Brother Powernote PN-8500MDS
Brother PowerNote Series Review by Ron Hopkins-Lutz
There are three models of the Super PowerNote currently. The one with the modem (PN8700) has send fax software and an internal 2400/9600 data/fax modem. However the telecommunications program is a capable TTY terminal program so any of the machines can be hooked up to a cheap external modem. The models without the internal modem do not have the send fax software.
The word processor is excellent. It supports most printers and has an excellent set of features. I have written numerous articles and short stories on it. It has dual file capability, so you can easily have two files open at once or the same file twice. This has proved very useful for me for having research notes available. It also has a glossary function as well as a very potent thesaurus and spell checker. The disk that comes with the machine has several dozen of document templates included as well.
The disk drive is a 1.44MB MS-DOS format. The machine comes with a program for the PC that translates the PowerNote files into common PC word processor formats and back. This is much more useful than doing ASCII conversions, although that can be done too. I have had no trouble with my Toshiba or my son's desktop reading and writing the disks and vice versa with the Brother. The older PN5500 model had a 720KB drive and is still around some places. However avoid the old PN4400, as it was a proprietary 200KB-format drive.
Battery life is excellent. There is a quick charge option that recharges in six hours. I have gotten over 6 1/2 hours off of a charge, without running it completely down so I believe their 8-hour claim. However it is a Ni-Cd pack so it will lose capacity as it ages. It also can develop a memory. You can build an AA based internal pack but have to remove it for safety reasons if use AC a lot. If you're off to the woods for a week an external pack using C or D batteries can easily connect to the AC adapter plug as it is a standard barrel connector.
The spreadsheet is simple but capable. Sheets can be written as files to be imported for table creation. You have to have a disk in the machine to use the spreadsheet, as the work sheets can take up a fair amount of storage. There is a tutorial on the disk that comes with the machine that loads in as a spreadsheet and teaches you how to use it, as well as having a variety of templates. There also is a conversion program to and from Lotus123 format included for your PC.
The scheduler and database (address book) are flexible but limited. They are sufficient to keep a good set of contacts, etc. The scheduler has multiple alarms. The address book has variable length fields. The mail merge is works flawlessly.
The games on the disk are fun (Othello and Tetris) but you have to save everything out to disk before loading them.
The clock is interesting as it can be set up to display in large numerals and can keep time in several time zones at once.
Telecommunications is a simple TTY program with ASCII and X-modem transfer. It does have an auto log in recorder though and you can keep multiple configurations on disk. It also has a built in script for CompuServe.
Things I like:
- Everything is in ROM, so there is no boot up from a disk needed.
- The glossary function is very handy and easy to use.
- There is good online help in the form of a mini manual available at any time.
- The dedicated keys make for no challenge to my memory.
- This is a good keyboard.
Things I hate:
- The only way to delete a character is to backspace over it. I prefer the DEL key on PCs.
- They don't use the same nomenclature for some things, so I have to remember that the CANCEL key is the ESC key, etc.
- You can move around fast, but there is no way to jump word by word within a single line, although you can go to beginning or end, top bottom of the screen, etc.
Things you'll have to judge for yourself:
- The screen is not backlit. You need to see it or imagine how it will be where you work. It's best indoors under fluorescence so it will look good in a store.
- If you print from the SuperPowerNote rather than a PC it does not support proportional fonts. This is not a problem for manuscripts and scholarly papers and is actually preferred. However if you run the stuff over to a PC using a disk, you will have to change the font of the document if you want to use proportional typefaces.
- There is no expansion to this unit. Add a modem, a printer, some extra disks, and that's it.
- It does things differently than a PC. Sometimes it will seem clumsy, other time it will work better than a PC.
Basically I like mine. It is a great writer's tool. I also like using a simpler machine/program for writing. I do find that it works best as an extension to the desktop machine. It's too easy to be tempted to worry about formatting instead of content on the WYSIWYG programs on the PC.
I take it with me to waiting rooms, the library, and use it in the recliner a lot. If I hadn't lent my old Tandy WP-2 to my son for college I'd still be using it for first drafts. While it's not my only machine, I could survive if it was my only computer. Can't say that about the AlphSmart, etc.
Hope this all has been help.
Usenet Group: comp.sys.laptops
Subject: Re: Brother PowerNote Series
Brother Powernote PN-8500MDS Specifications
Brother PN-8500MDS Super PowerNote, Personal Electronic Notebook