Pen Lab Review
The TelePad 3 Approach
A design review
We've already reported on the TelePad 3 in our April 1995 issue and therefore
won't go into technical detail in this feature. We also have a bit of egg
on our face because in that review we stated that the TelePad 3 was shipping
in February of 1995, whereas in fact, it didn't. However, in July TelePad
sent us what appeared to be a final production unit, and our reviewer was
impressed enough to engage in a discussion of the handsome new TelePad's
design. You may recall that Compaq followed a similar design philosophy
(combined handle/stand, keyboard separate from LCD/system unit) with its
Concerto pen computer. Users either loved or hated the Concerto (we are
among the former) and it should be interesting to see if TelePad managed
to overcome some of the hinge and durability problems encountered by Compaq.
At first glance, the Telepad 3 is just an exceptionally nice looking portable
PC with a full set of features, including pen and voice input capabilities.
It's distinctive, it works great, and feature by feature, spec by spec,
the Telepad 3 compares favorably with anything else on the market. However,
on closer inspection, the Telepad 3 reveals itself as a significant departure
from the conventional clamshell design for laptop computers. This bold new
design is so elegant and functional that one must wonder why they aren't
all like this. Just about everything about the Telepad 3 is different and
better. The Telepad Corporation has engineered a complete rethinking of
what a portable computer should be and, in our opinion, succeeded brilliantly.
Questioning the old clamshell design
The design of the commonplace clamshell portable is virtually unchanged
since the first cardboard mockup created by Alan Kay in the late 60s as
an exercise in technology forecasting. Basically, it is a three layer sandwich
of a flat screen, a keyboard, and jigsaw puzzle arrangement of everything
else that's needed. The keyboard and the works are laminated together as
the bottom of the clamshell and the screen is attached by a hinge so that
the resulting contraption opens up nicely for operation on an airline food
tray or folds up flat for stowage in a briefcase of similar, but slightly
larger, geometry. About the only thing that varies among the several hundred
versions now available is whether the diskette drive is targeted toward
your lap or toward the mashed potatoes of an adjacent passenger.
The TelePad's "rear engine" design
The most noticeable innovation of the Telepad 3 is that it is a rear engine
design with the processor, etc. mounted behind the screen rather than under
the keyboard. As any reader of Pen Computing should recognize, the major
flaw in building a pen-enabled laptop PCs on the clamshell model is that
the keyboard is kind of in the way much of the time. However, in most designs,
the keyboard can't be simply detached and left in one's luggage because
all of the more necessary little parts that make noise and heat are permanently
attached to it. The Telepad 3 handles this problem in the only sensible
way. Its keyboard, with an integral Glidepoint pointing device is a detachable
hollow component. This approach not only provides the option of leaving
the keyboard behind when it is not needed, but also liberates the space
in front of the screen for placement of a full size keyboard and mouse when
these are available.
With the keyboard removed, the Telepad 3 offers good ergonomics for usage
while walking around or sitting where you have no table in from of you.
A large flexible handle folds out from the back of the screen so that the
unit can be cradled on one's forearm in a secure and comfortable position
that makes it an superb platform for a pen-centric application. If you like
using a clipboard, you'll like using the Telepad 3. For extended use, the
forearm is a far more comfortable spot for a computer than the hand. On
the forearm, the weight of the computer is significantly less noticeable
because it is carried partly by the way the unit rests against one's side.
The least noticeable, but most important innovation of the Telepad 3 is
its modularity. The basic unit provide slots and sockets for up to three
docking modules that can instantly customize the system for a broader variety
of configurations than any other portable PC on the market. My evaluation
unit came with a 540 Mb Hard Drive Module and a combination PCMCIA/Floppy
Module with room for two Type II cards or one Type III card. CD-ROM, digital
camera and Global Positioning System modules are just a few of the possibilities
for the future.
The potential value of Telepad 3s modularity cannot be overstated. In effect,
there is not just one model of the Telepad 3, but dozens or potentially
hundreds as the range of available modules is expanded. Moreover, if one
acquires an assortment of modules, one will be able to reconfigure the system
as ones needs may change. One Telepad 3 computer with an assortment of snap-on
modules can be better than having several different systems.
For an individual user, one value of a modular system is that one may easily
reconfigure to suit the needs of the day. This would be ideal, for example,
in a consulting practice where one's hardware requirements may vary considerably
from client to client and from project to project. For a corporation, modularity
can mean that a mistake in identifying requirements for a large scale deployment
is not necessarily catastrophic. New or substitute modules would be far
more acceptable than a complete hardware replacement. This opportunity can
save the day (and ones career) when the first major system change occurs.
Target market:Field force automation
The Telepad Corporation has targeted the Telepad 3 at the Field Force Automation
market. This is appropriate and the company should enjoy good success there.
But they may find themselves with a crossover hit that does well in the
larger mass market against commodity-class laptop PCs. After all, how many
individuals or companies can claim to know their needs so well that they
have no interest in the insurance afforded by Telepad 3's unique modularity?
Moreover, there are a lot of laptop users out there who are weary of toting
around an extensive collection of clumsy outboard peripherals.
For further details contact:
380 Herndon Parkway, Suite 1900
Herndon, Virginia 22070
Phone: (703) 834-9000
FAX: (703) 834-1235