PDAs) have yet to take off, these pocket-sized devices may be poised at a critical threshold. Because Microsoft has yet to introduce a hand-held operating system product, no company has yet introduced a Windows-based PDA. But Hewlett-Packard, with its new OmniGo 100 (with its Connectivity Pack Option), and Palm Computing, with its Pilot 1000 hand-held and Pilot Desktop personal information manager (PIM), make it easy for Windows users to carry contact and appointment information in their jacket or shirt pockets.

Palm Pilot 1000

The Pilot 1000, from U.S. Robotics' Palm Computing Div., is a 3- by 5-inch hand-held device that weighs mere ounces and fits nicely into a shirt pocket. I tested beta versions of the hardware and software. It has a 160x160-pixel monochrome passive reflective screen and a connector cable that attaches to your desktop's or notebook's serial port via a small cradle that houses the hand-held device.

I've waited for a device like the Pilot for a long time. Although the desktop component is a very limited PIM, it fits most of my needs. The hardware component uses a Motorola processor and lets me track appointments, to-do lists and contact data, and jot notes with a small stylus. Its handwriting recognition engine works reasonably well and supports gestures for editing. I learned to use the gesture command set in less than an hour. The device also has a long battery life.

Pilot Desktop-the Windows-based PIM-allows you to track contacts, to-do lists, appointments and other information. It requires at least 4MB of disk space, an available serial port and Windows 95 or 3.x. This PIM has very good import capabilities, allowing you to import data as tab or comma ASCII, or DBF formats.

Pilot's HotSync feature, which synchronizes data in the hand-held device with the Desktop application, sets it apart from the crowd. Just place the handheld device in its cradle, and hit the HotSync button.

HP OmniGo 100

HP's OmniGo 100 is the latest member of the most successful family of hand-held products. Its pricing starts in the mid-$300 range. The primary mechanism for data entry is a small keyboard, although it can also be operated with a stylus. Used with its optional Connectivity Pack, OmniGo-which has a 240x240 pixel screen-offers more features than the Palm Pilot, but is about 30 percent larger and heavier.

OmniGo 100 uses the Geoworks operating system and is based on a 80186-compatible processor. It includes a Type II PCMCIA slot and comes with an appointment scheduling program, note taker, Graffiti software (for capturing pen input as electronic ink), a database/contact manager, Geoworks Book Reader (a content viewer) and other applications.

It's easy to use and employs common off-the-shelf batteries for power. Using the Connectivity Pack, you can import and export data from Windows-based databases and PIMs using the ASCII or DBF formats, or formats unique to HP's LX and OmniGo families.

Like the Palm Pilot, OmniGo connects to Windows-based clients via a serial cable. I tested and used the OmniGo Connectivity Package under Windows 95 and 3.x.

I prefer Palm Pilot's importing and exporting capabilities, which are not as restrictive as those on the OmniGo 100. The key to effective use of either device is synchronizing your data. The underlying software for both platforms is made by Palm and is fairly similar. In the automatic mode, files and records are compared; the most recent data associated with a record is transferred from one machine to another.

If you can't live without a keyboard, the Palm Pilot may not be for you. The OmniGo, on the other hand, not only has a keyboard, but its screen flips over, allowing you to hold the device as though it were a pad of paper.

The Palm Pilot appears to have been designed for more passive applications. When used as an electronic warehouse for storing simple contact information, it really shines.

Both devices are helped immensely by the new version of Graffiti software by Palm Computing. Graffiti uses an incredibly accurate handwriting recognition engine, which has heretofore been the Achilles' heel of such machines. Once you learn to form your characters in the Graffiti style, you'll find both machines very worthwhile.

Both the HP OmniGo 100 (shown) and Palm Pilot 1000 let you maintain and synchronize data files with those residing on client computers running Windows.

-- Info File --
HP OmniGo 100
$349; optional Connectivity Pack, $119
Pros: Keyboard; screen; calculator; batteries
Cons: Bulky; import/export
Hewlett-Packard Co.
WinMag Box Score 4.5

Palm Pilot 1000
Pros: Slim; data synchronization; Windows PIM
Cons: No hardware keyboard; calculator
Palm Computing Div. ofU.S. Robotics
800-881-7256, 415-949-9560
WinMag Box Score 4

Austin Direct WebFoot

Step Up to the Internet

by John Perry

Coming from the capital of Texas, IPC Technologies' Austin Direct subsidiary offers your organization a leading role in cyberspace with WebFoot, its Internet server package. There are two versions of WebFoot, one designed for the home and another aimed at small businesses, and both excel in providing a professional presence on the World Wide Web.

Typical of Austin Direct machines, each system offers full multimedia support with a quad-speed CD-ROM drive, 16-bit sound card and speakers, 64-bit PCI video with 2MB of DRAM and a 15-inch SVGA monitor. The home WebFoot is a slightly scaled-down version of the business unit that I tested. It comes bundled with Windows 95, Quarterdeck's Internet Suite, an internal V.34 or ISDN modem, 256KB of level 2 cache and a 1-gigabyte hard drive. Also included in both the home and business packages are copies of two books, HTML for Dummies and The Internet for Dummies, just in case you're not quite up to speed.

The business version of WebFoot ships with a 100MHz to 166MHz Pentium or Pentium Pro processor, at least 256KB of pipeline burst cache, 32MB of EDO RAM, a 1.6GB hard drive, 1.4GB tape backup drive, an Ethernet adapter, Motorola BitSurfr, Windows NT and O'Reilly's Web Site. Not only does Windows NT offer a user-friendly environment under which an HTTP server can function as either an application or a system service, but it can also act as a virtual firewall by disengaging IP routing in advanced TCP/IP settings. The fully loaded WebFoot will host a faster chip, more memory and increased storage capacity, but this configuration still keeps it on the low end of typical Web servers.

Before you can start, you'll have to spend some time with BitSurfr, one of the most difficult-to-configure ISDN adapters in the industry. Confusing configuration choices, port definition problems and initialization string enigmas will slow you down, but won't keep you from the big surf of an ISDN line. A quick TCP/IP configuration, and off you go to the Remote Access application to verify that your IP addresses and domain name are functioning accurately. At this point, you can start hangin' ten.

Now that you know how to connect to the Web, you have to develop that perfect page. Look no further than O'Reilly's Web Site, which offers seven basic tools to help you set up a site for sore eyes. The Web Site Server (a 32-bit HTTP server) is the outboard motor on your high-powered cyber-surfboard. It executes all client requests for information, from simple HTML documents to advanced VRML masterpieces. You administer the Web site with the Server Admin application, which configures all available options, including mapping, automatic directory indexing, access control and logging parameters.

As Web Site server and Server Admin work together to manage access and index issues, Web Index and Web Find join forces to provide visitors with full-text search capabilities. Web Index creates a full-text index that Web Find (a CGI app) uses to let visitors search your site for information.

Web View, Image Map Editor and your own creative juices will help you wash that first Web page ashore. Web View and its wizards help you put together HTML documents in no time, while the Image Map Editor feature helps you plot any GIF or BMP image for graphical hyperlinking.

Even though the WebFoot package has professional-level features, it has some trouble supporting more than five concurrent users, even with an ISDN connection. The folks at Austin Direct are designing a true Web/file server capable of supporting multiple processors, but it's not available yet, and the current WebFoot doesn't support them.

Another pitfall for WebFoot is the ISDN adapter. ISDN lines are not a cost-effective means of connecting to the Web, since per-minute usage charges are comparable to hosting-site prices. But a hybrid WebFoot (a V.34/ISDN combo) could solve that problem by offering a 24-hour analog connection that ties into the ISDN hookup only during peak hours.

Of course, this isn't an ideal solution either: Your site would be agonizingly slow to respond on an analog line. And when you add in the cost of WebFoot itself, many would-be users might find themselves better off contracting out the site, thereby sharing the cost of the equipment with other sites.

Though workarounds are needed for some of WebFoot's shortcomings, it excels at the task for which it was designed-a low-cost LAN-to-Web solution. This package offers many tools to help you launch your conquest of the Web.

-- Info File --
Austin Direct WebFoot
home version $2,699, business version $4,699-$6,599
Pros: Price; reliability
Cons: No support for 24/7 connection or mass usage
Platforms: Windows NT
IPC Technologies
800-752-1577, 512-339-3500
WinMag Box Score 3

Boxlight Multibook C300

Double-Duty Book Flips Lid

by James E. Powell

Boxlight's Multibook C300 notebook computer offers a unique solution to the problem of making a presen-tation using an overhead projector. You can use it as a regular notebook or completely remove the display panel. Then you take off a protective cover and place the unit directly on top of an overhead projector (the display unit connects to the notebook via a 5-foot cable). The result is an LCD projection panel.

The Multibook's display panel rests on feet on one side and a fan on the other, so the unit never sits directly on the overhead projector's glassplate. This allows heat to dissipate quickly. Furthermore, the Multibook's battery, not another power source, powers the fan. The projected image's resulting quality is remarkably bright and the colors don't fade out, thanks in part to the 10.4-inch TFT active-matrix display.

The unit I tested came standard with a 100MHz 486DX4 processor, 16MB of RAM (expandable to 48MB), a 510MB removable hard drive, a floppy disk drive and PCMCIA slots (two Type II or a single Type III). A trackball is located just below the full-sized, great-feeling keyboard. In the back are connections for line in, microphone in and speaker out (to access the built-in 16-bit Sound Blaster-compatible stereo sound features), an external keyboard port, a parallel port, external monitor, serial port and a slot for connecting a docking station. You can get an optional internal SCSI port to connect SCSI devices via a special cable. The Multibook also has a pair of 1-inch speakers that have typical fidelity for that size: fine for voice but not for music.

The system came with Windows 95 preloaded. I deleted Win95 and reinstalled it from my own disks, and during the installation process Win95 recognized all the hardware. The PCMCIA slot worked well with an APS external 4X CD-ROM drive, and I had no trouble with any of the software I loaded, from Microsoft Office and WordPerfect to comm software.

The nickel metal hydride battery charged in less than 2 hours, and lasted for roughly 3 hours in constant use. The unit measures 2.75 by 11.6 by 9.3 inches when closed.

Unfortunately, this notebook performs far below others in its class-except for its disk score. Our WINDOWS Magazine Wintune benchmarks clocked an average of 43MIPS, 2.3Mpixels per second video and an uncached disk data-transfer rate of 5.1MB per second. The disk score didn't help the application benchmarks much: The Excel macro took 51.33 seconds per loop, and the Word macro took 94.3 seconds to complete.

Even with tech support's help, I could find no way to speed up the Multibook. The system didn't just measure poorly, it seemed painfully slow in our Wintune video test and in real-world use running a variety of applications. I asked Boxlight for a new unit, but performance on the second system was virtually the same. That's a shame, because in every other way, I liked this laptop. You may wish to wait for the Pentium unit, due by the time you read this.

-- Info File --
Boxlight Multibook C300
$5,999 (direct)
Pros: Design
Cons: Performance
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x, NT
Boxlight Corp.
800-762-5757, 360-779-4479
WinMag Box Score 3.5

Socket Communications GPS Card

You Can Go Home Again

by Marc Spiwak

No matter how good your sense of direction, it is inevitable that you will one day make a wrong turn and get lost. However, if you own a portable computer, you may never again have to stop for directions or fight with the folds of a road map. The GPS Card from Socket Communications is a miniature Type II GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver that pops into a PC Card socket on your portable.

With the GPS gear up and running, WinMobile-a program included with the package-tells you your longitude and latitude readings, as well as your altitude, speed, course and time-of-fix indications. The GPS Card also works with City Streets for Windows, a mapping program from Road Scholar. With City Streets running, you instantly can see where you are on the map by the little car that traces your route. City Streets is a fully functional mapping program by itself, and it can provide you with distances, directions and other travel information.

The Global Positioning System is a constellation of 24 Navstar satellites, constantly rounding the Earth in six orbital planes. This ensures that at least eight satellites will be in view from anywhere in the world at any given time. If a GPS receiver can lock onto at least three of these satellites, it can maintain a position fix. This is the same system that's been used by the U.S. military for years.

The GPS Card package comes with the PC Card receiver, a magnetic antenna for mounting on your car's roof and all necessary software including the basic City Streets program. Also included is a coupon good for the free City Streets map of your choice. Maps of over 1,600 U.S. and several European cities are available. Additional maps cost $19.95 each-less if you buy more than one.

I found the system to be a little bit fussy at first, but I later learned that my Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) offset time was set incorrectly. That basically tells the system which satellites to expect overhead at any given time. Even if set incorrectly, however, the unit eventually will pick up the correct atomic time from one of the satellites and then realize where it is. You then can reset your PC's clock to atomic time.

As I left work one day, I placed the antenna on my dashboard. I then brought up City Streets and started the GPS. That starts the WinMobile application, which sends GPS data to the City Streets program. WinMobile also displays the signal strength of all satellites being received.

Before I even got out of the office parking lot, City Streets popped the image of a little car into place in Jericho, N.Y. Inch by inch, the little car traced my route home. The maps continuously update as the little car leaves one and enters another page.

The GPS card is entertaining, even for people who know where they're going. It's probably a bit too expensive for the average gadget freak. But if your work involves a lot of traveling, the system could be a lifesaver.

-- Info File --
Socket Communications GPS Card
Pros: Accuracy
Cons: ExpensiveSocket
510-744-2700, fax 510-744-2727
WinMag Box Score 4.5

NEC MultiSync LCD200

Flat Panel Offers Sharp Pics-at a Price

by Jonathan Blackwood

The big news in notebook computers lately hasn't just been the arrival of fast, low power Pentium chips-it's been those big, beautiful screens. Now NEC is bringing two of those screens to the desktop, the 12.1-inch LCD200, supporting a maximum resolution of 1024x768, and the 13-inch LCD300. Get one of them, and you'll have a trim, lightweight monitor with low power consumption, a bright image with a total lack of geometric distortion and almost no harmful emissions. You'll also have a hole in your wallet big enough to drive a good used car through: The LCD200's street price is $3,999, while the LCD300 will likely set you back $5,999.

While that may take your breath away, the cost is a result of the complexity of the manufacturing process. Current yields of screens this size are only around 50 percent, meaning half are discarded. Even these two NEC unit prices represent major cost reductions-on the order of 50 percent-from the prices such monitors commanded even a year ago.

I looked at a preproduction unit of the 12.1-inch LCD200. Unlike conventional CRT-based monitors, the LCD technology yields a full 12.1-inch viewing area. The image was flawless, and the entire 13.5- by 13.4- by 6.7-inch monitor weighed only 8.8 pounds. The LCD300 has the same dimensions and weight, with a larger screen in a thinner bezel. Because of the perfect grid and flat screen, geometric distortion simply doesn't exist. And because the individual pixels are either "on" or "off," there is no inherent flicker.

The LCD200 supports multiple resolutions: 720x400, 640x480, 800x600 and 1024x768. Some Super VGA LCD screens leave a black band around all sides of a 640x480 image on an LCD panel with more physical pixels. NEC takes a different approach, which results in a full-screen image with slight image degradation. The resulting image is still better than that of most CRT monitors. The LCD300 supports resolutions up to 1280x1024. The high resolution and lack of distortion make the unit perfect for medical imaging uses. Of course, it may be that only doctors will be able to afford the LCD300.

Make no mistake: These two monitors at these high prices are not for the casual user. But for specialized uses, they are well worth the price. It will likely be a few years before they wend their way to the typical user's desktop.

-- Info File --
NEC MultiSync LCD200
$3,999 (street)
Pros: Image; light weight
Cons: Price
NEC Technologies
800-NEC-INFO, 508-264-8000
WinMag Box Score 4

Amquest Hypermodem 28800 Model AM2814I-HY

Online Fast: Easy Comm, Easy Go

by John Gartner

The 28.8Kbps modem has eased online access, leading crowds to flock to the opportunities in cyberspace. The Amquest Hypermodem 28800 Model AM2814I-HY lets the masses who are yearning to be connected and free of installation headaches and slow downloads join the fray.

The setup instructions are easy to follow and hard to lose since they're both in the user manual and on the box. The internal modem's default COM4 and IRQ3 settings caused no conflicts in my Windows for Workgroups 3.11 system, so I was catching up on the latest news from America Online within 10 minutes. AOL logged me in at 38.4Kbps, and the Rockwell V.Fast Class chip set and V.42bis compression made my home 386 seem faster browsing than my Pentium/28.8Kbps office combo.

Cheyenne Software's BitWare fax/data software, a 16-bit application, was easier to set up than most fax programs. It required little configuration tweaking and the first send and receive fax actually went through, a minor miracle for these types of programs. BitWare uses a menu bar of 10 icon buttons to launch the phone dialing and faxing applets.

Although the icons are intuitive, moving the cursor over the icons provides a text description at the bottom of the bar. All the applets are simple to use and include extensive help. I found the fax viewer, which lets you choose between four on-screen orientations, to be very complete. BitWare also includes macros that integrate the Send Fax option into the three leading word processing programs and Microsoft Excel.

Hypermodem's software bundle embraces most of the online world-America Online, CompuServe, GEnie, Prodigy and the Imagination entertainment service diskettes or coupons. With a lifetime warranty and reasonable price, the Amquest Hypermodem makes moving to the information age a smooth voyage.

-- Info File --
Hypermodem 28800 Model AM2814I-HY
$169 (street)
Pros: Good performance; easy-to-use fax software
Cons: No 32-bit software
Amquest Corp.
717-569-8030,fax 717-569-8530
WinMag Box Score 4.5

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