If it could talk, it would say something dirty. It's the eMate 300, the organiform neo-Newton, a curved shell of dark green plastic over a steel frame. It's compact and curvy, a benign incarnation of the living typewriters in Cronenberg's Naked Lunch. It looks like it might sidle up to you and ask you to use it.
It weighs about four pounds and springs to life when you open the lid, shuts down when you close it. It has a 25MHz ARM 710a RISC processor and 3MB of RAM (1MB of DRAM and 2MB of flash memory), 8MB of ROM. Its backlit screen, nicely legible, measures seven inches diagonally; it is a 480 x 320 grayscale LCD and displays up to 16 shades of gray. From the "Z" to the "/" on the keyboard, it measures six and a half inches as opposed to the seven and a quarter on my full-sized keyboard, which turns out to be a workable size. I make more typos than usual, but I'm assuming my accuracy will improve with time. It has a headphone jack and a card slot for PC cards. It has a stylus for "tapping" (and handwriting, if you're into that--I'm not so I can't say much about it).
Battery management is excellent. It runs for a long time (sorry, no benchmarks) on a battery that recharges in a couple of hours max, and has a monitor light that glows amber until the battery has charged, then goes green. Generally I don't think much about the battery when I'm using it, which I regard as a great sign.
Lacking disk drives, the eMate connects to the outside world through a serial connection to modem or printer or a Mac or Wintel PC. Printing works fine on my Color StyleWriter 2500. Newton Connection Utilities, which allow you to transfer files, install Newton "packages"--i.e., Newton programs--or make backups, comes on a CD with the eMate. The eMate can also connect to others of its kind through an infrared connector. (Lacking access to other eMates, I haven't tested this capability, which offers promise in a Secret Decoder Ring way. I can imagine school kids "beaming"--that's the word they use--notes to one another across the classroom.) It will also send and receive faxes through a fax modem.
I have written quite a bit in the word processor, which is where I'm doing this review, and used the notepad and calendar extensively. It doesn't seduce me from the totalitarian grandeur of MS Word, but it isn't lame: it has decent find capability, cut and paste, and formatting tools, and it handles RTF formatted files very well, both incoming and outgoing, which means that it and most major word processors can work together nicely. Newtonworks, as it's called, also includes drawing and spreadsheet capabilities. The notepad includes a somewhat stiff outlining and checklist function, and the calendar works fine for me, though all the tap-tap-tapping required to change times and dates takes some getting used to. It has a calendar and address book, both of which work fine--I've grown somewhat dependent on the calendar.--a calculator, and some odds and ends, including software for using the eMate in the classroom (which is where it was originally destined to be used). This software environment was developed for the original Newtons-without-keyboards, and it shows.
Through a combination of Apple and third-party software, you can set up an Internet connection and use the Web (through a primitive browser) and email (I've been using a limited-time beta of Eudora).
There's a bunch of Newton shareware available on the Web, most of which works on the eMate too. Unfortunately, you can quickly max out the machine's RAM. Memory upgrade chips are available, but I haven't had the money or the need to install one.
Despite its K-12 origins, all the reviews I've read talk about the practicality of the thing, its funky readiness to turn out and transmit copy. To find it stone essential, you probably need to be either a journalist or, by whatever name, a writer on the go. Otherwise the complexity, size, weight, and price of the thing would probably drive you to use one of the little shirt pocket PDAs that basically perform calendar and contact functions.
But of course there is the pure, immeasurable fetishism of the eMate, which is so intense it ought to come gendered so that, whatever your preferences, you could hump it. It's hard to evaluate the utility of that.
Steve Jobs reacquired the Newton division of Apple, apparently in order to put the eMate at the center of the line and push it hard. This may be a good call. He undoubtedly recognized its sexy, totemic incarnation of high design, and he may also have realized that you can actually work with it. Recent rumors say that a businessman's hopped up eMate, with a faster chip, more memory, and groovier software is on the way. I'm looking forward to it.
- Tom Maddox [10/24/97]