REVIEWS: User to User

More on Hewlett Packard's repair policies, What exactly is a "Personal Digital Assistant," games for the palmtop, ThinCard, and more!

By Hal Goldstein

This issue I have lots of bits and pieces of information and opinion to report to you.

What HP Will Fix For Free (and what they won't)

All 100LX's are still in warranty. Therefore, if your 100LX suffers from a loose hinge or some other hiccup, assuming you did not damage the unit, HP will fix your unit at no charge. As I mentioned last column, HP's Express Exchange for the HP 100LX and HP OmniBook is a marvelous service. Call tech support, 503-750-2004. Once they give the OK that something is wrong with your unit, they will mail you out a 100LX. After you receive it, then send your HP 100LX in, and that's it.

Their address is: Hewlett-Packard Corvallis Service Center, 1030 NE Circle Blvd. Corvallis, OR 97330; Phone: 503-757-2002.

HP 95LX's are not covered under Express Exchange, and many HP 95LX's are no longer under warranty. Most repair bills are in the $160 to $200 range. HP Palmtop users should consider extended warranty contracts:

Based on comments of other readers, Hewlett Packard will fix HP 95LX's with loose hinges (see sidebar) and those in which the "low battery warning" won't go away, without charge. (No guarantees on this one. You might call HP tech support [503-750-2004] or the repair center [503-757-2002] in the U.S. first.)

Unfortunately, the other relatively common HP 95LX problem, the screen failure, costs about $190 to repair. The symptoms begin with lines on the display and intermittent disappearance and fade out of the display contents. At first turning the On/Off button or pressing the screen solves the problem. But unfortunately, once the symptoms appear, the slow death of the display is inevitable. And there is no way anyone has discovered to repair the screen without sending the unit into HP. I had one unit that was sent in twice with the screen problem, fortunately when it was still under warranty. I have another, which managing editor Richard Hall can with some diligence squeeze back to life for a day or so. The warranty is long since expired, so we will soon have to junk it or use it for parts if we don't want to spring for the repair bill.

Promoting the HP Palmtops

HP Ad for Palmtop: Graphic

 HP has recently started advertising the HP 100LX. That's good, but I wish HP would do more. We hear a lot about the Apple Newton and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) in the popular and computer press. Former Apple CEO John Sculley coined the term, and in one phrase Apple created a new category of small computer, thereby gaining the "mind-share" of consumers. It doesn't matter that the HP 95LX is certainly a "personal digital assistant" that has been quite functional and available for two and a half years. In the minds of consumers and the press, it is a palmtop, not PDA.

What apparently distinguishes a PDA is handwriting recognition. My understanding is that HP has not introduced a palmtop with handwriting recognition because the technology is not advanced enough at present to create a very useful machine.

HP has attempted a "mind-share" trick of its own with its re-entry into the laptop market. It has presented the OmniBook as a new class of computer, a "Super Portable PC". If you read my review on page 14 of the July/Aug 1993 issue, you know that I like the OmniBook and its "super portability." Whether it is actually a new class of portable computer, and more importantly whether consumers view it as such, is another question.

I'm glad HP came out with the OmniBook and I laud their promotion to carve out a share of the huge laptop market. But the effort is a bit ironic, considering that they led the pack in 1983 with the HP 110 and Portable Plus, DOS/1-2-3 laptop computers with a battery life of 9 hours. Now they have to fight to regain a part of the market. I hope history doesn't repeat itself with the HP Palmtops. I hope HP takes advantage of its current leadership position in the palmtop market.

Wouldn't it be something if HP could market the HP Palmtops a little bit more like Apple has marketed its Newton. I don't mean that HP should copy Apple's policy of announcing wildly optimistic shipping dates. But incorporating some of Apple's marketing pizzazz would be great.

The HP Palmtops are such awesome machines, suitable for so many different professionals. They have a two and a half year lead in producing a DOS pocket size palmtop, with still no credible competition. Can you imagine the HP Palmtop sales figures if even one tenth of the people who could make profitable use of the machine used it.

I am glad that HP finally started advertising the HP 100LX with its "road warrior" ad. The full page ad has appeared in Computer and business magazines and it certainly grabs one's attention. However, I just don't identify with the guy in the ad, and I am not sure the majority of existing and would-be users do.

First of all, although I do travel, I am on the road perhaps a month a year. I use my Palmtop mostly in every day activities as I move around the office and go between home and work. I think the physicians, engineers, managers and most other users are in the same boat. The point is, you don't need to be on the road to take advantage of an HP Palmtop. In addition, I don't identify with the male fashion model with the sun glasses who appears in the ad.

Furthermore, although cc:MAIL is an important application to some corporate users, my guess is that most people buy an HP Palmtop for other reasons. (The ad is geared to HP's traditional Fortune 500 customer who may be a cc:MAIL user.)

If I were King of Marketing, I would make the ads more personal. After all, most of us carry the HP Palmtop on our person, and it is intimately tied to the work we do. I would create ads with photo's of the professionals using the Palmtops, with their name and profession listed. Then I would include a brief quote that summarizes a feature of the HP Palmtop -- sort of like a one sentence version of our HP Palmtop Paper Profiles.

Part of the challenge of advertising the HP Palmtop is that it is such a comprehensive and powerful tool, it appeals to many different audiences. The question arises: Should it be marketed as a great PIM machine (PHONE Book/ APPT book / MEMO / NoteTaker / World Time), a financial analysts dream tool (1-2-3 / HP Calc), a database engine (DataBase), a road warrior's weapon of choice (cc:MAIL, COMM) or a pocket-sized DOS computer. Maybe it should be marketed as all these things, with a series of two or three ads with photos and quotes from different professional users.


Now is the time to "seize the day" and leverage off all the publicity Apple has created for its Newton PDA. Imagine an ad with the headline: "We thank Apple Computer for raising consumer awareness about the value of carrying a palmtop computer with you."

The text of the ad could state something like: "If proven reliability and value are important to you, if you want a truly pocket-sized personal organizer that runs two months on double A batteries with Lotus 1-2-3 built-in, and if you want to be able to run MS-DOS programs any where any time, then test drive HP 100LX." Follow this up with a two page ad add with photos and quotes from professional users.

The problem is that HP runs a tight ship -- which is why HP hasn't experienced the serious financial difficulties suffered by competitors like IBM, DEC, and even Apple. But in attempting to keep the price of the HP Palmtops down, little is left over for advertising. I wish HP made an additional $15 per unit and invested the additional profit on promoting it -- full tilt!

If HP sells more Palmtops, users benefit. More third parties will be moved to develop Palmtop solutions. HP could offer a greater variety of palmtops and quicker upgrades. And we could publish more issues of The HP Palmtop Paper with more user's experiences to share!


No other manufacturer has yet been able to introduce a DOS machine that competes with the HP Palmtop. When that eventually happens, it will be interesting to see what HP does to maintain its palmtop leadership.

I have a couple of suggestions: First of all, HP can continue to lead the way with innovative, useful, and state-of-the-art palmtop products. Secondly, (and at least as important) HP must create a public awareness of its products and leadership. When you think of Laser Printer, you think of HP. When you think of "PDA" you think of Newton. The word "Palmtop" is still owned by HP in the minds of the computer knowledgeable. Unfortunately, as we have all experienced, the vast majority of potential users have either never heard of the HP Palmtop or think it is just a toy.

By the middle of 1994 HP should have some serious competition. For example, in the October 14 issue of Electronic Design, an article appeared about a joint effort of Intel and VLSI Technology to produce a 386 based, two-chip set specifically designed for PDA's. The initial palmtops using this chip set are expected from Compaq sometime in 1994.

Advanced Micro Devices has also introduced a single chip that combines a 386 CPU with the system, memory, and I/O controllers required for a PDA. The "Elan" chip uses a standard PC architecture, facilitating the development of PDAs that can run PC operating systems, including DOS, Windows, and PenPoint. Systems based on the Elan chip should reach the market in mid-1994. Other chip manufacturers are developing PDA chips, including AT&T, Hitachi, and NEC.

The consumer will once again be the winner. Let's hope HP can maintain its palmtop technological and market leadership role.

More Games

A lot of games written or adapted for the 95LX have been mentioned in past issues. Many of these have appeared on Subscribers Disks and the Palmtop Paper ON DISK. Two of the best games for the 95LX, Tigerfox (ON DISK ICON) and Hearts and Bones (ON DISK ICON), were written by Everett Kaser, the HP engineer who wrote this issue's cover story.

Game playing 95LX users will also appreciate Chess, Checkers, Backgammon and Tetris that appear in the GAMES95 collection from Sparcom (Phone 800-827-8416; Fax: 503-753-7821). Also, Ed Keefe put together a shareware collection of games for the HP 95LX, the Diversion Disk (ON DISK ICON). In most cases HP 95LX games can be run on the 100LX.

The 80x25 CGA 100LX screen has opened up a new realm of possibilities for those with good eye sight. HP 100LX chess players should consider the classic shareware program, "Ed's Chess", EDCV23.ZIP(ON DISK ICON) in CompuServe's IBMNEW forum, library 6. Another highly recommended arcade style game that works reasonably well is called Pharaoh's Tomb available as PTOMB1.ZIP(ON DISK ICON) in library 7 of CompuServe's GAMERS forum.

HP 95LX and ACE Help Update Apple Newton Software

When Apple introduced its Newton it put its system software in EPROM. That meant the system software could be updated. Even though this approach is more expensive on the manufacturing end, it is safer for a company not sure about its end product. In fact, when the Newton was introduced there were quite a few significant bugs.

Apple needed to create a large number of RAM cards that could be used to update the Newton system software as well as run the Newton demo program. ACE Technologies, a major distributor of HP Palmtop products got the job. ACE found that the fastest way to create the cards was to use a bank of 95LXs running proprietary ACE software.

If you play with the Newton demo program at the store or receive the Newton 1.04 software update on a card, it was most likely programmed by the Hewlett Packard 95LX!

Palmtop Remote Control

For those of you who want to control your TV remotely from your HP Palmtop, the latest version of Remote Commander will do the trick. Remote Commander now works on the HP 100LX as well as the 95LX, although it is not quite as sensitive. REMCOM (ON DISK ICON) is shareware written by Alex Patterson who lives about a mile from our office here in Fairfield, Iowa.

Serial/Parallel 95LX Cable

The Imaging Supplies Express serial-to-parallel cable for the 95LX is, perhaps, the cleanest, simplest way to drive your parallel printer from your HP 95LX. The cable looks like the HP Connectivity Pack cable. One end contains the palmtop's 4-pin serial connector. The standard 36-pin parallel connector is at the other end, instead of the serial connector.

The miniature low power components are encased in the parallel end of the cable. No battery is required since the printer supplies the required power via interface signal levels. However, any time the serial port is active, an AC adapter is recommended. Although there is no 100LX cable currently available, the manufacturer says that there will be one soon.

100LX PHONE Warning

We have mentioned several times in the past few issues that it is possible to modify the structure of the HP 100LX PHONE book fields. You can add or subtract or modify fields by reading the file into the HP 100LX Data Base application and pressing (MENU) File Modify database.

However, once you modify the Phone Book you lose conversion capabilities offered by the HP Connectivity Pack and IntelliLink's packages. It becomes much more difficult to convert your PHONE book from PC application software to the HP 100LX.

DataBook PC Card Drives

I have been using the DataBook internal PCMCIA card drive on my work computer and the DataBook PCMCIA parallel port drive at home. What a convenience! No more serial connections between my desktop and Palmtop. Transferring files back and forth between my desktops and palmtop is now virtually hassle-free. I pull my Sundisk flash card out of my HP Palmtop and put it in one of the desktop PCMCIA drives. I key in dir d:, press (ENTER) and all my flash card files are listed. My PCMCIA card is like a floppy disk I can move between palmtops, desktops, and my OmniBook.

A number of companies are introducing PCMCIA card readers. Hopefully, next year the dust will settle enough so we can run a comparative review. DataBook has been in the marketplace for sometime and my two drives have worked well.

The internal PCMCIA drive works faster than my floppy disk. The parallel drive is a lot slower. I did have a problem installing the parallel drive on my new 486-66V Gateway system. DataBook technical support had me add a /w:8 to the end of my DEVICE= line in CONFIG.SYS and all is well.

Each of these PC drives requires a device driver which "tells" your PC about the drive. Each device driver costs you some memory (60K for the internal drive, 22K for the parallel drives, and more if you use Stacker or the Ace DoubleCard).

The installation of both PC card drives was straightforward. The parallel drive contains a parallel port. That means you can connect it to the same port your printer uses. Simply connect the supplied cable to the drive and connect the printer cable from the drive to the printer. The internal drive requires a PC slot and a drive bay.

The internal Databook ThinCard TMD 240 not only accepts Type I and II PCMCIA cards; I can use it to read the Type III PCMCIA hard drive from my OmniBook 300. To do so I had DOS 6 DoubleSpace loaded on my PC. I entered DBLSPACE/ MOUNT:D and I could read the OmniBook Double Spaced hard drive.