The Teleram T-3000. (evaluation) Steve Arrants.
The Teleram T-3000
Within the past year, portable computers have exploded onto the market with such force, that many people are reminded of the introduction of the first TRS-80 and the Apple I. Already, there is a handful of magazines devoted solely to the portables.
I am not talking about the "sewing machine' portables. Sure, you can fold them up into one neat box. But have you ever tried to carry an Osborne from the gate to your aircraft? The true portables, notebook size units, offer portability and meet a user's minimum needs.
All portables have one thing in common--a flat screen for display rather than a CRT. Different technologies are available, with LCDs and electroluminescent displays predominating. LCD display is found on the TRS-80 Model 100, NEC PC-8201, Epson HX-20, Radio Shack Pocket Computers, and other models. The sole exception is the Compass Computer from Grid Systems which uses an electroluminescent display. This type of display offers a superb image, though the trade off is power consumption. The Compass cannot operate on batteries.
Perhaps the most obvious thing differentiating the various notebook computers from one another is the size of the display. Obviously, there are many other variables, but it is the display that one sees first. Some computers such as the TI CC-40 have a single-line display of 31 characters, some have a four-line by 20-character display, while several sport an eight-line by 40-character display. In general, the later entries have larger displays.
The Teleram 3000 is an exception. It was one of the earliest notebook computers introduced. It hit the market back in the neolithic age of portables, July 1982. Yet it has one of the larger displays-- four lines of 80 characters each.
That doesn't mean that it can be used for graphics, however. The active area of the display is only 0.8 high, hardly enough for any kind of detailed plot. Nor is it--or any of the notebook computers--much good for screen-oriented games. Even spreadsheets are a bit of a problem--your window on the entire sheet is very small.
The most ideal applications for a notebook computer are light word processing and communications. Although the small display is a bit of a problem, it can be largely overcome with scrolling. How many times have you wanted to take your Apple to the library while doing research? How about writing an article, story, letter, or memo while away from the home or office? The small handhelds can not really do this. Notebook computers can. Unfortunately, most notebook computers are not, as yet, capable of true word processing. The exception is the Teleram machine.
What Makes The T-3000 Different?
At 13 X 9.75 X 3.45 and about 9 pounds, the T-3000 is not the smallest or lightest portable available. The display of 4 lines X 80 characters in an 8.25 X 0.8 window is smaller than that of the Model 100. Letters are formed in a 5 X 7 dot matrix and do not have descenders. The display can be adjusted to five different viewing angles, and there is a contrast control so it offers good visibility. The built-in 128K bubble memory is expandable to 256K. This is not RAM memory, but an emulation of drive A under CP/M.
The bubble memory of the T-3000 can equal the storage of one 8 floppy. It is non-volatile, i.e., when the power is off the data are permanently retained. When not in use, the bubble memory power is off, extending battery life. 64K RAM, 4K ROM, and a low power version of the Z80 microprocessor are standard. Here is where the T-3000 bests the Model 100. With 128K of storage built in, 64K RAM, and CP/M, the T-3000 is a full-fledged computer in a small package.
The keyboard has 83 standard keys, including a 12-key numeric keypad, which also functions as a cursor controller, and 16 programmable function keys. The keyboard "Feel' falls somewhere between that of the Apple IIe and the Osborne I. There is little keybounce, and the placement is intelligent. The function keys are preprogrammed with CP/M commands and utilities. You can reprogram keys with the KEYDEF utility. The cursor control keys are accessed by pressing SHIFT LOCK to switch the numeric keypad into the cursor mode.
A thoughtful touch, not found on any other notebook computer, is the LED indicators on the SHIFT LOCK and CAPS LOCK keys which are illuminated when the keys are "on.'
The power switch is located on the back of the right side of the T-3000. It also functions as another angle adjustment for the display. On the back left side is a standard RS-232C interface for connecting to a modem or another computer.
On the rear of the computer is an interface bus called teleConnect.
TeleConnect is a high-speed parallel interface which connects peripherals such as CRTs, disk drives, and Teleram's 3500 Office Station. This is an "intelligent' interface, requiring little set-up or operator intervention. When power comes on, each connected device is identified and logged-into the system. They can be called into service via the CP/M Assign utility.
Using The T-3000
Flip the power switch, and the T-3000 enters a self-test mode. In about five seconds, the familiar CP/M prompt is presented. Choose utilities, MBasic, or the teleTalk communications program and begin. One glaring omission in the T-3000 is the lack of a word or rudimentary text processor. The CP/M utility Ed is available, but using it for text editing is more trouble than it is worth.
Instead, I copied a version of WordStar onto the bubble memory. (A text editor is available with the Teleram T-3100.) Had I needed a spreadsheet or database software, I could have done the same. Just connect the T-3000 with another computer running CP/M and transfer the software.
WordStar is not my favorite word processor. Using it on the T-3000 made me like it even less. However, it ran with only minor problems, and I was able to write some text with it.
Included with the T-3000 is a software package called teletalk. This is an advanced data communications system designed for use with the T-3000 CP/M operating system. Basically, teleTalk provides "smart' terminal, auto-dial, auto-answer, data capture and dump, and error-checked file transfers between the T-3000 and another computer system.
Telephone numbers and other parameters, such as commands, key definitions, passwords, account numbers, and baud rates may be stored in command files.
The data capture feature lets you capture data in a buffer and store it on disk or in bubble memory. This is helpful if you are connected to an on-line service such as CompuServe where connect time is charged by the minute. Using this feature lets you dial up, capture the needed information, and log-off quickly.
This captured information may then be edited or printed off-line. You can also prepare a message or program for uploading and use teleTalk to call up a remote system and then send the file at full speed.
TeleTalk is interrupt-driven. That is, you can use it at terminal speeds of up to 2400 baud with no character loss. Slow printers may be driven at higher than normal speeds without data loss.
The file transfer capabilities are impressive. The complete error checking of the program assures reliable exchange even when disk systems or operating systems are incompatible. Any file can be transferred, including CP/M .COM files and word processor text files. File size can be as large as an entire disk--a feature most other terminal programs don't offer.
Groups of files can be transferred at one time, using a wild card file name. Instead of entering each text file name one at a time, you just enter .TXT. All files with the .TXT extension are queued for transmission.
TeleTalk consists of two files: the actual command file and a help file. The help file is excellent, explaining all commands and their variations. TeleTalk is one of the easiest communications packages to use. I rank it higher than the program available on the TRS-80 Model 100.
The documentation consists of two manuals. The first covers the use of the T-3000 and its associated programs. It is well organized, well written, and presented logically. The manual assumes no prior knowledge of computer use, and helps dispel first-time user anxiety. Although some sections are a bit wordy, you should be up and running in a short time.
Also included is a manual on CP/M. This is mystery. The CP/M manual is very technical and could cause confusion. I doubt that many of the business-people from whom the T-3000 is intended actually care to learn CP/M.
Cons and Pros
I have mixed feelings about this machine. The T-3000 offers a great deal of power and storage. I think that including MBasic, an assembler, and other CP/M utilities was a waste of memory. The user for whom the machine is intended--the business user--will not use them. It would have been much better to include a text editor, a spreadsheet, and memo/address program. A built-in modem would also have been a great idea. As it is, a Novation Cat acoustic modem is included, making the T-3000 less portable. Another I/O port is needed, in addition to the RS-232 and the teleConnect ports, such as an external video interface or disk interface. The price of $2995 is at the high end of the notebook market.
I did like the articulating LED screen which made it very easy to read. And the CP/M operation system allowed me to use a variety of software. The 128K of storage is a great feature, though CMOS cartridges seem to be where the market is heading. The T-3000 is a powerful machine. It is an impressive machine. But with the market advancing so quickly, it is now possible to get similar features at a lower price. But perhaps with a bit of re-design and a drop in price, the Teleram T-3000 could have a place in the notebook market.
Photo: Teleram T-3000 with case, manuals and charger.
Photo: The T-3000 in its carrying case.
Products: Teleram T-3000 (computer)