From Pen Computing Magazine #15, April 1997

Newton Notes

How to Lose Seven Pounds in One Day

©Copyright 1997 David MacNeill

Since I received my new MessagePad 2000 I’ve been questioning just exactly what I want from a portable computer, be it a conventional notebook, a handheld, or PDA, or an organizer. I routinely power down, pack up, and haul my seven pound Fujitsu notebook from home to work and back again. I also carry my Newton and sometimes another device that I happen to be evaluating at the time.

Do I really need all these gizmos? I wondered if perhaps I could slim down a little without losing the core functionality I need. My list includes a writing tool with a spell checker, a thesaurus, the ability to print, and a real keyboard for writing very long pieces. I also need a name file/datebook/to-do list with alarms that can actually wake me up, a versatile Internet email client, and a Web browser for looking things up (mostly text) when I’m away from my T1-connected PowerMac 7600/132 with a 21-inch million-color monitor at the office. At home, I rarely use my Pentium notebook modem connection to download anything; so why bother with this magnificent beast of a workstation on my desk?

With the addition of the thesaurus (I use the excellent WordSleuth from LandWare) and the optional Newton keyboard, all this functionality is in the MP2K along with much more. The MessagePad 2000 with a big memory card and a fast PC Card modem is all I really need. The only time I would need to bring my notebook on a trip is if I have to do a presentation. If it didn’t have to be too terribly pretty I could probably whip one up in HTML and run it on any generic Web browser on any Mac or PC available at the site.

Around the Web in 16 grays
Regular readers will recall my positive review of NetHopper 2.0 from several issues back. The first true Web browser at that time was limited to text-only views of HTML pages. With the release of the MessagePad 2000 and the eMate 300 and their generous 16 shade displays, AllPen has released NetHopper 3.0 with full Web graphic support. This new version will be shipping pre-installed with every MessagePad 2000 and eMate 300, and a version specially tuned for the MessagePad 130 is in the works.

I spent quite a bit of time testing Microsoft’s Pocket Internet Explorer 1.1 on a Casio Cassiopeia, a Windows CE handheld PC. Win CE devices are currently limited to only four shades of gray, so the browsing experience is a bit bland at that visual granularity. The MP2K and the eMate both show 16 shades, a big jump that must be seen to be appreciated. Details jump out where before they were all but invisible due to the intense posterization you get with only four shades. If you intend to make Web browsing a big part of your reason to choose a handheld computer, then one of these next generation Newtons is what you want. It’s like night and day.

NetHopper 3.0 lets you specify whether you want graphics to download automatically or wait until you tap icons to retrieve them selectively. You can also choose to have the images scaled automatically to fit your current display orientation. In my testing, I found that judicious use of these options made viewing big websites tolerable while letting smaller sites shine. I found myself wishing that I could set the browser to recognize incoming giant graphics and automatically adjust these settings accordingly. Next version, perhaps?

Get real
I had pretty high expectations of this new version when I loaded it onto my just-a-skosh-shy-of-the-final-release MessagePad 2000. I was not disappointed; NetHopper 3.0 flies! It felt very natural to buzz around the Web with this tool. Granted, it’s no PowerMac or Pentium box, but get real: This rig costs less than US$1000, sports a 160Mhz RISC chip, has a battery life that’s measured in weeks instead of hours, understands my handwriting better than my notebook’s keyboard understands my typing, and (sort of) fits in my pocket. For all this, I think I can forego a little speed when I browse the Web.

NetHopper 3.0 is the magic bullet that has freed me from the need to schlep my notebook computer around. If your mobile computing needs are anything like mine, you should give your back a break and look into an Apple MessagePad 2000 with NetHopper.

The speed of life
It is not my intention to make anyone look askance at their "old" MessagePad 130, but there is one irritating thing about pre-StrongARM units that simply must be whined about:ARM 610-based units like the MP110, 120, and 130 can be painfully slow under load. I spent a lot of time just keeping my MP130 lean and mean -- no small feat considering the vast wealth of software available for the Newton platform, all of which shows up on my desk to tempt me. If you are going to use this thing the way it was intended -- to capture information as it happens and recall it when you need it -- then you need it to be as fast as life. Anything less is just an interesting technology demonstration, not a tool.

This afternoon, my wife and I were in the grocery checkout line. We were talking and I totally spaced on my usual routine of pre-launching Pocket Quicken so it will be up and ready by the time I get to the checker. I needn’t have bothered. I whipped out my MP2K, tapped the PQ button, and there it was, waiting for me. A couple of scribbles and we were out of there. "You realize," I said to Leslie in the parking lot, "there’s just no way I’m giving this thing back to Apple."

Wider is better
Apple designed the MessagePad 2000 to have a portrait (vertical) orientation because it was made to capture short bits of information, the kind you’d conventionally scribble on a cheap little paper notepad.

Fine. My problem is that I write big, always have. I can never get more than a few words across on a MP130 display before I have to jump to a new line. I find this claustrophobic when I want to write anything more elaborate than a name and a number. The MP2K’s wider display is just right. I can stretch out a little, make myself at home. I can also see enough to read what I just wrote. I find this immensely liberating; I’m sure you will, too.

Many have said, myself included, that Apple simply must make a small, PalmPilot-sized Newton device priced at around US$300-$400. For myself, however, the MP2K is perfect. I don’t like carrying things in my pocket, anyway. I will happily schlep this one-pound wonder everywhere I go, reaping the increased productivity that only the StrongARM and the big display can give me.

Notable software
StandAlone has released two must-have utilities. Freeze Utilities is the best of the package freezing enablers I’ve seen, with excellent options and an attractive level of integration. HWRWorks is a clean little hack that allows you to use handwriting recognition in NewtWorks. It’s a mystery why Apple chose to disable this obviously necessary feature in stock MP2K and eMate 300 units, but it’s moot now because of this tiny, invisible extension. Both can be downloaded from <> and both are free. Thanks, Ben Gottlieb!

Regular readers are probably aware that I never review games. The reason is that I don’t really like them. However, Sub Patrol from iambic <> is pretty good. You get to drop depth charges on enemy subs from a variety of warships. It’s got your basic helicopters, seaplanes, and frogman-eating sharks, too. If you don’t do well the ugly commander of the enemy sub fleet pops up and reviles you. Good clean fun, and it works on the MP2K.

- David MacNeill <> is executive editor of Pen Computing Magazine. Newton Notes™ has been in continuous publication since the release of the Newton in 1993.