Panasonic Sr. Partner; the newest contender in the IBM PC compatible portable competition. (evaluation) Russ Lockwood.
For a company that is supposed to be slightly ahead of its time, Panasonic is somewhat behind the times with its IBM PC compatible portable computer, the Senior Partner. Had Panasomic introduced this machine one to two years earlier, going head to head against then unknown Compaq and other PC compatible portables, the features, marketing muscle, and name recognition would have made it a run-away success. Now, Panasonic faces an uphill battle against many firmly entrenched companies selling IBM PC compatible portables--including IBM itself.
Although billed as a portable, the Senior Partner should be considered transportable. It is a heavy machine, about 31 pounds heavy. You will either develop bulging biceps or suffer a separated shoulder if you lug it about more than occasionally. Fortunately, Panasonic attaches a well-padded handle to ease the burden of carrying it.
The Senior Partner is an all-in-one machinef buttoned up it measures 19.75" x 13.5" x 8.25". The detachable keyboard covers the front of the machine, protecting the screen and disk drives. A bar that snaps into place to make the keyboard more secure when transporting the computer, doubles as a fold down stand to raise the front two inches and provide a 10-degree tilt for better viewing of the screen. The Keyboard
It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Why this should apply to the IBM PC keyboard layout, heaven only knows. We have pointed out the fortes and foibles of the layout many times. If computer manufacturers want to imitate IBM they should try the Selectric keyboard layout--today's de facto standard for touch typists.
Sadly, Panasonic chose to preserve the layout of the IBM PC keyboard down to the misplaced backslash, the cryptic arrow labels, and the lack of LED lights on the Caps Lock and Num Lock keys.
On the other hand, Panasonic did enlarge the area of the Return, Control, Shift, Caps Lock, Backspace, Insert, Delete, Alternate, Num Lock, and Scroll Lock keys, making them easier to strike. Wisely, Panasonic also preserved the ridge running along the top of the keyboard, which comes in handy from time to time for propping up manuals and books.
In contrast to the heavy system unit, the keyboard is surprisingly lightweight, although it seems somewhat fragile and less sturdy than it should be. The keys are well sculpted, and the feel is reasonably good, although a tad on the mushy side.
One of the most innovative features is the way Panasonic connects the keyboard to the main system unit. The connecting cable is inside the system unit. You pop off a plastic cap, pull the coiled cable out and attach it to the keyboard. When finished, the cable snaps back into the system unit. Literally, quite neat. The Monochrome Display
The built-in 9" green screen has a text resolution of 80 x 25 characters and a graphics resolution of 640 x 200 pixels in monochrome and 320 x 200 pixels in color. The built-in character set conforms to the 256-character set of the IBM PC, including standard ASCII characters (letters, numbers, and symbols), foreign and scientific symbols, and graphics characters.
The character image display could be sharper. Unfortunately, the characters have rather pronounced breaks within them, which give the illusion of threadlike lines running through them. This can be bothersome after a few hours on the machine.
Even worse, when scrolling up or down, the screen blanks out for a split second. Talk about distracting--this becomes downright aggravating, rather like having a strobe light for a screen.
The graphics are much better than the text. Arcade games and business programs using graphics ran without a hitch, displaying well-defined shapes and objects. The System Unit
Like many other IBM PC compatibles, the Senior PArtner is based on the 16-bit Intel 8088 micrprocessor running at 4.77 MHz. The computer holds 128K RAM, expandable to 512K, with 16K ROM. It comes with one or two half-height, double sided, double density 5.25" floppy disk drives storing 360K. The newest model, the Super Senior Partner, has one floppy drive and a 10Mbhard disk drive. Our review model has 256K and two floppy drives.
The floppy drives are very loud, far louder than their counterparts in the IBM PC on my desk. We had no problems with the disks and did get used to the grinding noise, but we do wish they were a little quieter.
The drives use a novel door latch that doubles as the disk release. For the ergonomically-minded, Panasonic thoughtfully placed the large letters A and B under the drives, just so you would not get confused about which is which. Secret Door
At the back of the system unit, a panel covers the interfaces. Behind the panel, you see in RS-232C serial port, Centronics parallel port, and an RGB interface. In addition, the AC power cord connector, a compartment for the power cord, the cord itself, a fuse display brightness control, optional expansion board slot, and rocker on/off switch are located within the confines.
The Senior Partner uses different parallel connectors than on the IBM PC. For example, instead of a DB-25 pin connector for the parallel port, the Senior Partner uses a Centronics parallel connector. As a result, you cannot share a printer cable.
The Senior Partner allows you to add two optional expansion boards. Our review model came with one memory expansion board, and we discovered that putting boards into the computer is a bit involved; you must remove the printer before you can remove the outer casing. Nevertheless, after a short time, we had the machine apart. Like the IBM PC, expansion boards slide in. A rear slot cover can be removed to access the board interfaces. Putting the machine back together proved easier than taking it apart. Built-in Thermal Printer
One of the main advantages of the Senior Partner over other transportable computers is the built-in printer. Operating at 55 cps, the printer makes a sound that is scarcely louder than a whisper. Overall, the print quality is good, although letters with slanted and curved lines are not as sharp as they could be.
Changing the paper is a snap: lift off the cover; depress a spring release; take out the old roll; and put in a new one. Bundled Software
The Senior Partner comes with MS-DOS 2.11, Microsoft GW Basic, WordStar, VisiCalc, PFS:File, PFS:Graph, and PFS:Report--certainly enough to get you up and running with the computer the minute it comes out of the box.
Compatbility with IBM PC software is another question. The Senior Partner could not run Lotus 1-2-3, the real benchmark of PC compatibility. However, you can buy Lotus 1-2-3 version 1A, which runs under MS-DOS 2.11, to work on the Senior Partner. Also, a few extensive Basic programs written for the PC would not run on the Senior Partner. On the plus side, we ran a vast selection of other off-the-shelf PC software, including business, education, and entertainment packages without a hitch.
The documentation is in the loose-leaf manuals so prevalent within the industry. As usual, most seem written by the software manufacturer, with the computer manufacturer's name prominently displayed. Pricing
The Panasonic Senior Partner carries a suggested retail price of $2145 for a base system with one 5.25" floppy disk drive, 256K RAM, and bundled software. The same system with two floppy disk drives retails for $2595. A plug-in expansion board with 128K RAM (expandable to 256K) sells for $320. The Super Senior Partner, with 128K RAM, one floppy drive, and one 10Mb winchestor costs less than $5000. The Last Hurrah
The Panasonic Senior Partner is a fine portable computer. The 16-bit 8088 and MS-DOS operating system provide good IBM PC compatibility. Panasonic bundles an enviable selection of software with the machine. It appears solidy built for years of use. You can use the green screen or hook up an RGBcolor monitor.
On the negative side, it weighs a ton. Well, maybe not a whole ton, but it sure feels heavy if you have far to carry it. At least Panasonic included a well-padded carrying strap to cushion the strain. Also, the keyboard has the same idiosyncracies as the IBM PC, and the test display leaves something to be desired.
If you are considering purchasing a portable (make that transportable) IBM PC compatible computer, consider the Panasonic Senior Partner. It is a fine machine with many extras--including a built printer--at a very competitive price.
Products: Panasonic Senior Partner (computer)