- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2001

I am somewhere over the Wasatch mountains. At 35,000 feet, in the coach section of a Delta Airlines Boeing 757, the Hewlett Packard OmniBook 500, shown off at last fall's Comdex show and received here recently, is an able performer.

It works great on the ground, too.

As mentioned last week, the OmniBook 500 is a two-part system, with the main display, keyboard, hard disk and processor in one unit. A multimedia "slice," containing two interchangeable bays, can snap on to the bottom. I'm guessing the top part at a weight of 2 to 3 pounds; making it a very slim and light companion. The configuration I tested has a list price of $1,849, which could make this the bargain of the (new) year for portable fanatics.

The unit is also easy on the shoulders: the PC part weighs about 3.5 pounds, and is slim and elegant enough to slip into a meeting. The base adds 1.6 pounds or so, making this a stellar performer at around 5 pounds.

As tested, the unit included an Intel Corp. Celeron processor running at 500 MHz. The Celeron is, essentially, a scaled-down version of Intel's Pentium CPU, and while not having all the features of a Pentium III, it is powerful enough to run Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system, which was supplied with the unit, as well as any number of applications. Other items included with the computer were a 5 Gigabyte hard disk drive, a CD-ROM drive and a floppy drive; the latter two in the multimedia "slice" of the system.

The 12.1-inch display screen, is a no-brainer for users. Working with little available light, or in rather bright situations, I was able to read the screen without hassle. When connected to an electrical outlet, the OmniBook uses maximum brightness, and the settings can be adjusted using a combination of function keys.

The OmniBook's keyboard is very good, particularly for a touch-typist. The Windows menu key is in its expected place at the lower left of the keyboard, a relief in contrast to some manufacturers who choose to hide it somewhere else. And after years of wavering between the merits of a touchpad versus "pencil eraser" style pointing system, I think I'm ready to declare in favor of the latter. It's much easier to use the pointer than a touchpad in cramped quarters, such as a Boeing 757's coach section. (A subsequent flight on a Delta Boeing 767 revealed that the airline, once reputed for gentility, has almost come full circle in its willingness to discomfit passengers: coach seats in the new plane are likely even more cramped than Delta's 1926 seating plan: folding chairs in the mail compartment.

When connected to the multimedia bay, the portable is another winner. The two devices can be swapped out for a DVD drive, a CD-RW drive or an LS-120 "super disk" floppy drive, as well as extra batteries, an Iomega ZIP drive or an extra 20 GB hard disk. Memory, which starts at 64 Mbytes for this unit, can be increased up to 512 MB, while internal hard disks can range as high as 20 GB.

There are two USB ports on the top "slice" of the system, and these can serve for external keyboard, mouse or printer hookups as needed. Both a 56 Kbps modem and 10/100 Mbps Ethernet ports are included as well as a VGA video out port, for presentations. In fact, the computer features a one-button presentations key that'll launch your presentation program and you're off to the races.

Battery life is rated at about two hours for the battery supplied with the test model; a gauge showed that a fully charged battery had about 2* hours of power available. Sound is monaural for the speaker in the main computer (there's a stereo headphone jack, however) but there's a very rich sound that the expansion unit's Polk Audio speakers can produce.

As I've been with some other HP models, I'm a bit smitten with the OmniBook 500. And the Celeron model tested, at under $1,900 for a very well equipped unit, is just made for small business and "enterprise" users who want to get the biggest bang for their portable buck. More information can be found on line at www.hp.com/ omnibook.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark on www.adrenalineradio.com, every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m.




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