TechRevu : NEC MobilePro 790/780 Jupiter Class Handheld PCs Score w  Dern

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  l- Mobilepro 790 r - Mobilepro 780images © NEC

Title: NEC MobilePro 780 and 790
Reviewer: Daniel Dern
Date: 01/06/03 Rating:
NEC MobilePro 790
MSRP $899
Product Website: NEC  / Specs

Summary: (Full Review) TechRevu contributor and former Byte.com editor Daniel Dern likes the size, portability, long battery life, and instant-on capability of NEC's "Jupiter Class" sub-notebooks.

Though not as full featured as a laptop, he finds them better for instant writing gratification, and knows he's not alone from the other journalists he sees.

Though he finds devices like this extremely useful he laments the lack of drivers for peripherals for them making networking and device sharing less than perfect.

  Full Review:  NEC MobilePro 780 and 790

For many people I know whose out-of-office computer use includes lots of typing,
NEC's MobilePro 790 handheld computer), and its predecessor, the 780, has proven ideal.

I've been using a 780 for over two years now, as have fellow technology journalists
(among their many hats) Jerry Pournelle, David Em, and John Ruley.

In particular, I use my 780 for walking around trade show floors with -- pop open, grab a quote or other info, pop closed and move on, attending events, writing up notes and articles on planes, trains and in waiting rooms, noodling on things at home when my desktop PC is off,etc. I've used it to write thousands of words, read and edit (some) documents, and do some digital picture looking-over, plus a little bit of web browsing and email; I believe that John Ruley's also given some of his Power Point presentations with his.

There are smaller devices with keyboards, e.g., HP's Jornada 728, the ultimate result of a long lineage that started with the HP95LX, a Dos based clamshell that many feel has never been bettered, certainly not by Windows CE devices, but for writing, I like NEC's form factor.

TechRevu's Editor (Ernest Lilley) and others seem able to pound out thousands of words on the little Psion handhelds (some using the two-thumb method), and some people even crank kilowords out on the still tiny chicklet-keyboard HP 620's. But if these are too small for your fingers, then you want to check out an NEC MobilePro 790 or 780.

The MobilePro 790 belongs to the "Jupiter" class of "handheld PC" Windows CE machines, whose features include:

  • Good close-to-full-sized keyboard
  • "Instant-on"
  • Built-in software in ROM: Windows CE (now called Windwos for Handheld PC), includes WinCE versions of MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint (viewer only), and Pocket Internet Explorer, plus TCP/IP stack and PDA-type apps
  • Lithium-Ion battery good for full work day
  • 1 each Type II PC Card and CompactFlash slot, e.g. for Ethernet, 802.11, MicroDrive or
    solid-state storage.
  • V.90 modem.
  • Weight between 2 - 3 pounds.

The 790 includes 32MB RAM, half of which is available for storage;
half-VGA (620x240) 8.1" diagonal DSTN color touchscreen; and serial/VGA/IR/parallel and audio ports. (No USB.) The battery's good for
6-8 hours... and there's a 6-cell AA battery shell available, for "recharging
in a drug store."

As a comparatively low-powered device running WinCE rather than a full Windows,
the 790 and its brethren aren't meant to replace a notebook or desktop computer --
but if you're looking for extreme portability, battery life and convenience, you should be considering one of these puppies. The keyboard is excellent; the international power supply is about the size of a deck of cards folded in half; the whole set-up weighs barely two pounds and goes painlessly into any sidebag -- and, because of the half-height size, if I'm using it on a plane, when the person in front me of slams their seat back, they won't hit the screen and smash it..

"Instant-on" is a large part of this machine's value for me. Press the power button
even with a file open and it goes dark instantly -- before your finger finishes
pulling away; press it again (or open the machine) and the 790 "wakes up" near-instantly (maybe a second). In my experience, Windows notebook "sleep" and "hibernate" modes can't even come close to this...

You should be able to do the usual PC/handheld type of synchronization activities;
however, I haven't tried any of this yet. (I don't use those apps.) I also haven't tried the infra-red ports, the microphone, or the audio.

Because these are zero-spindle (no disk drive) machines, you'll want some storage, e.g. solid-state CF, or (with adapters) SmartMedia, memory stick, etc., which keeps getting cheaper (CF and SmartMedia are currently running well under $100 for 256MB), or  Microdrives or PC card hard drives (up to 5Gb last I looked). There's also third-party floppy/superfloppy drives from Accurite.Com (and maybe Addonics) ... not clear if there's any CD readers or writers that will work with WinCE, though.

This brings up the main limit/frustration with all Windows CE devices -- limited availability of drivers, and other problems getting software.

Many devices, including PC Card/CF based or interfaced ones, simply don't support Windows CE. Many require you connect the 790 to a "host" Windows PC in order to extract and download said drivers or software.

Even more frustratingly, for many which allegedly do support, their vendors don't
seem to have made them available -- and tech support often has no idea what you're talking about. To add to the problem, these Jupiter-class machines are based on three or four different chip types (MIPS, StrongArm, etc.) -- and each needs its own version of a given driver.

Fortunately, this isn't a problem for storage... but pay attention when getting
EtherNet, Wireless and other cards, and external devices.

The MobilePro 790 lists for $899. I'm not sure it's worth that much. 780's and
790's can be found readily on eBay in the $250-$500 range -- but shop carefully, some units won't work perfectly. Better to pay somewhat more for a new-in-box unit, if possible. If you don't care about a Citrix client, a 780 will do you fine, and be
less expensive.

FYI, I have two other Jupiter-class machines -- IBMs WorkPad Z50 (discontinued) and HP's Jornada 820 (ditto, I think), and have been using them, particularly the HP, for several years. Of the trio, I like the NEC best, for form factor and portability;
although if I expect to be doing e-mail, e.g. at home, I'll use the HP 820 or the
IBM Z50, which have a 640x480 screens. But the 780's always just right for tossing
in my bag "just in case I have some time to write."

  Specs (from product website)
  • NEC MOBILEPRO™ 790 SP E C I F I CATIONS

ORDER CODE MC/R550A
UPC 050927494727

DIMENSIONS AND WEIGHT

  • 9.6"W x 5.2"D x 1.1"H/1.8 lb.

  • PROCESSOR 168MHz NEC VR4121™ MIPS

  • 24KB cache

  • MEMORY 24MB ROM 32MB RAM 16MB Internal Flash ROM1

  • DISPLAY

  • 8.1" diagonal DSTN touchscreen 64K2 colors

  • 640 x 240 (half-VGA) resolution on display

  • Up to 800 x 600 resolution on external monitor

  • DATA ENTRY METHODS

  • Stylus pen for touchscreen

  • 78-key QWERTY keyboard:

  • • 17.5mm center-to-center alpha key pitch

  • • 10 program launch keys

  • • Touch-typeable

  •  

  • INTERFACE PORTS

  • Serial

  • VGA out

  • Infrared transmitter/receiver

  • Audio jack for optional earphone/microphone

  • Telephone jack for built-in modem

  • EXPANSION

  • 1 Type II PC Card slot3

  • 1 Type II CompactFlash™ slot3

  • INTERNAL MODEM

  • Controllerless V.90

  • AUDIO

  • Internal microphone and speaker (monaural)

  • AC ADAPTER

  • 100-240V, 50/60 Hz

  • BATTERY

  • Rechargeable lithium ion

  • Recharge time: 4.5 hours (first charge: 10 hours)

  • PRE-INSTALLED OPERATING SYSTEM

  • Microsoft®Windows® for Handheld PC 2000

  • V3.0 core operating system

  • INCLUDED SOFTWARE

  • Pre-installed (in ROM):

  • • Microsoft®Windows® for Handheld PC 2000

  • • Version 3.0 core operating system

  • • Microsoft® Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, Pocket

  • PowerPoint®, Pocket Access

  • • Microsoft® Pocket Outlook® (version 3.1 Calendar,Tasks,

  • Contacts, Inbox)

  • • Microsoft® Internet Explorer for Handheld PC (version 4.01)

  • • Microsoft®Windows Media™ Player for Handheld PC

  • • Microsoft® InkWriter®, Calculator,World Clock,Voice

  • Recorder, PC Link,Terminal, Solitaire

  • • Microsoft® Terminal Server Client

  • • NEC Internal Flash ROM configuration utility

  • BSQUARE bUSEFUL™ Backup Plus

  • Software on Microsoft® CD-ROM:

  • • Microsoft® ActiveSync® 3.1 (PC synchronization)

  • • Microsoft® Pocket Streets

  • LIMITED WARRANTY4

  • One-year limited warranty4 on parts and labor

  • MINIMUM PC SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

  • Microsoft Windows 95/98,Windows NT®Workstation 4.0 or

  • Windows 2000

  • Computer with a 486/66DX or higher processor (Intel®

  • Pentium® 90MHz processor recommended) for Windows

  • 95/98 Pentium processor for Windows NT, Pentium

  • 166MHz or faster processor for Windows 2000

  • 16MB of memory for Windows 95/98, 32MB recommended

  • for Windows NT, 64MB for Windows 2000

  • Hard disk drive with 10MB to 50MB of available hard disk

  • space (actual requirements will vary based on selection of

  • features and current system configuration)

  • Available 9- or 25-pin communications port (adapter

  • required for 25-pin)

  • One CD-ROM drive

  • VGA or higher resolution graphics card (SVGA 256-color

  • recommended)

  • Keyboard

  • Microsoft mouse or compatible pointing device

  • INCLUDED ACCESSORIES

  • AC adapter

  • Lithium ion battery

  • Stylus pen

  • Serial PC Connect cable

  • RJ-11 telephone cable

  • OPTIONAL ACCESSORIES

  • Deluxe Carrying Case 290-01500-000

  • Simulated leather case

  • Compact Carrying Case S1424-30A-D

  • Simulated leather case

  • 16MB CompactFlash Storage Card 050-00054-000

  • For additional memory storage

  • Earphone/Microphone MC-EM1

  • Allows convenient recording and private listening

  • High-Speed Printer Cable MC-RC3E

  • Cable adapter with built-in electronics to

  • connect between the MobilePro 790 serial

  • cable and the parallel port on PCL3-compatible printers

  • VGA Cable MC-RC2

  • Connection to an external monitor

  • Additional Serial PC Cable MC-RS4

  • Direct connection cable for PC file synchronization

  • Additional AC Adapter MC-BA6A

  • Supplements the adapter that comes with

  • the MobilePro 790

  • Additional Lithium Ion Battery MC-BA14A

  • Supplements the battery that comes with

  • the MobilePro 790

  • AA Battery Adapter MC-BA10

  • Power supply replacement for lithium

  • ion battery

  • Stylus Pens MC-PN5

  • Pack of three pens

  • 1 14MB available for storage

  • 2 Microsoft Pocket Office software currently supports 256

  • colors. Other third-party software may support more colors.

  • 3 Communication not included. Requires separate

  • purchase of compatible product.

  • 4 For a free copy of the limited warranty see a reseller where

  • our products are sold or write to NEC Computers Inc., 2371 S.

  • President’s Dr., Suite A,West Valley City, UT 84120.

  •