By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Apple's new Newton eMate 300, packs a lot of function
into a small, stylish green package.
This little green Apple
may boost Newton's reputation
The eMate 300 builds on past positives
for a new portable computing solution
By Blaine Fergerstrom
When the Apple Computer Inc. educational representative stopped by the Star-Bulletin newsroom recently to help with a networking problem, he was carrying an early production model of a new laptop computer that was targeted at school kids.
The machine caused such a fuss among the newsroom staff that it was quickly decided to evaluate its usefulness for reporters, despite its "cute" looks.
Called the "eMate 300," the new laptop is Apple's latest foray into Newton technology. This time, they may have gotten it right.
When Apple's Newton made its debut in 1993 with lousy, even comical handwriting recognition, Garry Trudeau lampooned it in his "Doonesbury" comic strip, poking fun at the Newton's gaffes in translating handwriting to neatly typed errors.
While the Newton operating system has made tremendous strides in speed and accuracy, few have noticed. The stigma stuck.
But in this new package, Apple makes a stand to put that old stereotype to rest.
The eMate is basically a Newton sporting the latest Newton OS 2.1 technology in a new form: a sculpted, green, translucent plastic clamshell case somewhat reminiscent of a frog.
There is a small standard keyboard in the lower half of the eMate's case that includes some utility keys for accessing editing and accessory functions, as well as other programs.
In a well at the top of the keyboard, there is a "pen" used to write on the touch-sensitive screen. It is mostly used in place of a mouse as a pointing device, but can also be used in the "note pad" application for handwriting recognition.
But that is not the focus or intent of the eMate.
The eMate is intended to be a small, light workstation with word processing, spelling checker, spreadsheet, calendar, note pad and phone list built in.
You can add other specialized programs such as an Internet Web browser or e-mail software. The eMate has a built in PC-card slot so you can add a modem, extra storage space, a pager card or wireless modem. Or you could add a Global Positioning System card and software so your Newton could draw a map of your location, anywhere in the world.
Small and light, the eMate's
sculptured case features an
integral carrying handle.
By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
With a modem card inserted, you can fax any eMate document, connect to the Internet to check your mail or surf the World Wide Web. In fact, Web browsing software is included on a companion CD-ROM disk, along with backups of all the eMate's essential software.
The browser shouldn't be considered a full-featured replacement for Netscape's Navigator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer running on a desktop system.
The eMate isn't a desktop computer, but a portable information machine. The Web software is best used with image loading turned off. But for finding some quick info on the Web or checking your e-mail while on the road, eMate does the job well.
The eMate comes with a serial port for connecting to a printer or to your desktop computer, with the included cable and software for Macintosh or Windows.
The software allows you to transfer documents created on the eMate to your desktop computer, and vice-versa. It's also used to back up your eMate data to a desktop computer. It can synchronize calendars and phone lists between the desktop and the eMate and is used to install accessory software or system updates.
It also comes with a built-in infra-red port for "beaming" messages, documents, electronic "business cards" or small programs to other Newton devices or to a desktop computer equipped with an infrared "dock." This is also called wireless networking.
The 4-1/2" x 3-1/2" gray scale screen activates on opening eMate's cover, revealing the last document you were working on, ready to resume work. It is touch-sensitive and you can write or draw on it using the nylon-tipped pen.
The screen is sharp, if a bit dark, but there is built-in backlighting for use in dimly lit areas.
The backlighting does extract a price, however, from the built-in rechargeable batteries.
The battery is a nickel-metal-hydride unit that can power the eMate for 18 to 24 hours, depending on use. It recharges with the included lightweight adapter in about two hours.
There is no hard drive or other moving mechanism in the eMate, making for a rugged, portable machine. Minor bumps won't phase it, but major bumps risk cracking the glass screen.
In many instances, the pen is used in the place of a mouse for quickly moving the cursor, selecting or moving text, or pressing on-screen buttons. But in the note pad application, the pen gets expanded use.
It is here that the Newton's handwriting recognition software is put to use. The eMate features simplified recognition software that works with printed letters, rather than the longhand script that regular Newtons thrive on. It is fairly accurate and extremely quick compared to the infamous Newton of old.
So how much is this fabled information appliance? Apple would sell millions of them at $500, but it weighs in at a suggested retail price of $799. Add $100 or so for a modem, $120 for a Newer Corporation memory expansion module (must-have for adding more programs) and at around $1,000 you have a viable, lightweight (4 lbs.) portable computing machine.
Drawbacks? Sure: A slightly smaller keyboard may hamper people with large hands. And it would have been nice to be able to run it off of alkaline cells in an emergency.
But that considered, this article was composed on the eMate 300 over the course of a week, all the while, not once plugging it into an outlet. The week included numerous demo sessions with fellow Star-Bulletin staffers and play time with my two-year-old son, Alex.
Since introduction in March, eMates have been incredibly popular. Apple couldn't make enough of them and had to restrict sales to educational customers at first, while planning a release to the general public after production ramped up. They've just opened the flood gates.
Gotta have one now? Call 1-800-434-3033. Tell them you want an eMate. Item number B3188LL/A with Macintosh cable, B3189LL/A with Windows cable. Expect a two-week backorder.
Blaine Fergerstrom is Webmaster of the
Star-Bulletin's Internet edition, starbulletin.com.