The FatNewt and Other New Stuff
©Copyright 1993 David MacNeill
Theres a lot happening on Planet Newton lately. This months Newton Notes is a mix of mini-reviews, impressions, and general gossip about the new MessagePad 110, a FilePad update, and some excellent Newton shareware.
MessagePad 110: the FatNewt
By now youve probably seen or heard about the new and improved MessagePad 110, which some are calling the FatNewt in reference to the 1984 FatMac upgrade to the original 128K Mac. Physically, the 110 is slightly taller, narrower, and heavier (1.24 lb vs. 0.9 lb) than the original MessagePad, making it more comfortable to hold with a more solid feel. The 110 uses AA rather than AAA batteries, dramatically increasing battery life, and now ships with 1MB of RAM. The stylus is now a telescoping pen-like stylus that fits into a tunnel across the top of the unit, and the PCMCIA card slot is now on the side to make room for the transverse-mounted stylus. Best of all, there is a stout new screen lid that fold back over the unit and clicks into place. No more tacky vinyl slip covers!
The screen itself is slightly shorter (16 pixels) which is causing a few minor cosmetic problems with several apps that dont follow Apples programming guidelines, but revised versions should be available by the time you read this. The screen change reflects Apples switch away from Sharp as the manufacturer of the LCD screen, and provides a more natural 320 x 240 pixel aspect ratio, which is exactly half the industry standard 640 x 480 pixels on Mac and Windows desktop monitors.
There is also a nicad recharger/docking unit for desktop use which angles the unit for a better viewing angle while charging your batteries. This stand includes a full-size stylus and a built-in holder for convenient access.
Snappy new ROMs
The overall feel of the 110 is solid, professional, and fast. The new version 1.3 ROMs have dozens of tweaks for better performance and improved handwriting recognition. The most notable additions are deferred recognition and letter-by-letter recognition. Deferred recognition lets you jot down notes in "ink", then select them at a later time and double-tap to start converting to text. It works really well when you are in a hurry and dont have time to correct the occasional Newtonian slip. Letter-by-letter recognition is a new option that comes in handy when you are writing proper names and other words that probably wont be in the units 10,000 item word list or resident in your own word list.
I bought my 110 on March 12, and after weeks of constant use I can honestly say Apple has fixed all the non-trivial flaws of the original model, and added several terrific new features that Im already dependent on. The battery life is phenomenal: I have been using a set of alkalines for two weeks and there is still 25% power left! Everything is faster, smoother, and more integrated. Tap on the Names button: BANG, there it is. Very satisfying. Dave says check it out.
In the January Newton Notes, I reported sighting the Killer App for Newton: FilePad, which puts FileMaker--like database design capabilities into your Newton. FilePad allows the creation of custom designed databases which are stored as "file cabinets" on a flash RAM card in your Newton. You can create pop-up menus, buttons, and check boxes to simplify data entry. I still believe FilePad has the potential to be a real breakthrough application by putting an easily programmed dashboard on Newtons native object-oriented database; FileMaker in your pocket.
FilePad will not be marketed by Ease Technologies as I wrote in January, but will be distributed by StarCore, Apples Newton software marketing division, which means it will be everywhere. It will ship nationwide April 11 for $139.95 for the full version, and 69.95 for the runtime version. This terrific application has so many features and possibilities that I will write a full review of FilePad in next months column. Stay tuned
Out of the dozens of shareware titles that have passed through my Newton lately, three titles have taken up permanent residence in my Extras drawer: one utility, one application, and one game. All are widely available from Compuserve, America On Line, the MacNexus BBS, and on the Internet via anonymous ftp at newton.uiowa.edu in /pub/newton.
Status Bar Buttons 2.0 by Jesse Devine at Apple is one of those utilities that make so much sense they should be in ROM. This "persistent" utility works like a Macintosh system extension in that it is always available without user intervention. Status Bar Buttons places up to seven mini-buttons along the bottom of your Notepad screen, right next to the keyboard button. The buttons are Bullet, a macro for making bullet lists; Styles, which pops up the style palette; Exclaim!, which pops up a scrolling list of user-definable punctuation marks for easy insertion into text; Keys, which pops up a menu with delete, forward delete, tab, and return keys; Ink Sizer, which presents all four pen widths; and Prefs Access, which does as it says. Its free, so just get it.
List-It 2.4 by Les Logiciels Macapa is a terrific little app that helps you make lists. It will create item, cost, and quantity fields, and will add up the cost fields in a running total at the bottom of the screen. You can check off items, drag them around to rearrange them. It will also add a user-definable tax rate to your total, and has a neat feature that allows you to compare two items and their cost per unit for easy comparison shopping. Theres a $10 shareware fee (cheap!)
Solo 1.3 by Renaud Boisjoly at Apple, is very well executed version of the venerable Klondike version of the Solitaire card game. Great graphics and a clean interface make this one fun to play. Solo 1.3 is free.
A social life? Where do I download that?
Dave MacNeill is a teacher, consultant, and marketing director for the IconoClass, a Macintosh, Windows, Internet, and Newton training center in Sacramento, 916-443-2527. He can be reached on NewtonMail at davemacneill, or on the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org.