What is it: an extremely compact, but fully-functional notebook
Applications: portable computing
It's not often that a product appears on the market which actually does what it is supposed to do. Often, the problem with notebooks is that they are too heavy to carry around comfortably, and have unusable keyboards or useless pointing devices.
But with the Omnibook 800CT, Hewlett Packard has tackled these problems with impressive results. The Omnibook is small and light, weighing a mere 1.7Kg, and measuring just 282x185x39mm (smaller than an A4 sheet of paper).
In fact, it's rather like carrying a desk diary around.
The keyboard is a pleasure to use. Most notebooks save space by making the keys as flat as possible and cutting down on keyboard travel, (the distance the keys depress), so it's difficult to be sure you've actually hit a key. But the Omnibook has curved keys, so even users with chubby fingers can type easily. Also, it's easy to judge when you've hit the wrong key. The travel of the keys is particularly impressive for such a small machine - almost as good as a desktop keyboard.
The mouse provides exactly the same functionality as that of a desktop model. It's mounted on a plastic strip connected to the machine, and pops out of the right-hand side (unfortunately HP does not make a left-handed version). When using the notebook on your lap, you hold the unit just like a TV remote control, with your thumb activating the buttons; you simply move the mouse around in the air as if it were on the desk. And when you do use the notebook on a work surface, it operates just like a conventional mouse.
HP has made no compromises when it comes to the specification. The review model had a 133MHz Pentium, with 16Mb of RAM, and all standard applications that we ran on it worked very well.
The Omnibook is supplied with a variety of peripherals. The basic package has a separate 1.44Mb floppy drive unit, which connects via a serial port.
This also acts as the interface for other media, such as CD-ROMs, and is easy to use. It's hot-swappable, which makes it easy to access disks on the move. And with IRDA-compliant infra-red, it's quite simple to connect to the desktop, printer or network.
The screen is compact, but no smaller than many of its rivals. Business users should ask themselves whether they need the extra inch or two that heavier and more cumbersome models offer.
Sound is excellent with just the built-in speakers. The record facility is clear and easy to control through standard Windows 95 software, making voice annotations quite straightforward.
With notebooks, battery life is always a worry, but the Omnibook has a number of built-in features and power management software to help you out. The screen and hard disk power down when the machine is not being used. Also, the sleep function shuts the machine down instantly, and resumes where you left off just as quickly.
The on-screen power gauge is also reasonably accurate. We found the Omnibook could be used continually for more than two hours without any problems.
Verdict: the Omnibook 800CT is as easy to use on a train as it is at a desk, which makes it a very useful machine.
It is easy to carry around because it is so light. Indeed, the low weight, excellent keyboard and strong power management are a godsend.
However, only its relatively high price prevents it from being the ultimate combination of workhorse, fleet and executive notebook.
Contact: Hewlett Packard on 0990 474747
Price: #3,435 (133MHz Pentium; 16Mb of RAM; 1.3Gb hard disk).
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