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Vadem Clio/Sharp TriPad

Earlier this year, some of us lucky insiders got a glance at a radically different, stunningly styled new mobile computer that carried the code name "Meridio." It turns out that the unit was a third generation Windows CE device designed by Santa Clara, CA based Vadem and that it is going to be sold both as the Vadem Clio C-1000 and the Sharp Mobilon TriPad.

Vadem isn’t exactly a household word in the Windows CE-world, but the company actually has a long history in mobile computing and has worked closely with some of the biggest names in the industry. Now Vadem enters the market with the first product to carry its own brand name. And what an entrance it is. Any which way you look at the Vadem Clio, it is one of the most stunning computer designs to appear in a very long time. It looks like nothing else and may just be the beginning of a new class of computers. But there’s far more to the Clio than just a concept and great looks.

Triple function design
Let’s get right to the most interesting design aspect of the Clio. It has a tri-mode hinge design that allows it to be used in three distinctly different modes. When you first open it, it’s a regular clamshell notebook (albeit one that doesn’t open wider than just short of 90 degrees) and you can use it that way all day. Should you require a pen tablet, the Clio’s screen flips around completely and the Clio becomes a flat slate less than an inch thick. Finally, you can use the Clio as a display easel for presentations by sitting it on a surface like an inverted letter "V." Pen computing historians will remember the pen enabled versions of IBM’s ThinkPad 360 and 750, the 360P and the 750P, which used a similar mechanism to accomplish the same functionality. The Clio, however, does it more convincingly, and with much more style and elegance. The Clio was designed for these multiple purposes whereas the ThinkPad’s the flip-hinge looked more like a clever afterthought.

Measuring 11.3 x 8.75 inches, the Clio’s footprint is actually larger than it seems. A good part of that—and also of the comparatively hefty 3.18 pound weight— is due to a hinge that’s quite thick without looking out of place. The hinge accommodates a beefy Li-Ion power pack that provides the unit with a battery life of twelve to 16 hours. However, since both the screen and the keyboard sections
are very thin, the overall impression of the Clio is that of a very thin, sleek device.

Usable keyboard
Like many recent handheld PC designs, the Vadem Clio features a relatively large keyboard. It measures 87% of full size, which means that it works fine even for most touch-typists. The layout is slightly curved to accommodate the wider angle of your arms as you operate the somewhat smaller keyboard. The arrangement works well. One drawback, at least for me, was that it is a bit too easy to hit the escape key by mistake. The keys are square but every angle and corner is rounded, giving them a high tech appearance. Tactile feedback is very good. There are no function keys.

Biggest Windows CE screen yet
Another feature that sets the Clio/TriPad apart from its competition is its large screen. Not only is it a full 640 x 480 pixel VGA, it also measures a full 9.4 inches diagonal—a true revelation for Windows CE devices. Screen contrast and brightness of the 256 color LCD is controlled via keyboard combinations. Active matrix TFT screens haven’t made their entrance in the CE world yet, but I never found the Clio’s DSTN lacking. The Clio’s pressure sensitive digitizer is stable and responsive. It is operated by a simple but very cleverly designed stylus that fits perfectly in my hand. The stylus clips into two nicely designed rubber clips mounted below the screen. There’s also a well for the pen, recessed into the system unit.

Using the Clio
In this magazine we’re primarily preaching to the initiated—those who are already familiar with pen technology and the realities, both good and bad, of mobile computing. (If you’re interested in the differences between a CE device and a Windows 98 mini notebook, see our review of the Palmax PD-1000 on page 52.)

As far as handheld computing devices go, the Clio/TriPad is a total triumph. The unique design opens new dimensions. There are so many different ways you can use this device. And if you’re used to the typical 640 x 240 HPC screen, the Clio’s 9.4-inch full VGA will seem downright panoramic. The difference is tremendous. True, the Clio will not suit everyone. It is, after all, a much larger device than, say, a Casio A-20 and it weighs a lot more. Essentially, the Clio offers all the advantages of Windows CE (long battery life, instant on, simple interface) without the usability limitations (tiny keyboards, small screens) of earlier CE based handhelds.

Underlying technology

Under the hood, things look relatively conventional. Given Vadem’s longtime experience in mobile technology and its close relationship with NEC, neither the choice of Vadem’s own VG-469 PC Card controller chip or the NEC VR4111 processor come as a surprise. After initially struggling in CE devices, the VR series of RISC processors have now established themselves as the speedy cores of a growing number of CE devices. The VR chipset also provides the Clio with an internal 33.6Kbps softmodem that is accessible via a RJ-11 jack built into the left side of the unit.

Since the Clio comes with a travel dock (and an optional desk dock), Vadem equipped the unit itself with only the necessary interface ports. On the left of the Clio you find an IR port, aerial port, the modem’s RJ-11 jack, and the AC connector. The sole Type II PC Card slot is on the right side, and a CompactFlash slot is hidden in the battery compartment. The on-off switch is to the right of the screen, as is the unit’s built-in microphone. As stated above, the Clio comes with a mini-dock for fast and convenient desktop connection. The docking connector sits recessed in the bottom of the Clio. A sliding door covers it when you don’t need the dock.

Software innovations
In addition to the standard Windows CE 2.1 software applications, the Clio comes with the Vadem ViewFinder utility and CalliGrapher handwriting recognition software. ViewFinder allows you to view and search information from Contacts, Calendar, Notes, and Tasks from one tiled overview screen. Each is represented by a tiled window. There is also icon access to all of the Pocket Office applications. ViewFinder is almost like a precursor to a future Pocket Office. When using ViewFinder you can add new records to each window on the fly, or you can launch the underlying application.

Since Vadem now owns ParaGraph and its CalliGrapher handwriting recognition system, you can expect an especialy complete integration of CalliGrapher to the Clio. For example, CalliGrapher starts automatically when you flip the Clio to tablet mode. CalliGrapher, for those who are new to HWR, recognizes printed characters, cursive writing, and mixed styles and numerals. When CalliGrapher is active, one or more recognizer-specific icon appears on the task bar at the bottom of the screen.

CalliGrapher seems vastly improved. Like on the Newton, you can now write anywhere on the screen, including to the left of a word, without having to wait until previously written text has been recognized. This is invaluable. Of course, this being Windows, there still isn’t a way to simply tap anywhere on the screen to move the cursor there. To get into edit mode you select the word or words, then write a checkmark on the screen. Edit mode will present you with six possible spellings, or you can switch case or add a space. Recognition accuracy is excellent both in printed and cursive mode, at least if you are one of those people for who recognition works.

A new class of computer
Vadem and its OEM partner, Sharp, view the Clio/TriPad as a new class of computing device for the corporate and vertical market. In corporations, the unit serves as a PC Companion, or could even replace larger and more expensive conventional notebooks. In vertical markets, such as shipping and distribution, sales and field force automation, and healthcare, the unit could inexpensively provide the functionality of more expensive conventional pen tablet computers.

The Sharp TriPad version comes with the Citrix ICA Client which allows dialing into a corporate network via the internal modem and using the TriPad as a terminal to run off-the-shelf applications residing on a Citrix WinFrame server. The TriPad also comes with Vadem’s PC File Viewer, bFax Pro for sending and receiving faxes from any program that supports printing, Image Editor that optimizes images for best viewing, and a MPEG Player.

The Vadem Clio and the Sharp TriPad will have a suggested retail price of US$999.

- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

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