Notebook computing. (column) David H. Ahl.
This is the first column in what will be a periodic series, although not necessarily monthly. In it we will bring you news of new computers, peripherals, software packages, and books in the category of what is loosely known as notebook computers. These include such machines as the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100, NEC PC-8201, TI CC-40, and Epson HX-20.
Five other manufacturers were showing notebook-size computers at the summer Consumer Electronics Show, so we expect to see increasing competition in both price and features in the near future. Model 100/PC-8201 Compatibility
If you read the sidebar to the review of the Model 100 in the August issue, you know that the Model 100 and NEC PC-8201 are virtual twins. The Model 100 is slightly smaller, has built-in graphics characters, built-in moderm, 880 fewer bytes of overhead, and address and scheduling programs not found on the 8201.
On the other hand the NEC 8201 has ten function keys (including KILL), cursor control keys laid out in a logical diamond pattern, on-screen editing within the Basic language, user-definable graphics characters, a LOCATE command for graphics, a side expansion connector for external memory cartridges, and a tape of utility and demonstration programs included.
For communications, the edge goes to the Model 100. Also, if you have need of the name and address or the scheduling package, the Model 100 comes out ahead. However, for programming, the NEC is the clear winner. For text editing, the 8201 also has a slight edge as a result of a nice print formatting program included free.
However, that raises another issue. Software is beginning to appear for the Model 100 and there are several packages for the NEC available in Japan. Since the machines are virtually identical, can software for one be used on the other? Well, yes and no. Programs written for one machine will run on the other, as long as they do not use the LOCATE command (available only on the NEC). However, cassette tapes for one machine will not load on the other. So if you want any of the wonderful NEC games or utility programs for your Model 100, or vice versa, you must get a program listing somehow, and type the program in on your computer.
We have talked to some software companies who tell us they plan to release tapes for both computers, but not all suppliers plan to do this. SilverWare Games
The folks at CLOAD who produce monthly cassette "magazines" for other Radio Shack computers have decided to broaden their horizons by going into software for the Model 100. Their first package is called Game #1 and has four games.
Blockade is similar to the old Atari VCS game, Surround. Two players each have four keys with which to control a constantly-moving snake. Each player has two objectives: eat morsels of food that appear randomly on the screen, and cause the opposing player to run into the wall or either snake (all of which are lethal). Points are awarded or lost for each action. The winner is the first player to amass 100 points.
The game can be played by a single player in a sort of "practice" mode. The game has three speeds, slow, medium, and impossible.
We found the controls somewhat unresponsive, probably because the program does not sample the keyboard often enough. This, coupled with the small playing area, made the game a bit of a disappointment.
Reversi is the game sold commerically as Othello. This is a one- or two-player game although in the two-player version, the computer is simply taking the place of a playing board. In the one-player version, you play against the computer.
None of us here is a world class Reversi player, so we cannot judge how well the program plays. It has only one skill level which provided more than enough challenge for us; our won/loss record was about 50-50.
The other two programs are both adventures: Frankenstein Adventure and Alexis Adventure. They are fair-size programs (15,000 bytes for Frankenstein and 18,500 bytes for Alexis). This pushes the capacity of a 24K Model 100, but is relatively small compared to the 48K adventures for other personal computers.
As adventures go, these are relatively straightforward and on a manageable scale. For example, Frankenstein Adventure has 16 locations and about 10 or 11 "problems" to be overcome. Directions (go north, go east) and the Look command can be abbreviated to single letters, while two-word commands can be shortened to four-letter abbreviations.
The vocabulary is relatively small, and if the program is looking for the phrase UNLOCK DOOR, you can express it in a dozen different ways, but for your efforts get only, "I don't know how to do that."
It is not always easy to understand what the program is trying to tell you. For example, we were in a room with "a bookcase, a writing desk, and a pen holder." We told the program, OPEN DESK (your input must be all upper case), and the program told us, "I don't see it here." Hmmmm.
Nevertheless, the adventures were good fun. They provide a nice diversion while travelling when you have too little time to start a serious project and too much to twiddle your thumbs.
The Games #1 package costs $24.95 from SilverWare, Box 21101, Santa Barbara, CA 93121. (805) 966-1449.