Light and Thin Notebooks that Act Big

SAN FRANCISCO (02/01/2000) - Sharp's 4.7-pound Actius PC-A800 and Panasonic's 4.4-pound Toughbook 37 offer Solomon-like compromises, combining the convenience of 1-inch-thick subnotebooks with the integrated functionality of larger, heavier notebooks. By adding about 1.5 pounds to the weight of a typical subnote, both vendors were able to pack in 64MB of RAM, swappable drive bays, ports for printers and monitors, full-size keyboards, and larger screens.

Both models also have certain limitations that you should consider before purchasing one, however.

Sharp's 13.3-inch TFT display on the Actius is one of the brightest and crispest screens on the market and has 1024 by 768 resolution. Along with the 8.1GB hard drive, the Actius is armed with a CD-ROM drive in a swappable bay; a floppy disk drive; and parallel, monitor, and USB ports. It lacks both serial and PS/2 ports on board. The GlidePad mouse was particularly sensitive to the touch, but some poorly placed keys made the keyboard a little irksome. The key was situated where I expected to find the key, and the key was placed above , both causing numerous typing errors.

Although both the Actius and the Toughbook earned virtually identical scores on PC WorldBench 98 (174 for the Sharp Actius, 176 for the Panasonic), the Actius felt faster as I worked. Both are within the average range of their CPU classes. The Panasonic uses a Celeron-366; the Sharp, a PII-366. Panasonic handily beat Sharp on battery life, however, lasting 3 hours, 13 minutes--the Actius held up for just over 2 hours.

The Toughbook 37 sports a 12.1-inch TFT display, but because it's a touch screen with 800 by 600 resolution, it was not as sharp as the Actius, particularly when running on battery power. But it, too, was readable in bright light. The screen opens a full 180 degrees, and with the flip of a switch, the screen image flips 180 degrees for presentations. The Sharp comes with Windows 98 installed. Panasonic, geared mainly toward corporate clients, preloads the older Windows 95 on the Toughbook; other Windows flavors are no-cost options.

While a one-inch-thick chassis demands thinner parts, Panasonic has engineered the Toughbook with--as its name implies--some features for ruggedness: a full magnesium case and internal frame, more durable LCD hinges, and a shock-mounted hard drive to give the machine more shock resistance than you'd have with the competition. It has all the ports found on standard notebooks as well as a modem. Its keyboard handles touch-typing with aplomb, and its touchpad is sensitive. The easy-to-use, swappable drive bay accepts an additional battery, a CD-ROM drive, a DVD-ROM drive, or an LS-120 drive. However, Panasonic made a serious design error: The sliding power switch on the outside of the unit has no lock or cover and is next to the PC Card release lever--making it easy for me to accidentally and unknowingly power the system up or down.

While the screen on the Panasonic is not the brightest, it is still not hard to view, and it can flip the image for presentations. That, together with more onboard ports, lower price, and ruggedized case, makes it a better choice. Just watch that power switch.

Actius PC-A800

PRO: Bright, crisp screen; thin and light but has the features of a full-size notebook.

CON: Poor placement of some keys causes input errors, lacks serial and PS/2 ports.

VALUE: A good system, but comparable units cost less.

List price: $2999

Sharp Electronics



Toughbook 37

PRO: Versatile ultrathin notebook packs power and some ruggedness without the weight.

CON: Poorly placed power switch can cause accidental drain; touch screen cuts display brightness.

VALUE: Full, integrated set of hardware in a light, ruggedized case.

List price: $2699

Panasonic Personal Computer


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