Affordable color to go – Hardware Review – AST Research Inc.’s Bravo NB 4/25s – Evaluation
AST Bravo NB 4/25s Color
For DOS, Windows
AT A GLANCE: A satisfactory passive*matrix color notebook PC for the cost-conscious businessperson who needs on-the-road color and respectable speed.
EASE OF USE: The built-in trackball eliminates fumbling with an external pointing device. With DOS 6 and Windows preloaded, just charge the battery, and you’re off.
DOCUMENTATION: The Pocket User’s Guide provides a perfectly adequate overview of the system hardware.
SUPPORT: For one year from purchase time, AST guarantees a 48-hour repair turnaround time from the moment the company receives the unit–and it pays freight both ways. Add around-the-clock, toll-free, seven-days-a-week support, and you have a generous safety net from a company with a good service reputation.
LIST PRICE: None set
AVERAGE STREET PRICE: $2,499 (dual-scan passive-matrix color screen). Both monochrome ($1,699) and active-matrix color ($3,549) versions also available, although we did not review those configurations.
MANUFACTURER: AST Research Inc., 16215 Alton Pkwy., P.O. Box 57005, Irvine, CA 92619J005; (714) 727-4141, (800) 876-4278
MICROPROCESSOR: 486SX 25 MHz
MEMORY: 4MB (standard), upgradable to 20MB
HARD-DISK DRIVE: 120MB (170MB also available)
DISPLAY: 9.5-inch, sidelit, dual-scan passive-matrix color LCD (reviewed); 9.5-inch monochrome and 8.5-inch active-matrix displays also available.
PORTS: Parallel, serial, external CRT, PS/2 mouse, PS/2 keyboard
AVAILABLE EXPANSION SLOTS: PCMCIA
DIMENSIONS (H,W,D): 8.8 by 1.,7 by 1.5 inches
WEIGHT: 6 lbs. (with battery)
If you’re looking for a color notebook but don’t want to invest $4,000 or more in a top-of-the-line system with an active-matrix color screen, the newest addition to AST’s budget-priced Bravo line is worth considering. There are compromises involved in buying a passive-matrix color machine, but AST has kept the price/performance ratio high and turned out a very serviceable portable computer.
The Bravo NB 4/25s system comes with 4MB of memory standard (expandable to 20MB). The 25-MHz 486SX processor provides plenty of speed, even for demanding Windows applications. Additional expansion is provided through a PCMCIA slot.
The keyboard, traditionally weak in notebook PCs, is a win-lose proposition. On the positive side, the size and placement of the keys is acceptable, with a full set of function keys along the top row and convenient cursor control keys in the lower right-hand comer. AST also did surprisingly well with its built-in trackball.
Unfortunately, the feel of the keyboard is less than satisfactory. I’m a speedy typist, and the forceful hammering required by the Bravo’s keyboard slowed me down considerably. What’s worse, my fingers felt fired after lengthy sessions.
The other major flaw is the unit’s passive-matrix color display: While very speedy, crisp, and colorful (with none of the ghosting problems you’ll often find in notebook displays), there is a problem with blotchiness. When using an application consisting of text or graphics elements on a white background, the screen looks just fine. But when running a DOS program with a darkened background, the display takes on a mottled appearance. In addition, AST claims up to three hours of battery life, but two seems more realistic based on experience.
In a nutshell, then, the Bravo NB provides the computing performance and expandability of a significantly more expensive machine, but it requires settling for a somewhat blotchy display and mediocre keyboard response.
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