Datavue 25; a 25-line screen and 5 1-4" disk drive set this machine apart in the portable computing derby. (evaluation) David H. Ahl.
The Datavue 25 is a compact IBM PC compatible computer with a full 25-line by 80-character LCD screen, 5-1/4" disk drive, and detached keyboard. Power can be supplied from either a rechargeable battery or AC outlet. This Japanese-made machine has serial and parallel interfaces, and a lengthly list of options including add-on memory, disk drives, modems, printer, and various cables. At a price of under $2200, the machine represents a most interesting entry in the portable market. How Compatible?
Back in the old days (before the IBM PC), we recommended that a computer system be selected based on functionality, reliability, and support. In other words, does it do the job you had in mind, will it continue to do it, and when it doesn't, is there a place to turn for help? Come to think of it, we still think this is the way to select a computer system.
Unfortunately, as we read reviews in other magazines and talk to computer purchasers, computer store managers, and even manufacturers, the feeling we get is that the only thing that matters today is IBM PC compatibility. Hence, we thought we would dispense with the question of how compatible the Datavue 25 is and move on to the more interesting aspects of the machine. So how compatible is this machine with the IBM PC? Not very. At least the early version we had wasn't. We understand the BIOS is undergoing further revisions, so things may well improve.
We found a curious mixed bag of software that would run on the Datavue 25. Either DOS (1.1 or 2.0) loads, but neither IBM Basic loads; Compaq Basic does, however. One of the "acid test" packages, Lotus 1-2-3, runs fine, except for the graphics which do nothing. On the other hand, Ms. PacMan and other programs using graphics load and run flawlessly. Electric Pencil, no problems; WordStar (IBM PC version), no way. For the most part, we found that Compaq software would run, while packages for the PC, TI Pro, and other compatibles wouldn't. Frankly, we can't recall seeing a machine with a more unusual mixture of software packages that would and would not run. Which evokes our usual caveat: make sure the machine runs what you want to use before you buy.
That being said, let us also reiterate our opinion that a computer ought to be judged on its own merits, rather than its degree of IBM compatibility. And the Datavue 25 has a great many merits indeed. Compact Package
Buttoned up, the Datavue 25 measures 13" x 10.4" x 6". The spec sheet says it weighs 12.1 lbs.; sorry, guys, but our "USPS certified" digital scale says 13.68 lbs. The battery weighs another 1-1/2 lbs for a total arm-stretching weight of 15.2 lbs. It has a comfortable fold-up/down handle for carrying which makes it seem lighter than four Model 100's even if it isn't.
The detached keyboard pops out of the front of the case and has two small folding legs which prop it up at a comfortable typing angle. The keyboard communicates to the computer by means of an infrared beam powered by two akaline AA batteries. Each keystroke produces a flash of a red LED on the top right of the keyboard. Since one would clearly not be watching this while typing or entering data, we presume it is there for occasionally checking the batteries.
Just as real men don't eat quiche, we suspect that real men prefer to use real wires to connect their computer components. For those who do so prefer, an optional calbe is available. Since it wasn't available to us, we used the infrared link--with surprisingly excellent results. In fact, we found the keyboard could be at nearly right angles to the system unit and titled 60 degrees toward the floor, and still pass a signal. About the only "natural" working posture that would trip it up is leaning way back in a chair with keyboard on your lap.
The keyboard has 83 full-stroke keys including ten functions keys shaded dark gray. It has a reasonably good feel, although the keys seem to want to bounce back to their rest position. That is not to say that there is any keybounce--there isn't--but it is as though you are being constantly reminded that the key wants to return home as soon as possible.
Because of its compact size, the arrangement of keys is somewhat different than a desktop computer or typewriter. A numeric keypad (which doubles as cursor control keys) is at the top right of the keyboard; INS, DEL, and PRT SC are at the bottom right; and various other keys are in odd places. On the other hand, the ENTER key is triple size (hard to miss), Fand J have raised dots to aid hand positioning (the 5 on the keypad does not!), and most of the special function keys have reasonably complete keytop labels.
Unfortunately, the cheap look of the keyboard belies its excellent behavior. Perhaps this is because of the dark background that can be seen between the keys or the irregular gap between the spacebar and edge of the casing, but it just does not project an image of quality.
The system unit, on the other hand, appears to be rugged and well made. On the right side is a 5-1/4" floppy disk drive. A positive action latching button clamps the disk into the drive thus obviating the need for a flimsy fold-down door or vulnerable rotating handle (anything on the outside of the case of a portable computer is vulnerable).
Also on the right side is a recessed reset button and contrast adjustment for the LCD screen. Proceeding around to the rear of the unit, we find a rocker power switch, serial and parallel ports (both using DB-25, RS-232 connectors), and two covered connectors, one for an external floppy disk and the other to the system bus.
On the left side is a covered opening (4.7" x 3.3" x 1.4") which will accept an optional modem while another cover allows access to the memory board. A third opening accepts either a battery or an AC adapter. The battery is said to have a 1-1/2 hour life (depending upon disk activity), although the manufacturer is working to extend this time. The AC adapter doubles as a battery charger with the assistance of a 3" wire clip. A full recharge takes about three hours. Here's Looking At You
The LCD screen may be tilted forward to six detent postions ranging from 5 to 57 degrees; we found the third position (about 30 degrees) was most satisfactory. Coupled with the contrast control (actually titls the liquid crystal elements), the screen tilt allows excellent visibility in a wide range of room lighting conditions.
All 25-line by 80-character LCD displays are not created equal. The Data General/One uses a display with the same proportions as a CRT screen. Unfortunately, with a screen of that height, it is difficult to adjust the viewing angle so the entire screen is equally visible. However, teh Datavue 25 uses a screen with quite different proportions than a CRT; it measures 8.8" wide by only 3.8" high (about two-thirds the height of a normal CRT screen). As a result, the Datavue screen offers much better visibility than that of the DG/One.
Naturally, there are always design tradeoffs in a display. In this case, the designers have opted for one pixel of space between lines of text and one pixel descenders on the five nasties (g,j,q,p, and y). For the most part, text is quite readable, but occasionally, you have to look twice at certain blocks of text where one line seems to melt into the next. The Heart of the Matter
The heart of the Datavue 25 is a 16-bit 80C88 (a CMOS 8088). It is equipped with 16K of ROM containing the BIOS and diagnositcs. The basic machine comes with 128K of RAM, expandale to 640K (using 256K chips) and single floppy disk drive with 360K capacity.
Clock rate of the mpu is 4.8 MHz--the same as most PC compatibles. It ran our standard Basic benchmark in 16 seconds, about the same as the Compaq, TI Pro, and Sharp PC-5000, and 20% faster than the DG/One.
When the machine is fired up, a screen appears in which you use the arrow keys to set the amount of memory, if any, to be devoted to a RAM disk. This RAM disk is automatically formatted to meet DOS 2.0 standards, but may be reformatted if you wish. If you set up a RAM disk, it can be used like an ordinary floppy drive for saving programs and data. However, if you save something vital to RAM disk, you must remember to transfer it to a regular disk before powering down as the memory of the machine is volatile. Following this RAM disk memory allocation operation, the normal MD-DOS prompts appear.
At startup--or any other time during a session--you may set several other functions. These include audio feedback for key presses (annoying to some, reassuring to others), screen reverse, and changing the default drive. You can also check the battery level at any time.
The Datavue 25 also has a built-in real-time clock with an internal battery backup. Thus, once the date and time are set, it should be unnecessary to set them upon power up, although for some reason this function didn't work on our test machine. No Frills
We had an early Datavue 25 for evaluation; thus there are likely to be some updates and minor changes on the machines that will appear on dealer shelves in the early spring. We are told that the machine will come with DOS 2.0 (or possibly a later version), GW Basic (probably), an operations manual, and the standard Microsoft DOS and Basic manuals. The basic hardware package will include an AC adapter, battery pack, and charger cable. The list price of a 128K system is $2195, and a 640K model goes for $2795. If that sounds cheap for CMOS memory, it is because if isn't CMOS, it is garden variety DRAM (dynamic RAM).
Coming down the pike later this spring will be an add-on floppy disk drive which clamps to the rear of the unit, totally external disk drives, 300 and 1200 baud modems, a lightweight portable printer, an automobile battery adapter, and an assortment of cables.
Quadram tells us that the machine will be available through retail computer stores (those handling other Quadram products) and through VARs, OEMs, and system houses.
So where does the Datavue 25 fit in the market? Frankly, we are not sure. The upper end of the portable market has proved to be softer than most analysts and manufacturers forecast. Even the low end hasn't done as well as many people expected. So here is a new midrange computer. Yawn.
But we think there is a better scenario. The Datavue 25 is not a breakthrough or wildly exciting, but maybe that is its strength. Here is a good, solid value from some good, ol' boys in Georgia (aided by their friends at Sotec in Japan). Quadram and their parent, the Intercolor Group, have been around a while. They have weathered a few storms. In New York, one might say they're street smart. They have a good in with retailers--far better than many other computer makers--and theirs just may be the system that retailers will push.
There is no question about it; many things must come together for this--or any other computer--to be a success today. In this case, we think the raw ingredients are there; now it's a matter of making them into a cake. As for me, I'd be happy to find a Datavue 25 on my desk.
Products: Datavue 25 (computer)