Morrow Pivot; a truly portable MS-DOS computer from one of the oldest companies in the field. (evaluation) David H. Ahl.
The Morrow Pivot is a compact, totally portable MS-DOS computer with single or dual 5 1/4" floppy disk drives, 16-line LCD display, built-in modem, and serial and parallel ports. Both the user interface and manuals--particularly the Owner's Handbook--are exceptionally friendly, reflecting an large part the friendly but no-nonsense attitude of company founder and president, George Morrow.
On the opening page of the Owner's Handbook, we read, "If you're someone who holds manuals in contempt as a matter of principle, at least familiarize yourself with the contents of the first section. It's short, and there are lots of pictures." With an opening like that, how can Pivot miss? What You See
In contrast to the almost universal use of light beige or gray on computers today, the Pivot is an ominous flat black. An adjustable black carrying strap hooks to the top so you can more easily heft this 9.5 lb. unit. It measures 13" wide by 9.5" high and 5.6" in depth closed or 13" open (keyboard folded down).
On the left side, we find a battery pack compartment, on/off switch, AC adapter connector, and LCD viewing angle dial. On the back are a serial RS-232 connector, parallel printer connector, and modular phone jack. The right side houses one or two disk drives. The AC adapter is not one of those little 9-volt battery eliminators, but an industrial duty (15 volt, 2.5 amp) power supply about the size of a small cigar box. The rechargeable battery pack itself is also a monster, although that is to be expected for a battery that will be powering one or two 5 1/4" disk drives. Battery life is said to be about four hours (depending upon use of the disk drives) and recharge time is eight hours.
The keyboard has 62 full-stroke keys. The action and feel of the keys are virtually identical to the Model 100. Also like the Model 100, the keyboard lies practically flat; we had no trouble typing on it, but people who like a sloping keyboard will not be enamored of it. Because there are fewer keys than many other MS-DOS machines boast, many of the keys on the Pivot do double duty when coupled with the SHIFT OR CONTROL key.
Above the keyboard is a touch panel with ten function control keys (F1 to F10) and four icon keys. These icon keys are unique to the Pivot, and most of them function without booting a disk or MS-DOS. When you turn the computer on, the display shows a calendar page with the date and time on the left and a world map on the right. If you are working on something else, the Clock/Calendar icon will return you to this opening display. From it you can check the time in a foreign time zone--a handy thing for that occasional phone call to Europe or Tokyo.
The Modem icon turns the Pivot into a terminal for calling databases like The Source and CompuServe or other computers. After you enter a phone number, the Pivot dials it automatically.
The Calculator icon activates a ten-key calculator, the display of which pops up in a window to the left or right of the screen. This is a four-function, 16-digit calculator with a few added goodies (compared with a pocket calculator). For example, you can set the number of decimal places, you can ask for rounded or truncated answers, and you can swap the sign of an entry.
The Diskette icon will automatically boot a disk. It is also used to return to a disk-based program from the clock/calendar or calculator mode of operation. Another use of this function key is to scroll the display--a feature required when you use software designed for a 25-line display on the 16-line display of the Pivot. Essentially, the 16-line display becomes a window on the full-screen 25-line display.
Speaking of the display, it measures 9" x 2.4", a much higher width to height ratio than a standard CRT. Characters are formed within a 5 x 7 pixel matrix with one pixel between letters horizontally and vertically. Descenders on five lowercase letters occupy the horizontal space, a common practice on LCD screens but one that definitely does not enhance readability. For graphics, a matrix of 480 x 128 pixels is dot addressable.
The front bezel is scored for a 25 line x 80 character LCD screen, and the manual mentions it in several places. Presumably it is coming in the future, but for now only 16-line models are being delivered.
The LCD screen has a fixed tilt of 20 degrees, satisfactory for some room lighting conditions, but not others. We eventually propped the front of our Pivot on a book to give the screen a tilt of 32 or so degrees which we found a considerable improvement. We understand from Morrow that in the future the Pivot will be shipped with a backlighted screen. This should lead to excellent legibility at the standard tilt angle. What You Don't See
The heart of the Pivot is an 80C86 CMOS true 16-bit microprocessor operating at 3.33 MHz. It ran our standard Basic benchmark in 26 seconds--about 30% slower than desktop PC clones running at a clock speed of 4.77 MHz.
The basic Pivot is equipped with 128K of RAM and can be expanded to 640K. Internal ROM, which includes the icon software, is 16K. A small portion of the RAM (up to 16K) which contains the time of day, date, appointment calendar, and phone directory is permanently backed up with a small built-in battery said to have a two-year life.
The double sided, double density disks are formatted to the nine sector-per-track IBM standard and hold 360K each.
The Pivot comes with a 300 baud, auto dial, direct connect modem built in. If you want more speed (1200 or 2400 baud), the serial port is configured for connection to an external modem. The Pivot software cannot handle an external modem for file transfer; the manual advises buying a separte software package such as Crosstalk or a modem/software package combination. What You Get
The Pivot comes in a big box which contains, in addition to the computer itself, MS-DOS and New Word disks, a 178-page Owner's Handbook, a Microsoft MS-DOS User's Guide and Programmer's Reference (a rare inclusion--great for systems programmers, meaningless to end users), a Microsoft Debug Utility manual, a monster (400+ pages) New Word User's Guide and 55-page supplement, a four-page instruction sheet on how to set up Lotus 1-2-3 for the Pivot, and a free membership form for the on-line Official Airline Guide (Saves $50).
The version of MS-DOS included with the Pivot is 2.11. The disk includes 16 utility programs such as Diskcopy, Link, and Format. We found we could also load standard IBM PC-DOS and MS-DOS (Compaq flavor) but not everything would work correctly; thus we recommend you stick with the furnished disk.
We had problems running several PC packages, some because of the 16-line display. Others such as Electric Pencil (which has run on every clone to date) just hung up the machine completely. On the other hand, by following the provided instructions we got Lotus 1-2-3 to run without a hitch. However, you cannot view graphics on screen. The only way you can get a graph is to define it and save it with /GS, and then print it on a printer or plotter with the PrintGraph program.
NewWord is a word processing package written by some MicroPro defectors. It is similar to WordStar in concept and execution, but it has many advanced features. If you like WordStar, you'll love New Word; if you hate WordStar, you might be neutral about NewWord.
NewWord has four levels of on-screen help. You probably won't be happy with the highest (default) level since it takes up nine of the 16 lines of the display, but the others are very helpful.
NewWord supports a wide range of printers and lets you, with some small difficulty, use all the custom print features of whatever printer you have connected. It prints mailing labels according to any conditions you specify such as a range of zip codes or all addresses except Newark, NJ. Conditionals can also be used for inserting selected paragraphs (for example, insert paragraph 3 if &PET& = dog).
Neither IBM Basic or BasicA (GW Basic) runs on the Pivot. However, Basic for the Compaq (and, we assume, other clones) runs without any problems. Curiously, Basic disables certain of the built-in functions such as Prt On (echoes the screen to the printer), Page Up, and Page Down, but not others. For example, the Print Screen, Home, Calculator, and Window Scroll keys worked fine. Frankly, we can't see much need for the deleted functions; it just seemed strange that they didn't work. Although the Basic graphics commands work, we recommend not using them as the high width to height ratio of the screen coupled with only 16 lines produces some unwanted effects.
With the Pivot, as with any other computer, our standard caveat holds: be sure to try out the software packages you want to use and see if they run before you buy. Should You Get One?
Is a Pivot for you? Pros: it is truly portable, has 5 1/4" disk drives, runs MS-DOS, has a nifty icon touch panel, and is state-of-the-art without pushing unproven new technologies. Cons: the LCD screen is not suitable for certain lighting conditions (although the back-lighted screen will fix this), 16 lines require compromises when running software designed for 25 lines, and not all PC software runs on the machine.
Morrow is not a giant in the industry, but it is a sensibly managed company that has managed to survive for ten years-a commendable feat in an industry where three years seems more the norm. The company has a good reputation with customers and dealers alike; this bodes well for continuing support of the Pivot even though, incidentally, it is not manufactured by Morrow.
Should you get one? If you need its capabilities, it's the best buy in town.
Products: Morrow Designs Pivot (Portable computer)