COPING WITH QUIRKS: A GUIDE TO PORTABLES New book gives laptop, notebook tips


For anyone who has ever considered buying a laptop or notebook computer, or who has done so and is now trying to cope with all the little quirks that accompany portable computing, we enthusiastically recommend "The PC Magazine Guide to Notebook and Laptop Computers," by Bill Howard ($29.95 from the Ziff-Davis Press, Berkeley, Calif.).

It is the most enlightening, practical and comprehensive book on DOS-based portable computing we have seen.

The category of laptops and notebooks is one of the fastest-growing segments of the computer industry and perhaps the fastest-changing.

New chip and manufacturing technologies have allowed portable PCs to get smaller and lighter while nearly matching the power of desktop systems.

This guide helps the reader find the best laptop or notebook computer for his or her particular needs, at the best price.

It doesn't stop there, though. Laptop-computer owners know that they have greater freedom to work on the road or at the beach. But they also quickly discover that a 7-pound laptop seems to weigh 20 by the end of a trip, that most hotels make it difficult to connect the portable PC to a phone line, that fax modems are treacherous things and that transferring files from the laptop to a desktop computer or a network is often harder than it looks.

In short, little computers can cause big headaches. This book is better than aspirin. Tuck it into the flight bag; it is well worth the extra weight.

Mr. Howard is executive editor of PC Magazine, which is known for its exhaustive reviews of computer products and technologies.

He also compiles a regular column on computer-related humor, and he manages to combine both his technical expertise and his droll wit in this book, which make it easy to read as well as informative.

Most of the tips pay off in tangible ways.

For example, computer dealers sell most of their machines to businesses, so an individual consumer must act businesslike to get the best deal.

Mr. Howard includes a sample price-quote form that makes it easier to compare features and prices.

There are how-to sections on communications, recommendations on must-have accessories and peripherals, advice on selecting software, a primer on how to manage phone lines at home and a troubleshooting guide, among other helpful tips.

Some of the tips are arcane. For example, if you're flying from New York to Texas with your portable computer, sit on the starboard (dark) side of the plane to get the best screen visibility.

If you commute by train, remember that most cars have at least one AC-power outlet that you can use instead of draining the battery, but watch out for power surges.

If you stay at a higher-class hotel, you may have a better chance of finding an accessible phone jack in the bathroom, but be careful to keep the toilet seat down.

Although "The Guide to Notebook and Laptop Computers" is surprisingly thorough, there are some things that a reader will not find in its nearly 400 pages.

Most importantly, one will not find specific recommendations on brand names or models. Instead, Mr. Howard gives his readers )) the background to make their own evaluations.

He also provides advice on how to estimate the evaluations in other sources, including computer magazines, newspapers and newsletters.

Also, the Guide assumes that the reader has a general familiarity with computers.

Absolute beginners will find clear explanations of the various components of the computer system but little in the way of basic PC instruction.

Nor will owners of the Apple Macintosh Portable, or any of its Frankensteinian clones, find any solace here; this is a DOS and Windows book only.

Handheld and palm-top devices such as the Atari Portfolio, Sharp Wizard or Hewlett-Packard 95LX get little more than cursory coverage.

The Guide comes with a 3.5-inch diskette that includes 18 utility programs that make laptop computing more convenient.

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