Tandy Sensation! (multimedia PC) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Eddie Huffman
Tired of computers whose names look like catalog order numbers? Ready for a machine that does more than merely boot up or run Windows? Need a little fanfare before you start punching numbers into your spreadsheet?
Probably not. Most likely, you're more concerned with getting a computer that runs quickly and efficiently at a good price--one that comes with plenty of software, a sharp monitor, and worthwhile extras like a mouse and advanced sound. Fortunately, the Tandy Sensation! offers all that along with its cutesy name, colorful graphical user interface, and flashy introductory screen.
The Sensation! is a multimedia PC, meaning it has a CD-ROM drive and meets the MPC hardware standards as defined by the MPC Marketing Council (see Test Lab in the December 1992 issue of COMPUTE). It also has a 107MB hard drive, a 3 1/2-inch floppy drive, a 2400-bps modem 4800-bps for fax communications), a 486SX processor running at 25 MHz, a standard 101 -key keyboard, a two-button Tandy mouse, stereo MPC sound, and a Super VGA monitor running in 1024 x 768 noninterlaced mode. Loaded with plenty of software, including CD-ROM programs, this system gives you enough to keep you busy until the next congressional elections.
Forget about sitting through any tedious installation programs. Despite its wealth of features, getting started with the Sensation! couldn't be simpler. All you do is take the unit out of its box; plug the monitor, keyboard, and mouse cables into the receptacles labeled for them; run the phone cord provided from the modem to the nearest jack; and plug in the PC and monitor. Turn on the power button at the front of the unit--it's clearly marked, and it's distinct and separate from the reset button-and within moments the Sensation! announces itself with a trumpetlike fanfare. Another few seconds, and you're in WinMate, Tandy's brightly colored, talking Windows companion.
>From there you're only a few clicks of the mouse button away from hours of fun and/or productivity. WinMate takes you through your programs in much the same way that Windows does; it just enhances the icons, sets them against vivid backdrops, and organizes them under such logical headings as In Touch and In the Know. Need to type a memo? Try Windows' Write program, or the truncated version of Microsoft Word included with Microsoft Works. Planning a trip? Try Travel Planner, which organizes all your important vacation information into one logical file. Want to know who invented the cotton gin? Look it up in the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia.
There's plenty more software where that came from--including Bartlett's Quotations, The World Almanac, Phoenix MicroFAX, and startup programs for America Online, Prodigy, and The Sierra Network--accessible from the moment your Sensation! powers up. I installed and used a few programs of my own, including XyWrite and The Norton Antivirus, and they all worked fine, even when modifications were necessary to the Sensation!'s CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT files. I tried nearly every preinstalled program at least once, and I never had a problem except the occasional prompts to put a missing CD in the CD-ROM drive. (It would be nice if the Sensation!'s WinMate icons indicated which CD to use for which program, but that's hardly a significant concern.)
Those CD prompts take little effort to fulfill. The CD-ROM drive sits in the upper right corner at the front of this compact PC (its footprint is 15 x 15.5 x 4.2 inches), to the right of the floppy drive and above the volume buttons and jacks for microphone and headphones. You open the CD-ROM drive by pushing it in a little, after which the CD tray slides out. Unlike some multimedia machines, the Sensation! requires no CD caddy. You simply place the CD in its slot and manually close the drawer, and the disc begins to spin. As a music fan, I enjoyed being able to listen to Thelonious Monk, Jesus Jones, and Charlie Rich CDs played in the background on the Sensation! while I did my work. Like the Sensation!'s keyboard and mouse, the CD drawer proved a little stiff and clunky, though not debilitatingly so. While not blindingly fast, both the CD-ROM and hard drives gave me the speed I'd expect from a 486 machine.
The logically organized user's guide provides clear, helpful information for novice and veteran alike. I'd like to be able to tell you the technical support for the Sensation! did as well, but I don't know. The computer ran so well that I never found an excuse to call the company and find out. The biggest drawback I found with the Sensation! had nothing to do with technical support, anyway: I missed having a 5 1/4-inch floppy drive to load my old programs that came in that format. That's the price you pay, I suppose, for having a hard drive, 3 1/2-inch floppy drive, and CD-ROM drive. The Sensation! also has a crisp, colorful monitor; a sturdy modem; and MIDI connector cables to facilitate the use of the computer's multimedia capabilities.
Looking for a computer that does a good job on a variety of tasks, comes loaded with software and Cds, and offers multimedia functions? Don't let the Sensation!'s flash fool you. Behind all the lights and sounds, you'll find an excellent machine that does a lot and does all of it well.
TANDY 1800 One Tandy Ctr. Fort Worth, TX 76102 (817) 390-3011
Circle Reader Service Number 434