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Portable Toys

Among the more noticeable Macworld products were a number of goodies that will only interest the 300,000-odd people who have splurged on a PowerBook. Let’s face, the little beasties are extremely cool, incredibly useful, and cute as the dickens (not that I suspect Charles Dickens was particularly cute). Perhaps the most telling piece of evidence in favor of the PowerBooks being here to stay was a recent PC WEEK article comparing various laptops at PC Expo. A bunch of corporate buyers used, compared, and rated all these laptops, and surprise, the PowerBook 170 easily outdistanced all the PC-clone machines. Of course these corporate buyers didn’t like this conclusion because they can’t standardize on the 170 since it doesn’t run DOS in native mode, but I thought that was just desserts for Macintosh corporate buyers having to put up with DOS on the only decent laptops in the past.

SolarPOWER — Microtech International’s solar panel definitely rated coolest among the PowerBook accessories. It will list for $189 and simply attaches on top of the screen, facing up toward the sun. It plugs into the power port and also the microphone port, the power port for obvious reasons and the microphone port to provide feedback on the best position. You cannot really charge your battery with the solar panel, and Microtech primarily claims that it extends battery life, but frankly, it looks durable, is easy to use, requires little care and no feeding, and is relatively easy to carry since it’s the same approximate form factor as the PowerBook and weighs only a few pounds. It definitely falls into the yuppie toy category while at the same time providing a useful service, although it won’t run a cellular phone or make espresso. Actually SolarPOWER provides two useful services, because if you are working in bright sunlight, it doubles as a shade for the screen so that it doesn’t wash out and become hard to read.

I may sound a bit flip, but I truly think SolarPOWER qualifies as a great idea. Apparently the United Nations has sponsored a few scattered projects to develop solar panels for powering computers, primarily for workers in Africa, where they reportedly have plenty of sun. Needless to say, the UN finds Microtech’s solar panel interesting because it will be mass produced and inexpensive, not to mention useful for areas with minimal or flaky power and lots of sun. Heck, it would even serve quite well in supposedly-rainy Seattle, where we’re supposedly having the worst drought in 40 years.

Microtech International — 800/626-4276 — 203/468-6223
203/467-1856 (fax) — [email protected]

PowerBook pads — I can’t say a lot about these pads because I only tried them briefly. Silicon Sports will soon release a two-pad set of palm pads for the PowerBooks. These pads fit inside the PowerBook when you close it, and cushion the heel of your hand when you rest it on the PowerBook’s hand rests. I suspect they will also absorb the small amount of perspiration that can accumulate if you leave your hands on the hard PowerBook surface. Overall, that implies to me that these pads, which of course come in all the bright Silicon Sports colors for the fashion-conscious PowerBook user, will make using the PowerBooks just a little more comfortable. The only drawback I see comes if you want to remove them since they attach with a sticky adhesive. Call Silicon Sports for shipping date and pricing information on the pads.

Silicon Sports — 800/243-2972 — 415/327-7900
415/327-7962 (fax)

Bigger Batteries — A small company called Battery Technology Inc. (BTI) showed an improved battery for the PowerBook 140 and 170 that provides between 25% and 66% more battery life. To BTI’s credit, they make the 25% claim, whereas a study that supposedly came from an independent testing lab claimed that in typical usage, the BTI batteries, which cost $89 each, would provide 66% more time. The BTI folks at the booth said that they performed this feat of electrical legerdemain by simply increasing the size of the battery slightly and still having it fit in the PowerBook slot. BTI showed some engineering hindsight in several ways as well. First, they created a hard plastic snap-off cover for the battery contacts to prevent short circuits and possible fires. Second, and slightly more impressively, they designed a different locking mechanism to keep the battery in the PowerBook without being easily damaged in transport. Worth a look if you need another battery.

BTI — 800/982-8284 — 213/725-3517 — 213/726-3897 (fax)

Colorizing the PowerBook — In the unattainable new product category, Newer Technology has an 8-bit, active-matrix, color replacement screen for the PowerBook 140, 145, and 170. I say unattainable because it will set you back about $5500. Given the new lower PowerBook prices, I’m not sure many people could justify spending so much no matter how beautiful the toasters look in color.

If you don’t want to replace your screen, but still want to drop $5500, you can get an external color LCD, also active matrix, from Envisio, the folks who make an internal display adapter for the 68030 PowerBooks. I presume that Envisio gets their color LCD screens from the same source as Newer since they were equally gorgeous, perhaps even nicer than a CRT due to absolutely flat display and incredibly rich colors. Worth checking out for the independently wealthy. The rest of us should sit tight for a bit.

Newer Technology — 800/678-3726 — 316/685-4904
316/685-9368 (fax)
Envisio — 612/339-1008 — 612/339-1369 (fax)

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