WHEN is a palmtop not a palmtop? When is a notebook not a notebook? Olivetti has provided the answer to these two questions with its Quaderno, a hybrid of a personal computer (PC) that, because of its size and functions, can be best described as a cross between a palmtop and notebook computer.
With dimensions of 21 cm by 14.8 cm by 3.2 cm and weighing one kilogram, the Quaderno may not be big enough to slide neatly into the inside of your jacket pocket, but this inconvenience is more than made up for by its myriad functions.
And if that is not enough to impress - or confuse - this nifty-looking PC also has the ability to get its message across with an added feature: the ''voice manager''. This is sophisticated voice recording software that works along the same lines as a cassette recorder, the difference being no cassette tape is needed.
Instead, it stores voice data on standard MS-DOS files (MS-DOS 5 is the in-built operating system) on the computer's hard disk.
Along with the voice manager, the Quaderno comes with the standard palmtop modules: note, calculator, phone book, file manager and organiser, collectively called ''Personal Accessories'' (PA) software.
It can also handle desktop applications of a notebook computer, including spreadsheets, database and word processing packages, that run XT-compatible machines and operational peripheral devices such as a modem, mouse and printer.
A word processing function comes under the note module in the PA software, offering search and replace, cut and paste, page length and line format. All this seems pretty basic stuff, but the compactness of the keyboard inhibits scribing long passages of text anyway.
A transfer file utility, known as Interlink, allows the user to transfer files between the Quaderno and a desktop computer, or even to use the resources of a desktop computer with the PC.
Because of its novelty - and especially because of its voice manager - the Quaderno could easily be dismissed as a gimmick in an industry that is constantly trying to outdo itself in innovation.
Putting the PC to the test in the field reveals many advantages over conventional notebooks, while it carries out every function of a palmtop.
And the field is the operative word when it comes to Quaderno.
For people who are out of the office regularly and who need the advantage of a compact machine for quick access to word processing (the screen is a fairly large liquid crystal display, 64 cm by 40 cm), the Quaderno is a good companion.
Its 20 megabytes of memory and facility for a memory card also weigh heavily in its advantage.
Of all the PA software, the voice manager is obviously the most innovative, although many may question its usefulness. Then again, out in the field, it could prove valuable.
The system works similarly to a normal cassette recorder. The unit carries a dictation switch and speakers as well as both an external microphone and speaker connection.
Other functions in the voice manager include scanning, an available time indicator, and compression levels.
But do not plan talking for too long, or recording long speeches. Voice is notorious for gobbling up disk space.
At normal compression level, the user will get two minutes of voice recording for every one MB, at low compression, four minutes, and, at high compression, 10 minutes.
So, the voice function, like many other functions on the Quaderno, is something that needs to be transferred to a more powerful desktop at a later stage. The system's file manager system (Interlink) does this.
Interlink allows the user, while working on one computer, to use the resources of the second computer by redirecting one of more of its drives and ports.
The user can transfer files from one to the other, run programs and access information without having to copy files on disks from one PC to the other.
List price for the Quaderno is just under $9,000 but, with a bit of hunting around Hongkong, one can be obtained for less than $7,000.