Companies and individuals seem to always be facing the expensive reality of new technology purchases, relentless upgrades and planned obsolescence for both computer hardware and software purchases. They are constantly looking for innovative products and opportunities to stretch their purchasing dollars. Reviews On Line is frequently asked "What outstanding products or services have you noted at all the events you attend? Which ones could work in our organization, within our budget and real world usage?"
In this instance, the challenge is to find notebook computers that offer long-term reliability, upgradeability, serviceability, ease-of-use, great customer support, have high performance at a affordable price. When comparing notebooks against desktops, we find that most tend to be more fragile, are very difficult (or nearly impossible) to upgrade and still tend to be more expensive than their desktop equivalents due to miniaturization and limited competition. The recent industry trend toward notebook modularity and innovative form factors appears to be a positive step in the right direction. I still feel that more needs to be done to enhance essential component upgradeability and minimize the total cost of ownership (TCO).
The most critical and difficult component to upgrade is the CPU. Few manufacturers have offered the possibility of CPU upgrades. After a unit has been purchased many customers are left with short warranties and little on going customer support. At Comdex Fall 98, Reviews OnLine met with MAG Portable Technologies, a forward thinking manufacturer which is addressing these issues head on. Read more information about this company headquartered in Santa Ana, CA.
The Verity 775 CDT laptop computer is based on Intel's P2 266 MHz MMX (Tillamook 0.25 micron process) mobile module processor and Intel's 430 TX mobile chipset with 64 MB of Synchronous DRAM memory. The CPU can be upgraded in the future with MAG's unique FLEX!Tech program to a processor in the Intel P2 range. This well proportioned, seven pound unit includes a 13.3 inch XGA active matrix screen, 4 GB hard drive, 20X CD-ROM drive and rapid charge lithium ion battery. The corded floppy drive and in-case CD (housed in a mobile module bay) can be used simultaneously. A three-year limited warranty is included for only the processor, hard drive and memory and there is a one-year limited warranty on the rest of the unit and labor. The Verity series ranges from $2,399 to $3,499 MSRP, depending on configuration.
This unit is solidly built and the full-size notebook keyboard has an excellent feel. In fact, the case design and component performance looks and feels like a Dell notebook. I liked the up front monochrome status bar above the keyboard and the adequate built in speakers on each side. The touch pad pointing device required several adjustments to my operating style and was a bit too sensitive. The active matrix screen is acceptable in most situations, but is not quite as bright as others I have seen in the past. During daytime operation, such as outdoor shaded areas or inside automobiles, the screen needs to be brighter especially for use with mobile GPS applications. In offices or moderate lighting areas, the screen was fine.
Processing power of the P2 is more than adequate for running most Office 97 business and GPS applications. It's a good balance between speed and battery life. Unfortunately, Microsoft's troublesome Outlook 97 software failed to function properly on numerous occasions. Even the technical staff serving the CES 99 press room could not get Microsoft's software program to access basic e-mail at this important event. This was definitely a software problem and not due to the Verity laptop.
GPS programs such as Etak's Sky Map Pro and DeLorme's TripMate ran quite well in both urban and rural areas without problems. Battery life varied between 90 and 120 minutes when using GPS and was nearly 3 hours, while word processing in a warm room. Using the affordable Belkin's AC power adapter with the Verity and other accessories during long distance and off-road travel around Nevada's Area 51 in cold (9F) winter temperatures proved to be trouble-free and stable.
Another key mobile application evaluated this month were the latest versions of speech recognition at CES 99 and in the field. Testing various speech recognition systems on the road with the Verity proved to be rather challenging. All the top systems including Dragon Naturally Speaking, Lernout & Hauspie Xpress Plus and IBM Via Voice 98 Executive Edition were properly installed. The extensive enrollment and training procedures were quite lengthy and had to be repeated several times to get only fair recognition accuracy in the 70 to 80+ percent range.
While these programs are a vast improvement over earlier speech recognition packages which required pausing between words, a good deal of training is still required to achieve a 95 plus percent accuracy level. The P2 266 MHz MMX processor was reasonably fast to display dictated words, but more CPU "horsepower" is needed to instantaneously display dictated words, especially on longer or quickly dictated sentences. After numerous calls to the speech recognition companies, much fiddling, repeated speech retraining and consulting with the MAG Technologies engineering group, we plan to try updated software with faster CPUs and different sound cards, later this year. We feel it's worth the extra effort. since accurate speech recognition can be invaluable to workers and executives in today's fast-paced economy. Getting speech recognition working flawlessly on a portable hardware platform, rather than a high-powered desktop workstation, is a challenge worth pursuing.
This unit will continue to be used in a long-term test with different software applications and peripherals under a wide variety of conditions. My initial impressions of Verity 775 CDT and MAG Portable Technologies are very favorable. I recommend this unit.
Upgradeability of CPU and key components
Strong price/performance factors
Good quality indicators
Responsive customer service & support
Solid and rugged unit
Traditional, but sturdy external design
Screen could be brighter
Cursor position has constant motion ("nervous" touch pad)
Needs improved user's manual
Unit could be smaller and lighter
Floppy drive should be in modular bay
Problems with speech recognition software integration
Mag Portable Technologies was founded in November, 1997 by William Wang, to compete in the high-performance, high-value, build-to-order (BTO) notebook computer segment. The company's entry into this expanding market was well timed since about 23 percent of corporate computer purchases were laptops in 1998. By December 1999, approximately 35 percent of computer purchases are forecast to be laptops and by 2005, laptops are projected to account for about 50 percent of market share. Since Mr. Wang had already developed the successful MAG Innovision and Princeton monitor businesses, he was ready to make a difference in the portable computer business. A very experienced management team of computer professionals, with wide industry experience, in companies such as Toshiba, Canon, AST, Burroughs, MAG Innovision and Princeton were brought together to design and build the type of notebooks, at the price points and service levels, they always wanted to produce.
To achieve success in this expanding but competitive market, they felt products such as the highly configurable Verity desktop replacement and Verity VL series notebooks were needed and promptly introduced them in early 1998. At Fall Comdex 98, the Tiny Note series was also introduced and is 50 percent smaller than a full sized computer. It runs Windows 98, weighs about 3.5 pounds and sells at $999, about half the price of Sony's Vaio computer. MAG feels these products coupled with it's unique FLEX!Tech long term upgrade program and superior technical support and service will help achieve new levels of sales and customer satisfaction while lowering ownership costs. This seems like a very smart and workable business model and is long overdue.
© 1999 Jim Bennett All rights reserved.