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As time passes, modem companies become more aware of ways to ease telecommunication. Flashing lights have long been the modem’s only interface to the outside world, but both the Supra and the PPI have gone beyond that, especially the PPI. Supra provides a two-letter LED display that lets you know what the modem thinks is happening, and after you connect, the display rotates between telling you about the connection speed, data compression, error correction, and the like. PPI raised the ante on this neat and extremely useful feature with a 12 character LCD display that shows more readable and verbose messages. I quickly became addicted to the PPI display, and my only quibble is that you have to orient the modem so that you can see it straight on. The PPI also has more little lights, but frankly, other than off-hook, and send and receive data, they don’t tell me anything useful. Stick with these displays, modem makers!

Both modems report on their version numbers and all that, but PPI added an additional diagnostic, ATI6, which gives information about the last session, including number of characters, octets (close relatives of the ocelot), packets, and NAKs (related to the common YAK) sent and received, the last number called, the connection time, modes and protocols used, and finally, how the call was terminated. I don’t use it often, but every now and then I refer to this information to figure out what happened with a connection.

Supra added a photocopied sheet to their package with tips and the best configuration strings for the common Macintosh programs. I’m sure PPI has the same sort of information around, and I would have appreciated a similar sheet with the PPI modem. For instance, it’s going to take a while to figure out that you can’t use hardware handshaking with Mike O’Connor’s CompuServe Navigator, and it may take some time to find the &K4 string to shut it off.

Both modems come with dramatically improved manuals from previous modems I’ve seen, but even still, the bulk of each manual is devoted to listing all the various parts of the modem’s command set and what the different variables do. I rate the manuals about equally because both provide useful information in normal English. Nonetheless, I would have liked to have seen more basic information about different protocols and compression modes. I know at least PPI has a free brochure on that subject, so why not put that information in the manual? If you are interested in getting the free brochure, call PPI at the number below and ask for it.

Both modems include fax and data software, MicroPhone 1.6 and FaxSTF for the Supra, and Quick Link II Fax for the PPI. I suppose that’s good for novice users, but I feel that people who want a good simple communications program for the Mac will use the shareware ZTerm, and those who want more power will look to MicroPhone II 4.0 or White Knight. Nonetheless, it’s good to have something to play with immediately if you don’t already have a communications program.

You might like one neat little feature that the PPI has that other modems may share. It converts letters to numbers, so you can put numbers like 1-900/TAX-HELP into your automatic dialer and the modem will dial the appropriate numbers for those letters.

Incidentally, you need a special hardware handshaking cable for these modems to reach their true potential. This is something of a non-issue, since both companies bundle hardware handshaking cables with their Mac packages, but if your modem comes without one of those cables, you’ll have to buy one separately (from the modem companies or from MacConnection) for about $15.

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