I think of computing at home as an extension of the computing I do at work. At home my computer is in my office, which once was a bedroom. And the software I use is often the same I use at work. Tandy Corp.'s new 1000 RL is for a different kind of home computing. It is designed to sit in a more central location like the kitchen, especially the kind of kitchen that has a little alcove with a small built-in desk for telephoning, reading recipe books and maybe even paying family bills.
This personal computer ($750 to $1,300) is really a household computer. Tandy has positioned it against IBM's PS/1 home computer, which I reviewed two weeks ago. but Tandy's approach is more low budget.
Two differences are immediately apparent. The 1000 RL is not as powerful nor as graphically sophisticated as the PS/1 -- to the Tandy's great detriment in a side-by-side comparison. The Tandy also costs less, just 65 percent as much as the PS/1 for the top-of-the-line versions at suggested retail prices.
The Tandy uses the old-fashioned, low-resolution color graphics array called CGA that IBM and nearly ever computer maker abandoned for their desktop computers several years ago because the text and pictures were so coarse and hard on the eyes. It also uses an old-fashioned Intel 8086 microprocessor. Although Tandy runs the chip twice as fast as in the old IBM PC and PC/XT computers and clones, it still is slow. The new PS/1 has a speedier 80286 microprocessor.
Another limitation stemming from the use of an 8086-based system is an older-design 3 1/2-inch floppy drive that stores only 720,000 characters of data. Current technology, as on the PS/1, allows twice as much data to be stored.
What you get in the 1000 RL is a small computer just three inches high on top of which sits a large 14-inch diagonal color monitor. A monochrome model is available for $150 less. If you can get along with a single floppy disk drive, you can buy a monochrome model for $749 or a color model for $899. The 20 million-character hard disk for data and program storage adds $400.
Tandy has loaded the computer with home management software, some of it permanently stored in the 1000 RL's memory and the rest either on floppy disk or hard disk. For instance, if you leave the computer tuned to the Information Center program, it stands ready with a monthly calendar, a list of important telephone numbers, a schedule of the day's events, a message for all to see and individual messages to family members.
If you install the optional modem and connect the computer to a telephone line, it will dial any of those important or emergency numbers that you highlight on the screen.
The Home Organizer software includes a meal planner with recipe book containing several dozen recipes and space to enter many of your own recipes. There also is a grocery list planner. You can instruct the computer to make out a grocery list based on the recipes that you select. Another section is devoted to finances with a checkbook register, expense itemizer and formulas for computing loan payments.
Then there is a personal section where you can keep a password-protected diary or maintain a home inventory, plan a vacation or keep track of a videotape collection. For less specific needs there is Tandy's DeskMate software that has word processing, an address book and a drawing program.
The Tandy 1000 RL has the ability to record and play sound, including speech. Both headphone and microphone jacks are installed.
Tandy has delivered some clever software loaded on to a slow computer that won't provide much satisfaction to demanding computer users -- those who bring work home from the office and those who play games. Both will be put off by the low-resolution screen and the slow system response.
The advantage of buying from Tandy is the convenience of shopping at a neighborhood Radio Shack store and being able to return there for repairs or accessories. But notwithstanding the convenience factor, I don't think the Tandy 1000 RL is a bargain. Without high-resolution VGA graphics and a 80286 chip, it is a machine without a future. By the time you add a printer, you will have spent $1,000 to $1,600.
That kind of money, spent at a discount warehouse for a Packard Bell or Hyundai or the store's own brand of PC clone, should buy you a 80286 chip, a VGA monitor, maybe color, and, at the upper end of that range, a larger hard disk and cheap dot matrix printer. For the same price as the IBM PS/1, you can buy at a discount store a much more capable computer with a 80386 microprocessor.
Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for the Los Angeles Times. Write to Richard O'Reilly, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.