Leading Edge D/LT386SX Plus. (laptop computer) (evaluation)
by David Sears
Nothing makes the time go by on a long plane ride like a good laptop, and whether you use yours for spreadsheets or Star Control, the Leading Edge D/LT386SX Plus certainly beats a talkative stranger when it comes to airborne companionship. Whatever your reason for carrying a laptop, you'll want to balance weight, display readability, and price against its usefulness. A close look at this laptop reveals a perplexing mix of fine and somewhat below-average features.
On the plus side, the D/LT does run a 16-MHz 386 processor, providing the necessary micro horsepower to make Windows run at a usable speed, and the 40MB hard drive provides more than ample storage space for on-the-road applications and their data files. The 3 1/2-inch 1.44MB floppy drive port faces you, so you can keep an eye on disk activity. All the standard ports--serial, parallel, and PS/2 mouse--further enhance the D/LT's versatility. For you avid telecommunicators, the roomy modem bay looks as if it should easily accommodate the Leading Edge $199 proprietary modem. Should you have the chance to plug the D/LT into a color monitor, you won't be disappointed by the graphics; this laptop's crisp-VGA 640 x 480 pixel output does justice to your games as well as your chart generators.
A winner all around, the D/LT's keyboard doesn't complicate typing by shrinking its keys; they're the same size as those of larger, stay-at-home machines. While the keyboard won't detach from the D/LT entirely, it does have the surprising ability to sled forward away from the rest of the machine, putting just enough distance between you and the LCD screen for a comfortable working relationship at your hotel room desk. Well, maybe not quite far enough for some; the glare from this laptop's 8 x 6 inch backlit display can quickly tire your eyes. Compared to many other laptop displays, this one's downright fatiguing. And despite a purported antiglare feature, text on the D/LT display, like text on many laptop displays I've looked at, is best read in indirect light. The brightness and contrast sliders do little to improve the situation. Also problematic is the screen's tendency to fall forward at the slightest disturbance and to resist proper positioning. Setting the display in place often requires multiple attempts. Practice patience here; the manufacturer warns against bending the screen back too far, though it remains a constant temptation. A more effective locking and tilting mechanism is definitely in order.
Those traveling computerphiles who remember the heyday of the KayPro luggable won't much mind carrying the hefty D/LT for short distances. After all, this computer's 13 pounds doesn't compare to the weight and bulk of most earlier portables. More contemporary users, though, might not want the burden of this much weight, especially in this age of 386 notebooks. The D/LT thankfully balances on its edge quite well. Even if the D/LT should fall over, I wouldn't worry much about damage--this machine's case could stop bullets.
This laptop doesn't spare you the cold reality of mysterious battery charges. You should expect about two hours of use per full recharge of the ni-cad battery. Expect less if you access your hard drive and floppy frequently. Leading Edge has built in some features to help you conserve power and keep track of the D/LT's battery life. Left unattended, the D/LT dims its screen to conserve power. A battery check light flashes when power's low, and if you don't soon save and shut down, you might damage your hard drive and will certainly lose your work.
Alarm software, such as Battery Watch, warns you when battery failure will occur, but you'll need to buy such software separately. The D/LT comes bundled with DOS 4.01, Windows 3.0, and Microsoft Works.
You might think that a laptop with a VGA port makes the perfect go-between for home computing and computing in your hotel room, but think again. Most laptops just don't offer the expandability that full-size PCs do, and even the larger-than-average D/LT won't adequately serve as a substitute. With a 2MB RAM limit and no card slots, the D/LT won't replace your versatile desktop PC. And for true portability, you'll want to try the Leading Edge NB 300S notebook computer. The standard unit packs less RAM and hard drive space than the D/LT, but its reduced weight and increased operating time per battery charge probably bring it closer to your idea of what constitutes a laptop these days. At only about $400 more than its larger cousin, the notebook warrants a frequent traveler's attention.
So, who needs the D/LT? Well, for shoppers who appreciate a bargain, the D/LT could turn out to be a surprise hit. To compete with other manufacturers in this market of increasingly smaller and lighter portable computers, Leading Edge lowered the suggested retail price of the D/LT laptop by about $1,000. Any further price cuts could carve out quite a niche for this machine, especially with computer users who travel only from time to time but want to make sure they can work out of town if they need to.