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 upon a time 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 earlier. But Tandy's approach is more low budget.
Two differences are immediately apparent. The Tandy 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. (However, while the IBM model reportedly is not yet being discounted, it is more likely to be found at reduced prices in a few months than the Tandy, which is uniformly priced at all Radio Shack stores.)
The Tandy uses old-fashioned, low-resolution color graphics called CGA that IBM and nearly everyone else abandoned for their desktop computers several years ago because the text and pictures are so coarse and hard on the eyes.
It also uses an old-fashioned Intel 8086 microprocessor as the computer's "brain." Although Tandy runs the chip twice as fast as in the old IBM PC and PC/XT computers and clones, it is still slow. The new PS/1 has a speedier 80286 microprocessor.
Another limitation stemming from use of an 8086-based system is an older design 3.5-inch floppy drive that stores only 720,000 characters of data. Current technology, as on the PS/1, allows twice that much data to be stored.
What you get from Tandy 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 and a color model for $899. The 20-million-character hard disk for data and program storage adds $400.
The small computer system doesn't generate much heat and thus has no fan. It is designed to be turned on and left on forever after, drawing about the same power as a clock radio.
The screen will go blank after a few minutes -- you can control how long it stays lit -- but will pop instantly back on at the touch of a key. The hard disk also stops running after a period of inactivity, so when not in use, the Tandy 1000 RL maintains a silent presence wherever you put it.
Tandy has loaded the computer with home management software, some of it permanently stored in the computer's memory and the rest either on floppy 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 emergency and other important telephone numbers, a schedule of the day's events, a message for all to see and personalized messages addressed to various 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.
I can see how a computer in the kitchen or some other central location at home could serve as a smart bulletin board if you always left it running, so that a touch of a key brought its information to the screen.
The Information Center is just one facet of Tandy's Home Organizer software. It includes a meal planner with recipe book containing several dozen recipes and space to enter as many of your own as you wish. 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 your finances with a checkbook register, expense itemizer and formulas for computing loan payments and the like.
Then there is a personal section where you can keep a password-protected diary or maintain a home inventory list, 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 at the rear of the computer.