Pen Lab Review
Casio launches a business execution support tool.
First publicly seen in the US at the Chicago PC Expo, the Casio PA-100A
represents another innovative step in the evolution of PDAs. Casio is quick
to point out, though, that this sleek new machine is not a PDA, but a "pen
input handheld terminal for vertical use". We should also mention that
the PA-100A is not available in the US yet, though it's been on the Japanese
market for over a year. Casio is just now starting to show the unit around
to determine potential customer interest, and a number of units should be
in the hands of selected VARs by the time you read this.
The first time you see the PA-100A you're surprised at just how small and
polished it is. The case has a shiny, smooth, silvery finish and the smoothly
rounded soapbar curves of a late model luxury car. Even more eye-catching
is the size of the screen: the crisp and clear 5" x 3.5" 480x320
LCD takes up most of the surface of the little Casio. Though the unit is
smaller than a Newton MessagePad, the screen is significantly larger. In
fact, it's almost as big as that of a 486-based Dauphin DTR-2. On top, unlike
most PDAs, the Casio offers four scales of gray, enough to display crude
photographs. And the screen can be rotated 90 or 180 degrees, enabling operation
both in landscape and portrait mode. The screen is touch-sensitive and can
be operated by a finger or with a small black plastic pen that recesses
into the case. Weight isn't a factor; the unit weighs just 3/4 pound. You
barely notice it in your pocket.
But what about power? Casio's Zoomer isn't known for speediness (unless
you run PenRight! on it), and if you're looking for a 486 under the hood
of Casio's latest, you'll be disappointed. We're talking 8086-compatible
here, not fast enough to run Windows, but plenty fast enough for vertical
market applications using PenRight! or HOPE! And unlike most of its potential
competitors, the PA-100A runs virtually forever on its four AAA batteries:
expect up to 80 hours from a set. This is even more impressive since the
PA-100A actually has two CPUs. On top of the 8086-class CPU that handles
system management, there is a 32-bit RISC chip dedicated to handwriting
recognition. Standard memory is 2MB of RAM. There are also configurations
with an additional 2MB or 4MB of Flash. Optional memory cards can boost
storage up to 30MB.
The unit has one 350 milliamps PCMCIA Type II slot, a 3-pin RS-232 serial
port, and an optical port that can transfer data at speeds up to 2Mbps.
The infrared port can also communicate with a special stackable docking
The unit we saw ran MS-DOS, but had Japanese software. A Casio representative
said the company was negotiating with Geoworks for porting the GEOS operating
environment to the PA-100A. The PA-100 will also run PenRight! and Mobile
Computing Systems' HOPE! (High-performance Open Portable Environment) system,
making it ideal for speedy vertical applications. Similar to HP's new OmniGo,
this unit could have Palm Computing's Graffiti character recognition software
integrated into the operating system. The combination of a low overhead
OS such as GEOS, PenRight!, and integrated Graffiti would make the PA-100A
a formidable handheld terminal for a variety of applications where small
weight and size count.
It is too early to tell what the fate of the Casio PA-100A, also called
B.E.S.T. (Business Execution Support Tool) will be in the US market. Its
large screen and small size puts it into a class of its own, as do battery
life and sleek design. A lot hinges on a successful implementation of GEOS
. If it runs as speedily and responsively as on the OmniGo, Casio has a
hit on its hands, deserving of the B.E.S.T. moniker. Of course, there's
still the price to be considered. Initial indications point towards a unit
price of slightly below $1,000, a bargain for a vertical market machine.