My manta ray-shaped companion

You'll never be short of conversation with an eMate at your fingertips. It's the perfect antidote to the utilitarian laptop, to the hard-nosed business aesthetic: it seems to have been designed by Porsche in collaboration with Dali, a seductively curved translucent green blob. Not a straight line anywhere. Why, they've even given it a carrying handle.

While it resembles a Fisher Price toy/a satchel/a manta ray, the workings are back-to-basics. There is no hard disk or floppy drive, so the battery lasts up to 24 hours. The downside, by the same token, is that there is no hard disk or floppy drive, so storing large files could be a problem. Up to 2Mb of RAM are available, however, and with a two-page text document taking up about 3K, you would be well into that novel you've always meant to write before you ran into difficulties. You can also download files (it runs the Newton operating system) to a Mac OS or Windows computer.

Built-in applications include a fully-functioned but not bloated word- processor (along the lines of Word 3), a spreadsheet package, plus scheduling facilities and an address book.

Slip in a PC card modem and you can fax documents or use the Net. What it lacks is the journalist's favourite facility: knowing the number of words you've written. This gives a clue to the eMate's intended users: younger children, working in a classroom environment, for whom word counts are irrelevant It also explains facilities such as the ability to beam data by infra-red link to other eMates (the modern way of sending notes around the class when teacher's not looking), handwriting recognition (forget joined-up) and the case's rugged construction.

In its wisdom, Apple has ceased production - for now - but if you can get hold of an eMate, how does it measure up to, say, a PowerBook? At pounds 1,100, the basic Powerbook has a hard disk, CD-Rom drive and modem. Clocking in at pounds 550, plus at least pounds 150 for a modem, the eMate's charms are less obvious. But for its build quality, battery life and, yes, the fact that it is damned sexy, there's really no argument. Now, how many words was that?

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