Take it To Go

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted February 05, 2001
by Matt Klare

If you have a svelte subnotebook pc, lugging around huge peripherals is probably not for you. Whether you're traveling light, shoehorning into a tight cubicle, or simply seeking good, functional equipment, you don't have to settle for clunky peripherals. We shopped around and came across five devices that meet some of the basic needs of computing professionals, yet have a profile streamlined enough to partner gracefully with the likes of the subnotebooks examined in the main Buyer's Guide.

The needs of subnotebook users don't differ much from those of their desk-bound co-workers. First, it's often necessary to capture charts, logos, or other assorted graphics for inclusion in business documents. With the improvement of OCR software, scanning and recognizing entire documents is pretty common. Canon's CanoScan 656U, an ultraslim USB-based flatbed scanner, not only looks sharp, but delivers high-resolution images for a great price. While it lacks a sheet feeder, it is well suited for capturing short documents and business graphics.

Data protection is critical with portable gear. Between the potential for damage and even loss of portables, it pays to back up data on a regular schedule. Also, there's often a need to synchronize a mobile PC with the one that stays behind in the office. The Addonics Pocket ExDrive meets these needs admirably, offering 6GB, 8GB, or 10GB capacity portable hard drives that connect to a portable or desktop with equal aplomb.

When it's time to put your results on paper, you want high-quality output. These days, color is often de rigueur, and the fact that one is traveling is no excuse for black and white. We found Brother's MP-21Cdx fills the bill in portability and color capabilities. Its small, light design makes it ideal for travel, yet it can comfortably double as a personal color printer on the desktop.

Sharing large amounts of data with clients and co-workers is a common requirement, no matter where you are. Nothing beats the cost-effective convenience of a CD-RW drive for both sharing and archiving important data. Hewlett-Packard's USB-based CD-Writer 8230e and accompanying software bundle offers a good value and is a sleek looking piece to boot.

Finally, when it's time to take your multimedia presentation on the road, a reliable yet lightweight data projector is a must. Hitachi's CP-S220W Multimedia Projector meets these criteria and offers a great suite of features that's hard to beat. Its short-throw lens projects a 60-inch diagonal image from a distance of only five feet, suiting it well for use in cramped venues.

These devices represent a sampling of what's available to make traveling less of a hardship, at least in terms of computing. In the following pages, we'll get into a bit more detail about each.

Addonics Technologies Pocket ExDrive

Addonics Technologies Pocket ExDrive is a portable hard drive system that is available in 6GB, 8GB, and 10-GB configurations. The system consists of a drive enclosure measuring only 0.9 by 3.3 by 5.4 inches, which contains a standard two-inch, IDE notebook drive. Connecting the drive enclosure directly to a subnotebook may be accomplished via a PC-card, CardBus, or USB interface. The interface provides both the data connection and power for the drive. If you don't want to tax your notebook's batteries, there's an optional AC adapter as an alternative. The rest of the system comprises an optional drive-bay cradle (regularly $49; $39 at time of drive purchase), which lets the drive slide into a desktop PC's case for easy synchronization, file sharing, or backup.

The drive is bundled with Addonics' ExData Professional, a powerful utility that handles backing up and restoring a hard drive as well as manual and automatic disk synchronization. This utility not only affords data security, but makes upgrading an old drive easy. Once the contents of the original drive have been copied onto the new drive, it's a simple matter to swap out the original drive without losing your existing operating system or data. Afterward, you can recycle the old drive and use it as a removable drive via the cradle.

The ExDrive is bundled with drivers for DOS, Windows 3.1, 95, 98, NT 4.0, and 2000, as well as Macintosh. The 6GB unit with USB interface sells for $412. This and other mobile products are available directly from the company's Web site.
Addonics; 800-787-8580; www.addonics.com

Brother MP-21Cdx Mobile Color Inkjet Printer

In the extreme portability department, Brother's MP-21Cdx color inkjet printer measures only 5.51 by 12 by 3.54 inches with its 30-sheet capacity automatic feeder attached. In this slightly larger configuration, the MP-21Cdx weighs in at a mere three pounds.

Fairly unique is the use of a PC-card connection that provides both data transmission and electrical power for the MP-21Cdx. This type of connection will deliver a higher data rate than would an infrared (IrDA) connection, meaning faster printing. Powering the printer through this same connection also means one less AC adapter to haul around and potentially lose on the road. According to Brother, powering the unit in this manner doesn't significantly impact a notebook's battery life, because the printer draws only 2.5 watts (4.2W maximum) while printing via the PC-card connection. Brother also provides an AC adapter and a parallel port that permit the MP-21Cdx to work with a desktop PC.

Also unique in a mobile printer, the MP-21Cdx uses a piezo-electric printhead, which delivers color output up to 720 by 720dpi resolution. Brother endowed the unit with two ink cartridges: a black and cyan cartridge, which is rated to print about 250 pages at five percent coverage, and a magenta-plus-yellow cartridge, rated to last for roughly 150 pages. The cartridges sell for about $32 each, making the MP-21Cdx on the expensive side to operate.

Brother rates the MP-21Cdx's print speed at 2.5ppm, though the fine print warns that actual print jobs may progress a bit more slowly. The unit has a fairly straight paper path, which should reduce curling as well as paper jams. The paper transport accommodates envelopes and up to legal-sized stock of between 16 and 42 pounds. The MP-21Cdx is also very quiet during operation. According to Brother, it makes only 40dB of noise while printing, making it the quietest printer in its class.

Look for the MP-21Cdx to sell for about $319. If you don't need the sheet feeder, parallel-cable, or AC adapter, the printer itself is available for about $269 as the MP-21C. All in all, for a pint-size printer, the MP-21Cdx will deliver the goods on the road without contributing to your chiropractic bills.
Brother International; 800-521-2846; www.brother.com

Canon CanoScan N656U

Canon's CanoScan N656U is an ultraslim flatbed scanner that transmits data and draws power from its host PC via a USB connection. While the N656U isn't marketed specifically as a portable scanner, its 3.3-pound weight and slim, 1.3 by 10.1 by 14.7 inch profile certainly make portability a snap. Physical dimensions aren't all that's petite about the N656U -- it carries a low suggested price of $129.

Although the N656U is sleek and stylish, it still delivers solid business performance. The unit has an optical resolution of 600 dpi by 1200 dpi and a maximum interpolated resolution of 9600 by 9600 dpi. Canon's scan engine captures data internally at 42-bit in color (that's 14 bits per channel) and 14-bit in grayscale mode. The scanner's firmware uses this extra information to improve upon the quality of the final scanned image it delivers to the image-editing application.

The N656U can scan originals of up to 8.5 by 11.7 inches in size. To accommodate thick journals or books, Canon equipped the N656U with its "Z-lid," which allows the lid to expand upward roughly two inches, letting it handle fairly thick originals.

Canon bundles the N656U with its Canon Creative Image software package, which includes Arcsoft Photostudio 2000 (image-editing software), Caere OmniPage (OCR software), Adobe Acrobat Reader 4.0, and several other components. Also included is a USB cable to get you up and scanning in short order.
Canon Computer Systems Inc.; 800-OK-CANON; www.ccsi.canon.com

Hewlett Packard CD-Writer 8230e

Hewlett Packard's 8230e $249 external 4 by 4 by 6 CD-rewritable drive records both on CD-R and CD-RW media at 4X (600 kbps), and reads CD-ROM discs at 6X (900kbps). While these specs don't qualify the 8230e as the fastest drive in town, they do translate to capable and reliable performance. The 8230e communicates with its host PC via USB connection, leaving your PC's parallel port free for the task that it suits best -- namely printing.

The 8230e is housed in a round-edged, rectangular case that sports a blue window on its top. The window makes it easy to determine whether a disc is loaded. The drive measures roughly 1-3/4 by 6-1/2 by 9-3/4 inch and weighs in at a bit over 2.5 pounds, which makes it on the large side for road warriors. If you need to share the drive among several users, however, the 8230e will work wonderfully.

Setting up and making connections to the CD-RW drive couldn't be simpler. HP's setup poster ensures this, listing the seven basic steps to getting the drive up and running. Also contributing to this is the drive's clean design. On the rear of the unit is a single USB connector, an audio jack, and a connector for the power supply.

To make the drive an indispensable tool, HP includes a generous software bundle with the 8230e. First, there's Adaptec's DirectCD, a drag-and-drop program that lets you add files to the drive with Windows Explorer. We also like HP's Simple Backup, a utility that simplifies backing up critical system files to the CD writer. This program's disaster-recovery tool alone makes the drive a worthwhile investment.

We also like the fast format utility, which drastically reduces the amount of time required to format a CD-RW disc. Also bundled with the drive is a utility called HP MyCD, which facilitates the creation of data and music CDs, and a disc labeler program that includes a package of labels and the plastic jig that positions the label correctly on a disc.

Brian Shea, director of operations for EPAC Software Technologies Inc. in Warwick, R.I., uses one of HP's CD-Writers to burn software distribution discs. EPAC creates custom maintenance software used by industry and manufacturing to handle, among other things, parts inventory and purchasing. "We didn't really shop around when we needed another CD-RW drive because we had such good luck with our first HP drive. The only problem we've had with it was with the blank discs we were using. We found that switching brands solved the problem immediately."
Hewlett-Packard Company; 800-752-0900; www.hpcdwriter.com

Hitachi CP-S220W Multimedia Projector

Taking a presentation on the road can be particularly challenging if you're forced to rely on the kindness of strangers to provide critical equipment. So, savvy presenters often tote their notebooks and data projectors when heading out to spread the word. These road warriors will appreciate Hitachi's sturdy little CP-S220W LCD projector, which measures 2.4 by 10.9 by 8.3 inches, weighs in at a mere five pounds, and is competitively priced. "It performs very reliably on the road," says Eric Kamayatsu, president of PMP Marketing Inc., an independent sales firm for manufacturers. "I would recommend it to anyone who travels with a projector, and I have, in fact, been recommending it to all of my clients and associates."

The CP-S220W's resolution is 800 by 600, but it can automatically compress a 1024 by 768 video signal for display. The lens has manual focus and zoom rings, which rotate for adjustment. The rings are slightly knurled, but they could use a bit more texture to provide a secure grip for nervous fingers. The 130-watt lamp puts out a bright 800 ANSI lumens, plenty of light to make the S220W usable in brighter-than-optimal rooms.

We like the CP-S220W's design and layout. It is very stable, so there's no need to worry that a slight tug on one of its cords might topple the unit. Its integral, sliding lens cover protects the lens while the unit is in transit, yet it won't get lost in the shuffle while setting up your gear. All the operational controls, which are slightly recessed buttons, are embedded in the top of the case and are clearly labeled, making this a very convenient projector to operate.

We were very pleased to see that Hitachi includes three power cords with the S220W, permitting operation in the U.S., U.K., and the rest of Europe. Also included is a standard VGA cable for connecting the projector and host PC. In addition to accepting standard VGA input, the S220W has inputs for S-Video, NTSC/PAL video (via an RCA jack), and audio.

Hitachi also supplies a sturdy nylon case for travel and an ultrathin remote control for navigating through a presentation, adjusting the volume of the unit's internal speaker, altering the zoom, and performing a variety of other functions. We liked the reset button on the remote, as it provides a quick way to undo any inadvertent change in the S220W's on-screen menu. The menu offers extensive setup adjustments (brightness, contrast, color, aspect ratio, on-screen position, and more), as well as selection of input (RGB, video, or S-video), language, automatic shutoff, and much more.

The CP-S220W operates very quietly. Its fan blows a gentle, warm breeze out the rear of the unit, the same direction as the unit's small speaker. When the lamp is switched off and the unit returned to standby, the fan automatically reduces its speed as the projector cools.

All in all, the CP-S220W is a well-thought-out projector. It is easy to operate and seems designed to withstand the rigors of travel and heavy use. The unit carries a suggested retail price of $4,295.
Hitachi America Ltd.; 800-225-1741;