Sord IS-11 notebook computer. (evaluation) David H. Ahl.
In contrast to the majority of electronics companies in Japan that were either out-grouwths of the military buildup for WWII or established shortly after the war to aid in Japan's thrust to achieve technological supremacy, the history of the Sord Computer Corporation reads more like a Horatio Alger story. The company was established in 1970 by Takayoshi Shiina and his mother for the purpose of writing computer software.
Entrepreneurs are rare in the history of Japanese industry, so sord is regarded as a maverick and does not seem to under the protective umbrella of Japan, Inc. (or MITI).
As a result of this involvement with computer applications before getting into the manufacture of hardware the people at Sord appreciated the need for integrated software long before it became a buzzword in the microcomputer industry. And, as a result of being a maverick, Sord understands the need for savvy marketing.
Put this experience together and what do you get? First, the M23 computer which was introduced into the U.S. market at NCC '83 (see Creative Computing, August 1983). Rather than a programmer-oriented operating system, the M23 uses PIPS, a no-programming business planning system of integrated software. It has 43 interactive commands such as MT (Make Table), SORT (Sort Data), and CT (Change Title). The system is priced in the $2000 range.
When this system was first introduced in Japan (in 1980), Sord opened a series of PIPS Inns to teach users how to use the system in day or night classes. The system has been well received in Japan and the U.S.; major customers include Japan Air Lines, Citibank, and several other major banks.
Sord also markets the M68, the first desktop computer to use 256K memory chips. This h igh end 16/32-bit machine uses a 68000 cpu running at 10 MHz and an 8-bit Z80A. The basic machine costs about $5000, while a fully expanded system with 4Mb of internal memory goes for $13,000 plus. The "Consultant" Notebook Computer
But enough of desktop computers. Sord has now taken its concept of integrated software and shoehorned it into the IS-11 notebook computer, dubbed the "Consultant."
Upon h earing the hardware specifications at the press confference, we weren't particularly impressed. The IS-11 has an 8-bit Z80A operating at 3.4 MHz, 32K of RAM (expandable to 64K), eight-line by 40-character LCD display, parallel and RS-232 interfaces, rechargeable NiCad batteries (eight hours of operation per charge), built-in microcassete recorder, and 64K of ROM. The last two got our attention, but their full signinficance did not become apparent until we got our hands on a machine.
The keyboard is a virtually identical to the one on the NEC 8201 (and Radio Shack Model 100) both in feel and number of keys (62 full stroke, function). In other words, it is a good, solid keyboard with a sensible layout. On the other hand, we were disappointed that Sord chose to put the cursor control keys in horizontal line rather than using the more sensible diamond pattern on the NEC 8201.
Text resolution of the LCD display is eight lines of 40 characters. Measuring 1.4" X 56", the display is about 26% smaller than the one on the Model 100; nevertheless, it is quite legible. Graphis resolution is 256 X 64 pixels.
in the upper right corner of the case is a built-in microcassette recorder. Data trasfer speed is an amazing 2000 baud, considerably faster than the leisurely rate of the Model 100. a c-30 microcassette can store 128K, a respectable number of programs and pieces of data.
Aroung the periphery of the housing are a number of connectors, removable covers, and sliding panels. in the back is found the power switch, LCD angle adjust control, recessed reset switch, AC adapter connector, bar code reader port, serial (modem) port, RS-232 port, parallel port (for CRT and microfloppy disk), and ROM cartridge socket. On the bottom are panels covering connectors for a thermal graphics printer, external numeric keypad, and additional memory.
The IS-11 is nearly identical in size to a Model 100 (11.8" X 8.4" X 1.4"), but at 4 lb. 6 oz., weighs about 8 ounces more.
The IS-11 is available in the basic configuration for $995 and with a built-in modem for $100 more. Optional peripherals (which won' be available until July) include a 3-1/2" microfloppy disk drive, 40-column thermal printer, bar code reader, numeric keypad with 16 additional function keys, and a Basic language interpreter. Prices on these add-ons have not been set. integrated Software
As you might gather from the statement that the unit has 64K or ROM, the IS-uu has a substantial amount of built-in software--and it isn't Basic.
Turn on the machine, and the bottom line of the LCD display shows six "labels" corresponding to the six function keys. They are I-PIPS, I-CALC- I-EDIT, I-COMM, SYSTEM, and HELP. I-PIPS is a spreadsheet system which keeps data arranged in the usual row and column form. However, I-PIPS has certain features such as searching and the ability to sort data alphabetically that give it the capability of a limited database program as well. Moreover, I-PIPS module is menu-driven and is exceptionally easy to use. The menus are organized in layers, with each new layer accessed by a function key. You need not remember any commands (as in most spreadsheet and database packages); instead you use the menu to get to the desired funtion. however, if this sounds cumbersome (you are the type who likes shorthand commands), you can execute any command directly by simply typing it on the keyboard. Moreover, you can type out the name of the entire command or just the first letter or two.
Upon selecting I-PIPS, you are presented with the choices Table, Edit, Files, Calc, Dbase, and Help. The next level (after pressing Table) takes you down to Create, Write, Title, Show, and Help. If you then press Create you are presented with a series of questions about the spreadsheet to be created: filename, data type in each column, column width, column title, and number of rows.
From there on, I-PIPS functions very much like a spreadsheet on a much larger system. You enter data, labels, and formulas. The list of available functions is quite extensive and includes the four arithmetic operations, exponentiation, summation, integer, absolute, trig and log functions, square root, and random number.
You can also insert and delete rows and columns, sort rows and columns (a feature absent from many large spreadsheets), and retrieve rows based on conditions you specify.
The ability to created graphs is quite nifty. Upon selecting Pie or Bar, a series of questions appeat to ask what you want graphed (from and to what row) and the name of the graph. The computer then splits the screen in half and puts the data you specified in the left half and the graph in the right. The process is quick and painless.
All right, you say, it seems to have everything, but does it windows? Sure. How many windows would you like-two, three, more? The system will produce them although, with a screen this size, two or three is probably all you can realistically use. I-PIPS has other capabilities as well. Data can be formatted in columns (right, left, or center justified). Rows and columns can be copied from one part of a worksheet to another, or to another worksheets can together. And, of course worksheets can be saved or printed. All in all, a most impressive spreadsheet system. Other Built-in Software
For performing calculations, you select I-CALC. The right portion of ther LCD then displays, in a reverse field, a simulated calculator numeric keypad, and your $1000 IS-11 is transformed into a $10 calculator--well, perhaps a $25 calculator.
The calculator mode supports the four arithmetic operations and exponentiation. It has a single register temporary memory, but can also save and retrieve the results of calculations from the permanent memory of the machine.
The built-in word processing functions, selected with I-EDIT, are similar to those found on the NEC 8201 and Model 100 and are suitable for basic text entry, editing, and printing. In addition, a work processing ROM-pack (I-WP) is available and offers more advanced functions such as cut and paste, word search and replace, and print formatting.
The communications capability is selected with I-COMM. Using an RS-232C interface, this module permits you to transmit and receive data from another computer or on-line database. Applications Software
In addition to the integrated software, Sord plans to release generic application the works include: Sales-pack, Financial-pack, Business Security-pack, Time-Sharing Systems-pack, and Data Entry-pack. No details are available about these yet.
Perhaps more exciting is the ability of the IS-11 to accept custom 64K ROM-packs from third-party software suppliers and value added resellers. This capability should attract many outside suppliers to make and market software for the IS-11.
Moreover, the built-in 128K microcassete recorder can be used for data storage, thus opening up many applications that are not possible on the 8201 or Mcdel 100. we see the inclusion of the microcassette in the IS-11 as a nice as a nice marriage of the most attractive capabilities of the Epson HX-20 and the 8201/Model 100. Thermal Printer
An optional thermal printer (PT-11) styled similarly to the IS-11 is available. This plugs into the side of the computer. It prints 40-character lines and reproduces full dot (pixel) graphics (320 dots per line). Print speed is 25 characters per second. Like other thermal printers, the PT-11 is completely silent.
The IS-11 can print the contents of the screen using the HCOPY command. In addition, all of the software modules have a print routine included. The Next Step
The Sord IS-11 Consultant is not a breakthrough on any front. Yet with its integrated software, it is a big step beyond the other systems currently available. We have seen compact computers with full-stroke keyboards, 40-column by 8-line displays, and microcassette records--But never all in one unit.
We have seen computers with built-in spreadsheet software (Workslate), text editing, communnications, and rudimentary database software--but again, never all in one unit. And we h ave seen machines with plug-in ROM capability.
The main attraction of the IS-11 is not the hardware--indeed the LCD display is smaller than several of its competitors--but the integrations of all the important computing functions in one, compact unit. At $995, the Sord IS-11 Consultant should be a best seller.
Products: Sord IS-11 Consultant (computer)