HP Portable Plus; improved portable proves that somebody out there is listening. (evaluation) John J. Anderson.
My review of the machine Hewlett Packard first called the Model 110, then simply "the Portable," appeared in the July 1984 issue of Creative Computing. In that review, I called the machine the "almost perfect portable," and "the finest notebook computer available on the market today." Boy, did that comment annoy Grid Compass owners. But the fact was that for $3000, you got a truly portable computer with an 80 column X 16 line LCD display (larget available at the), 384K of ROM,including Lotus 1-2-3, and 272K of RAM. Bundled with the ThinkJet printer, which remains among the very best portable printers available today, the Portable announced that HP had planted its feet firmly in the portable fray.
But my review was not without its criticisms, some of which were more pointed than others. Among other things, I was disappointed that there was no RAM or ROM cartridge capability. I was disappointed at the lack of a video bus. I was disappointed in MemoMaker, the built-in word processor. One year later: enter the HP Portable Plus. Along with its full-screen display (80 columns X 25 lines), it sports a number of new features, while holding the price line in the range of $2295--$705 less than the original list price.
The screen display is about as legible as its 16-line ancestor, which is to say quite legible, if the room lighting is right. Fortunately the new display is somewhat more forgiving in viewing angle, and more than one person can now see the screen at one time.
The keyboard remains what I initially described as "half-stroke." While it definitely does not feel the way a keyboard really should, it is easy to get used to, and it is fast. The Portable Plus now features an "embedded" numeric keypad for serious number crunchers on the go.
Lotus 1-2-3 and MemoMaker are no longer to be found as standard equipment, and only the MS-DOS 2.11 operating system, diagnostics, and PAM, the Personal Applications Manager, remain. All else is now optional.
The idea is that you can still upload programs serially, but the advent of "Memory Drawers" and "Software Drawers" now bring the convenience of true modularity to the HP Portable Plus. You can plug in up to 128K of ROM or RAM inboard, and increase RAM to 896K externally. The architecture of the drawer modules is open, so third party companies can contemplate custom hardware modules. We received a unit with 128K RAM drawer, Microsoft Word drawer, and terminal package drawer. Unfortunately the RAM drawer is not battery backed, and the contents of RAM are lost when the drawer is removed.
Also present in our evaluation unit was a built-in, 1200 baud modem. This is available as an option, and was unpriced at press time. Announced is a video output pack, which provides 80-column monochrome NTSC.
So . . . is the HP Portable Plus now the perfect portable? Well, nearly. The fact is there were still a few glitches that made the machine somewhat difficult to use. Most serious was the fact that Word and the terminal program took up twelve L-ROM slots, meaning that they could not fit into a single drawer. During our evaluation, this meant switching drawers between the composition and uploading of text, which was very annoying. The ROM versions of the software with which I was supplied are preliminary; release versions of these programs will take up three or four slots in total, enabling their cohabitation.
Further, although Word is a massive improvement over MemoMaker, which was originally supplied with the 110, the terminal package supplied is needlessly complex and yet underpowered. Merely toggling between originate and answer is an adventure in user-hostility. At the same time, endless menus offer arcane options you could more reasonably set once from a sub-program and not have to deal with again. Here too, I was supplied with preliminary software, and that HP promises true release verions will be cleaned up. As it stands, the terminal package in the original Portable is much superior to that in my Portable Plus.
The Portable Plus remains an excellent machine and probably is just about as close as we have yet come to the perfect portable. As I stated the first time around, in terms of durability, it is without parallel. Hewlett Packard, 19420 Homestead Rd., Cupertino, CA 95014. (408) 725-8111.
Products: Hewlett-Packard HP Portable Plus (computer)