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Norand Pen*Key 6632

If the new Norand Pen*Key 6632 looks familiar to you, it's because it really looks no different from its predecessor, the Norand 6622, which, in turn, looked no different from the Sharp Copernicus that we reviewed in detail in our February 1997 issue. Norand adopted the excellently designed Copernicus and has been selling it under the Pen*Key 6622 name as part of its pen computer lineup ever since. The 6632 represents a thorough technological upgrade of the platform.

The reason why the unit remains visually unchanged is because the basic design didn't need any change. Sharp had done an excellent job with the basic design that included an integrated keypad that ideally complemented the pen interface for many data entry tasks. There is also no need to tinker with the screen. Sharp makes some of the best LCDs on the market, and the Copernicus/6622's 8.4" TFT offered an exceptionally wide viewing angle and vibrant colors.

At the time we also applauded the choice of an AM5x86 133MHz processor that provided Pentium 75 level performance with minimal power consumption. Our original test unit was running Windows 95 and we judged performance as "more than adequate." However, time doesn't stand still, nor are older chips being produced forever, and so Intermec/Norand decided it was time for a processor update.

While they were at it, they also took a close look at a couple of other aging and/or obsolete components and specs, and upgraded those as well, thus giving this flexible and versatile unit a renewed lease on life, albeit one that may run out yet again in the not so distant future. That's because Norand decided to stay away from drastic changes and take a relatively conservative approach instead.

At a time when the leading edge in pen technology sports 233 and 266MHz MMX processors, Norand decided to stick with the tried and true Pentium 120. This choice provides perfectly adequate performance, especially compared to its 6622 predecessor, but without the speed and energy efficiency of Intel's newer mobile processors. Base RAM stays at 16MB, but there is now an upgrade path to 48MB whereas the older unit maxed out at 32MB. The original 540MB or 1GB hard disks have been replaced with a larger 1.6GB model to accommodate Windows 95's (let alone Windows 98's) ever increasing appetite for disk space.

This is pretty much it for notable changes. The 6632 still measures a handy 10.4 by 7 inches and is just an inch and a half thick. Weight remains unchanged at 3.1 pounds. The dual Li-Ion power packs undoubtedly have to work a bit harder to run the Pentium 120, even though Windows' power management has been improved.

At the interface front, the 6632 soldiers on with the same complement of ports, those being a serial and a parallel connector, a PS/2-style keyboard port, a plug for an external speaker, and an infrared port that supports both IrDA standards 1.0 and 1.1, which means that it can communicate at speeds up to 4MB per second. The programmable keypad is as useful as ever, especially since it can be customized to meet specific application needs.

The 6632's passive analog resistive film digitizer can be operated by any stylus or even a finger. It is responsive but rather thick and shiny.

Where does the Pen*Key 6632 fit in? In a large number of front-line applications in vertical markets such as insurance, health care, field service, and utilities. Its small size and light weight make it eminently mobile and portable. Its pen interface and integrated keypad provide excellent data entry capabilities without the need for a keyboard (CIC's HRS 5.0 handwriting recognition software is also included). The unit can be equipped with a variety of wireless PC Card options so that it can function as a node in a wireless LAN or WAN. Its brilliant color screen lends itself to graphic applications, but keep in mind that even active matrix color screens cannot be read in direct sunlight. The Sound Blaster PRO compatible audio subsystem can be used for certain voice recognition applications.

All in all, the Pen*Key 6632 remains a viable contender in the mobile data collection and decision support arena. We might have wished for a more thorough update, but just like the original 6622, the 6632 provides "more than adequate" performance in a still compelling design.

- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer


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