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Netpliance's i-opener

The Board
  • 32 MB memory with 16 MB flash memory
  • 200 MHz Winchip processor
  • 9.33" x 11.96" x 3.5" Weight: 5.08 lbs.
  • 10" LCD screen (800 x 600 resolution)
  • 56k call waiting modem
  • On board video and sound
  • Shortcut keys on the keyboard
  • Printer and USB connectors on the rear

(+,-) $100USD

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About a year ago there was a buzz circulating that computers would be supplanted by "internet appliances." The rational was that the average consumer had no interest in learning an operating system, much less did they care what a machine could do other than browse the internet and send e-mail. Time has come and gone and I still wonder if any of those predictions have any accuracy. Keep in mind that AOL and Compaq have recently announced plans for their own IAs that will work with their own ISPs. Whenever big corporations begin to move to a market you have to pay attention. Today we take a look at the first widely available IA to come to market. The unit under the microscope is the Netpliance i-opener. While much media attention has been brought to the unit, very little so far has been a review of the unit in its as delivered state. I have commitments from at least one other manufacturer, and possibly more, to have their IA's reviewed so we'll see what this market has to offer soon enough. I have to make two points:

1. I realize that most of the visitors to this site are tech savvy and may not be interested in a product such as this. However, keep in mind that this product is geared towards our parents and grand parents. This is a group of people who have thus far not thronged to the internet.

2. The manufacturer did not supply the reviewed unit to me. Although I did attempt to contact their press relations people several times, I got no responses from Netpliance. I was able to locate a friend who ordered one and so I got to see the machine's performance, warts and all.

First Impressions:

When I looked the i-opener over for the first time I was fascinated by its size. In a compact package everything is included. The only things not on the actual unit are the PS2 keyboard and the wall mounted power supply that plugs into the rear of the unit. I powered on the unit and found that the display was not as bad as I thought it would have been. 10" is very small by modern standards, but the unit's display is very crisp and with its 800 x 600 I had no problem reading the text. I do wonder how near-sighted adults and elderly adults would cope with that display since that is the target audience for the machine.

The unit sits on its built-in stand and the screen can be tilted to better the viewing angle. On the front of the casing there are controls for contrast, volume, power, and a built in Mic. Above the display are small LED's which display when there is new e-mail received and when the phone is ringing (call waiting feature). There is no discernable sound from the unit other than what comes from the speakers. This is because there are no cooling fans attached to the unit.

When I spun the machine around to see its back I found the USB and printer ports. Adjacent to these are the phone line and telephone hook up as well as the power connector. There is only one USB connector on the unit even there is a second area that is labeled for a USB connector. Netpliance apparently decided to not use the second USB. Browsing the Netpliance web site I found that there are currently no USB components supported by the i-opener and the only printer that can be used with it is the Canon BJC 2010 Color Printer, which Netpliance can throw in for $99. For $19.95 you can also upgrade to a mouse with your unit. No mouse? The stock unit features a pad on the keyboard, which operates as the pointing device with two buttons to the left of all the keys. These buttons serve as the two buttons on a normal PS-2 mouse. Missing from this keyboard are all the function keys (F1-F12) as well as insert and escape. The pointer did take some getting used to but functioned well enough to be useful. I only wish that the two buttons that went with it were located nearer that pad so that browsing wasn't a two handed affair.

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