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Reprinted from Byte, December 1994, pp. 27.

Sony Magic Link PIC-1000
This image can be zoomedSony Magic Link PIC-1000
The latest entrant in the quest for the killer PDA (personal digital assistant) is Sony’s Magic Link PIC-1000. It offers a break from traditional computing and ushers in a new era of mobile communications. This is the first available device based on General Magic’s Magic Cap operating system and Telescript communications software. Magic Link ($995) was introduced this fall on the same day that AT&T publicly activated its PersonaLink Services ($9.95 per month), the first WAN service designed around intelligent mobile agents (see “The Network with Smarts,” October BYTE).

You interact with Magic Link by writing on its touch-sensitive screen using a plastic stylus. Unlike Apple’s Newton MessagePad, Magic Link doesn’t use handwriting recognition: If you want to enter text, you tap on the pop-up image of a keyboard.

Based on tests of the device, the lack of a keyboard isn’t an impediment. This is because Magic Link is primarily a communications device. Its intended applications are paging, voice calls, faxing, light E-mail, simple financial work, and on-line browsing and shopping. The tap-and-drag GUI reduces demand for typing, and the on-screen pop-up keyboard is effective for entering text.

I found the Magic Cap interface easy to use, and I especially liked its audible feedback. Magic Cap eliminates conventional computer concepts (e.g., separate files and applications), substituting an object-oriented model similar to PenPoint or the Newton operating system. I found the pop-up error messages and information boxes informative. The combination of Magic Link and PersonaLink’s agents made E-mail a new experience.

But Magic Link is not without its drawbacks. The device is somewhat underpowered. Multitasking performance is sluggish, the 2400-bps modem is too slow, and the non-backlit LCD screen can be hard to read.

Most troublesome is the lack of built-in terminal-emulation or general communications software. Magic Link is richly endowed with communications features (see the summary box), but out of the box, it connects only to PersonaLink or America Online. Sony says third-party providers will offer ASCII terminal-emulation packages for Magic Link, but for almost $1000, I’d prefer it to be built in.

The missing terminal emulation highlights the conceptual quandary of Magic Link and Motorola’s Envoy, another Magic Cap device that was introduced earlier but has not yet been released. These devices target consumers and nontechnical users, yet they’re priced at a point that’s more acceptable to business users. To break from the past, the devices sport new user interfaces and architectures, but they don’t support standard business applications like desktop software or conventional on-line or WAN services. This makes the purchase decision more difficult for a mobile executive. Magic Link is the most usable pen-based PDA yet, though its full value unfolds only when used with PersonaLink. As successful a design as it is, I still don’t believe it represents the final word in portable communicators.

Andy Reinhardt

Magic Link highlights

Built-in serial and 38.4-Kbps infrared ports (non-IRDA)
2400-bps data/9600-bps fax send modem
RJ-11 jack, phone/microphone/speaker
Optional PCMCIA pager card receives SkyTel pages and forwarded PersonaLink E-mail
Weighs 1.2 pounds (550 grams)
Up to 10 hours of battery life
Six AAA batteries or a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack
No handwriting recognition
16-MHz Motorola “Dragon” 68349 CPU
4-MB ROM holds built-in PenCell spreadsheet, Pocket Quicken, spelling checker, PersonaLink, and AOL access software
1 MB of RAM workspace (expandable to 2 MB with optional PCMCIA SRAM card)

Page added on 25th August 2005.

Copyright © 2002-2006 Marcin Wichary, unless stated otherwise.