Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 01/92 item 01 - scanned


Good old Apple. It came up with a great wheeze at its Christmas bash for journalists. Got us to draw self portraits using Kid Pix which it then printed on some flashy Tektronix colour printer. What a terrific ice-breaker. It even doshed out copies of Kid Pix for the creators of the best pix, as judged by what must have been a very drunken jury. To rousing cries of "Fix, fix", I collected my prize. My very good chums Martin Banks and Claire Gooding also won. Two of us went home happy. Martin simply whinged that he still hadn't got himself a Mac to run it on.

As soon as I got home, I ran the program on my SE. Kept me amused for hours, it did. Have you ever used Kid Pix? I tell you, it knocks spots off 'real' painting programs because it accompanies all its special effects with appropriate noises. You want coloured bubbles across the screen? Bloop, bloop, it goes. It makes felt-tip on whiteboard noises, expresses astonishment if you hit Undo, and generally entertains you. The program's a riot and, if your painting needs are simple, it's probably all you need. If you've got a colour Mac and children then you'll easily get £35 worth of value out of it.

Not only did I run Kid Pix on my SE, I also tried it out on the PowerBook which Apple kindly lent me for two weeks. Unfortunately, this wasn't a good move because it simply reminded me of the worst of the PowerBook's limitations. The trackball is absolutely hopeless for freehand painting or drawing. In fact, it is much slower and less precise than the mouse. Until we get pen-sensitive screens, the mouse or the touch-tablet will be the only effective freehand drawing and painting methods. These devices can, of course, be attached to the PowerBook, but it does rather rule out artistic work on the move.

So. What do I think of the PowerBook? Hmmmm. It's bit like asking me what do I think of bread. It's so bland, you don't really notice whether you like it or not. Perhaps that's good. Perhaps it's better to have a reasonably normal looking machine when you're on the move. I don't think any more people stared at me using the PowerBook on the Metropolitan line than when I used the Toshiba T1OOOXE, the Cambridge Computer Z88, or the NEC PC8201A. Hang on, though. I lied about the staring. On one occasion, I had forgotten to switch off the PowerBook's sound. When I made my first mistake on the train, the machine emitted a loud 'quack'. That definitely attracted some odd glances.

What makes the PowerBook different is that it's a Mac, and it behaves like one. If you need Mac file compatibility or the Mac is the only form of computing you know, and you are in the market for a portable, then you have to look at these machines. Apple lent me a 140, and I found it more than satisfactory. I certainly wouldn't move up to a model 170 for a better display. Having seen it, I'm not even sure the screen is that much better.

However, if you just want a machine to hammer words into while you're on the move, you may find a PC compatible portable computer will do the job at a much lower price. Programs like LapLink Mac do a brilliant job of transferring files back and forth ac between your desktop Mac and your portable PC. I've seen some astonishing deals on hard disk PC portables. One advertisement had them starting at £299, although this was bankrupt stock. You could probably get something decent through regular sources at £500 or so. But, and it's a big 'but', the hassle factor of using PCs may be too great for those weaned on a Mac diet.

As an habitual user of a Toshiba portable PC, I cannot find a single compelling reason to junk the machine I bought just a year ago. I can't paint or draw on the move. All I need is text file transfer. The screens are equally legible. I would argue that the PowerBook has done itself no good at all by moving the caps lock key above the left shift key. I can't understand why, but I often find myself getting stuck in upper case. This never happens on the SE.

The PowerBook, much to my surprise, is quite a bit smaller than the Toshiba. Its little swivel legs give the keyboard a nice angle although the Toshiba feels good without having to tilt it. I find the palm-rests on either side of the PowerBook's trackball mechanism are fine when using the trackball, but no use at all when typing. I reckon that using these rests when typing is asking for repetitive strain injury. I certainly experienced aches and pains after a very short time. Whether there's a palm-rest or not, I'm keeping my palms an inch or so above the keyboard.

I don't want you to think I'm knocking the PowerBook. I'm not. I think it's well made and brings you true Mac portability. But right now I'd rather wait until Apple produces a notebook with a keyboard, a stylus and a touch screen.