HPLX.NET REVIEWS Simple Technologies 33.6 Communicator with SimpleJack

 Vital Statistics

Publisher/Manufacturer: Simple Technology
Contact: http://www.simpletech.com 
Price: $139.95-$179.95  

About the Product

The Simple Technologies Communicator is one of the few PC Card modems faster than 14.4 that works with the 200LX.  And not only that, but it's probaby the best PCMCIA modem on the market for any computer.  Why is that?  Well, we'll just see...

The first thing I liked about the Communicator is that it doesn't make my machine shut down when I put it in, which was promising.  (Many, if not most, 28.8 modems draw so much current that they shut down the machine as soon as you slide them in and force you to remove it before you can turn it on again.)  However, being a conscientious reviewer, I thought that this might have more to do with my batteries than the modem.  (I have my trusty Panasonic high-capacity nicads in, rather than the typical alkalines.)  So I yanked the card and the batteries and replaced them with a fresh new pair of alkalines.  Then I slid the modem in and checked the voltage.  It had dropped from 3.02 to 2.83 volts.  Not a terrible amount, but still, it was a good chunk of voltage.  The moral here: USE THE PANASONIC NICADS IN YOUR 200LX!  You'll save money, time, and hassles.

But that's getting a little off the subject.  So I removed the alkalines and put my nicads back in.  Next, I hooked up the telephone line.  The Communicator with SimpleJack is something like the Megahertz X-Jack connector.  You know the X-Jack; the one where you have a little pop-out telephone jack that you can plug a regular phone cord into.  Much less hassle than most modems, which require a special cable to be plugged in and then connected to your phone jack.  The X-Jack still has its problems, though.  Most notably, the phone line has to come in perpendicular to the modem and your computer.  This means that it could get in the way of your hands, or even worse, that it could exert enough force if pulled to snap the connector off and leave you with a ruined modem.

The SimpleJack is an improvement on the idea.  It, too, has a regular phone jack that you can just plug any phone cord into.  But it is actually an in-line connector.  See this picture for details. (Note: I know that picture was around here somewhere... but currently that link is broken.) The connector is removeable, and presumably replaceable if it every breaks.  The only trouble with the SimpleJack is that, since it fits into a slot in the modem, it needs space above the card for the phone connector.  Which is fine if you have it in the bottom half of a Type III slot.  However, it's not so good for the 200LX, which only has one slot!  What can be done about this?  Well, fortunately, the engineers at Simple Technology were considerate enough to factor in those of us with only one Type II slot.  The SimpleJack connector can be pulled out and plugged into the end of the modem, just to the right of the slot.  This allows those of us with 200LX's to use the connector as well.  (There's also another, larger connector to the left of the SimpleJack slot.  This is for a cellular cable.)  All in all, I find the SimpleJack system much more convenient than my old AT&T 14.4 modem's proprietary cable.

The modem also includes fax, which is nice, and voice mail, which is handy if you plan to use it in a more powerful computer as well.

Having said this, I will not get down to business.  Exactly how fast will this modem transfer data on the 200LX, and how long will my batteries last?  After all, if it's only going to get up to 14.4kbps and last only 5 minutes, you might as well stick with a 14.4.  Well, I ran some benchmarks, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Please note: I'm using a speed-doubled 200LX with a 6MB C: drive and (as I've mentioned) Panasonic high-capacity nicad batteries.  Expect your results to vary if your equipment is not the same!  I'm pretty sure the stock 200LX will not be quite as fast, and that alkaline batteries will not perform nearly as well.  Also note that I had logged probably 1.5 hours of useage on my batteries before I started running this benchmark; they were not totally charged.

I first set up my connection to my local internet provider using WWW/LX and began browsing the web.  The minutes ticked by as I jumped from page to page.  Five minutes passed.  Then ten.  Then 15.  After 16 minutes of this, I started getting errors about how HV could not create temporary files, so I dropped out to a DOS shell to see if I was out of disk space.  No, I wasn't, but before I could get back into HV, a bizarre string of characters appeared on my screen and I had to reset the palmtop, losing my connection.  However, the modem was still in and drawing current during the time I was booting.

I was impressed so far at how long the batteries had lasted.  However, I hadn't noticed much of a difference in speed between my old 14.4 and the Communicator, using WWW/LX.  I now decided to use Datacomm and dial some regular terminal connections.  Hitting CTRL-Quicken brought up the familiar Datacomm window.  I dialed my local credit union's new on-line banking system.  For a few minutes I browsed through my financial records (pausing occasionally to weep) and noticed that the terminal seemed decidedly faster than it had using the 14.4.  After paying my rent on-line, I hung up and dialed my internet provider's bulletin board, from which you can access a unix shell.  Once I was in the shell, I sent some e-mail using pine, telnetted, and generally messed around for another ten minutes or so.  Finally, I decided it was time to get down to business, and I found a 2.7MB ZIP file to download.  I only had 1.2MB free on my C: drive, but that didn't bother me; I figured the batteries would die long before the file got through even 1.2MB.  I commenced the zmodem download.

The transfer speed seemed quite similar to the 14.4, visually.  This may have been the fault of Datacomm, since it's not a program known for accurate measurements.  It seems to transfer in 4K bursts, suddenly gaining 4096 bytes on the "Bytes Received" status and then pausing for about a second.  Fortunately, I was timing it with my stopwatch and didn't have to rely solely on Datacomm's information.  It transferred 600K in 270 seconds, which works out to about 2.2K/second.  Not terribly fast, but it WAS better than the 14.4, and pretty good for a 200LX.

The file kept downloading past 600K.  Surely, I thought, it'll come to an end soon.  How much punishment can these batteries take?  But no.  The file downloaded all the way to 1.2MB, when the transfer terminated due to insufficient space.  Right at the very end of the transfer, about a minute before it terminated, I got a MAIN BATTERY LOW message.  I quit the transfer, hung up, and checked the voltage on my batteries.  2.25 volts!  The nicads are usually considered "low" at around 2.3 volts, so I was a little low.  I turned off the machine and pulled the modem out.  Turning it back on revealed that the voltage was now up to 2.33, and over the next half-hour or so it climbed up to 2.39, which is actually right around what the batteries should be even when fully charged.  However, every time the machine was turned off and back on, it gave the low-battery warning.  So I removed them and put in a freshly charged pair.

So the question is: how fast was the modem?  Well, 2.2k/second is not bad for a data transfer.  It didn't seem much faster than a 14.4 while browsing the web, but it was definitely faster while in terminal mode.  And how long did the batteries last?  THE GRAND TOTAL: 63 minutes 27 seconds, from the time I started dialing with WWW/LX until I removed the modem.

NEWS FLASH: The transfers above were timed with Datacomm.  I recently installed BananaCom on my 200LX and decided to give it a whirl with the Communicator.  And boy, was I pleasantly surprised!  Using BananaCom, the terminal was much faster than Datacomm's.  Not only that, but on a Zmodem download, BananaCom got an amazing 2.7K/second.  So it appears that the limiting factor in download speed is the application, not necessarily the 200LX or the modem.

The Verdict

The Simple Technology 33.6 Communicator with SimpleJack is a great product.  You may not use it to its fullest potential in your 200LX, but it's still very much worth the low price if you have a double-speed crystal.  Especially if you're also looking for a modem to use in a more powerful laptop.

Copyright 1999, David Sargeant.
Last Updated 1-2-1999

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