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June 1990

Atari portfolio palmtop computer. (Hardware Review) (evaluation)

by Africa, Gerardo

    Abstract- Atari's Portfolio palmtop computer is no bigger than a videotape case, but it has a clear LCD screen, auto shut-off, and a standard layout keyboard. The Portfolio also has 312K RAM disk, a DOS 2.11 compatible operating system, and a parallel/serial port compatible bus. One of its strongest points is that it has the ability to transfer files to and from PCs with a built in file transfer utility that is efficient and non-complex running at 9600 baud. However, Portfolio's utility is somewhat reduced by its disk space and limited memory.

As you would expect from a computer this size, the super twist LCD screen can accommodate only 40 by 8 lines in normal text mode. This is fine for everyday word-processing but is difficult for spreadsheet applications. In spite of its size, the Portfolio's screen is very readable and the large cursor is always easy to locate. It is capable of 240 x 64 pixel graphics. The flat panel display can be tilted to 180*, which is good because it reflects a lot of light. A handy feature is a keyboard contrast control to improve legibility.

The small 63-key keyboard has function keys, direction keys (Home, PageUp, PageDown, and End) except cursor, and a numeric keypad imbedded in the keyboard. The cursor keys are separate. Although small, the positive action keyboard has a nice feel. You can sense when a keystroke is completed. it even has an audible "click" that can be disabled. The keys are tilted to eliminate keyboard "feet" used to incline the keyboard from front to back which would add to the dimensions of the computer. The keyboard has a standard QWERTY layout, but it still takes some time to adjust to its small size. it took me awhile to keep my eyes off the keyboard while typing before I felt comfortable with the tiny keys.

The strength of the Portfolio is in its ability to transfer files to and from desktop PCs. The Portfolio has a built-in file transfer utility that is simple and efficient. It's quite slow running at 9600 baud compared to, say, LapLink (11500 baud) but it gets the job done. The optional separate Parallel adapter is plugged into the Portfolio bus and a standard parallel cable connects both the Portfolio and a PC for file transfers. The optional serial adapter is similarly attached to the same Portfolio bus and is used for connecting to serial devices such as a modem.

The Portfolio works very well as an integrated system but is somewhat hampered by its limited memory and disk space. A memory card, which takes the place of a floppy disk, can only hold from 32K to 128K bytes. Since these memory cards are electronic, they cost a lot more than standard 3 1/2" or 5 1/4" diskettes-the 128K card costing half as much as the Portfolio itself. However, if you aren't hampered by these restrictions and portability is your priority, then the Portfolio is the way to go.

Atari Portfolio Critique and Specifications


* 40 x 8 line text screen.

* 240 x 64 pixel in graphics mode.

* Small, as expected, but very clear.

* Blue text on LCD screen.

* Flat display reflects a lot of light.

* Large cursor.

* Has 180" angle adjustment.

* Keyboard contrast control.


* Standby mode-while waiting for keyboard entry, computer stops its microprocessor clock to save energy.

* Auto shut-off/one-key restore.

* Speaker doubles as touch-tone dialer.

* 31 K RAM disk.

* Optional 32K Electronic floppy disk" with write protection (requires battery): $79.95; 64K cards, $129.95; 128K cards available ($199.95).

* Optional Serial $79.95)-Parallel ($49.95) interface for printing and file transfer.

* Menu-driven built-in applications in ROM: Worksheet Lotus compatible), Text Editor (ASCII), Address book (and dialer), Diary, Calculator.

* DOS 2.11 compatible operating system.

* Multi-lingual operating system (English, German, French).

* Low-battery on-screen warning.

* Data can be moved from application to application.


* $399.95.

* 4.92 MHz.

* 80C88 processor.

* 128K RAM (externally expandable to 640K).

* Optional AC adaptor $9.95).

* 30-40 hours on 3 AA batteries (about 6-8 weeks of normal use).

* Optional card drive for PC ($99.95).

* 15.87 ounces.

* 7.8 x 4.1 x 1.2 inches.


* 63 keys.

* Extremely small.

* Difficult to adjust from regular size to small keyboard.

* QWERTY layout.

* Function keys built into numeric keys.

* Home, Page Up, Page Down, and End keys built into cursor keys.

* Numeric keypad built into standard keys.

* Has "/ \ " key to access numeric keypad, contrast controls and applications.

* Positive action keyboards with audible click (can be disabled).

* Tilted keys to eliminate "feet."

File Transfer.

* File transfer works at 9600 baud. Slow but adequate.

* Strength of machine is on file transfer.

* Parallel/Serial interface.

* File transfer works well for PC. Atari claims that it also works well with Macintosh systems.


* 127 columns by 255 rows.

* Lotus compatible on most 1-2-3 commands and functions except database and graphics.

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