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An Expensive and Fragile Laptop, or an Economical and Indestructible Smart Keyboard?

by Nick Anis

If you have taken an airplane flight recently, or walked through a hotel lobby, or office building, you may have noticed the growing ranks of laptop PC users.  I’ve used a laptop PC for several years.  One phenomenon laptop PC users have faced is about a $500 per year drop in the value of a laptop.  This is particularly disturbing when one considers laptops typically cost $500 to $1,000 more than their desktop equivalents.  There are finally a few $1,500 middle of the road models available, but let’s face it, laptops are expensive and considerably more susceptible to damage.  They cost from $1,500 to $5,000 and average $2,500; laptop cases get damaged, screens get cracked or shattered, and so on.  And if your laptop goes flying off your lap or tray top and crashing onto the floor because of turbulence, or clumsy passenger or flight crewmember don’t expect any compensation, because for the most part, laptop users use their machines at their own risk and carry on baggage is not insured for loss or damage.

You can buy a ruggedized laptop PC (they cost more but they are much more durable).  Or you can use a damage resistant carry case and watch over your laptop carefully as you carry it around.  You can pony up for a unit with enough RAM, disk storage, computing power, modem, a network card, and even an extra battery.  But all that stuff costs a fortune, and your machine will still be at risk for damage or theft.  And ironically, even with two batteries most end up running out of power about of the way through a 5-hour plane flight.

So what to do?  Well if your focus is (or should be) word processing and note taking, there’s a great alternative.  The AlphaSmart 3000, which sells for a paltry $200, lets you operate for over 500 hours on 3 just AA batteries.  It’s a simple, slim, and portable computer companion that lets you take notes anywhere anytime holding up to 100 pages in 8 separate files.  It has a 4-line LED display, spell checker, and almost no learning curve.  There are no manuals to wade through, no conflict-ridden extensions and drivers to install, no interface cards to install, etc.  You merely enter and edit your text, then send it to any computer (PC or Mac) for formatting or directly to a printer.  The AlphaSmart can function as a stand-alone computing device for note taking, editing, and word processing, and as a substitute keyboard for your desktop.

The AlaphaSmart 3000 weighs a mere 1 pounds, is virtually indestructible, and has an almost endless battery life.  Students can fit it in their backpack, business people can put it in their bags or briefcases, and it is far less likely to get damaged or stolen.

You can’t play solitaire with it, or do spread sheeting, because it’s designed for note taking, editing, and word processing.  But that could be a blessing.  Using an AlphaSmart 3000 writers can write, students can take note and do their writing assignments rather than play games and waste time.  Also DVD movies on laptops (a slower 8 or 10 x DVD CDROM drive still costs about $100 more than a high speed 52x CD ROM drive) are still rather impractical because they consume a lot of battery power and frequently you are out of juice and the machine shuts down before the move is finished.  A better alternative would be to get a personal DVD player, $499-$1,299, and Boosteroo headphones, $29 (that raise the sound level so you can hear in airplanes, trains, cars, etc.), and an Alpha Smart keyboard.

AlphaSmart has been around for quite a while.  These keyboards are very popular at schools.  AlphaSmart has AlphaQuiz Smart Applets for automated quiz taking and grading.  The AlphaSmart 3000 is an affordable keyboarding and computing device that allows every student in a class to write, edit, and review their own compositions.  Since 1993, over 600,000 AlphaSmart devices have been used by millions of students in 4,600 school districts across the United States and in over fifteen countries worldwide. They are also used in many hospitals, colleges, universities and libraries.

The AlphaSmart doesn’t require a computer and can be connected directly to a printer for obtaining a hard copy, but also easily integrates with PC & Macintosh desktop machines. There is also a USB and wireless with IrDa (Infra-red) interface available.

As a second computing device is virtually an untapped market for the AlphaSmart.  For example, my sons can use AlphaSmarts to keyboard their work at school, the library, home, etc. and then when one of our desktop computers are available, they can plug in the AlphaSmart and easily transfer the text into Microsoft Word or whatever word processor they might care to use, format it, and print it out for class.

Authors, and journalists can use an AlphaSmart for note taking and writing.  They can carry it with them in planes, trains, and automobiles, or in their backpack as they trek through national parks and wilderness areas.  Rather than lug a 10 or 20 pounds of laptop and accessories they can have a slim, compact, light, easy to use, and inexpensive tool for doing their work anywhere anytime.

Product Information:

AlphaSmart, Inc.
20400 Stevens Creek Boulevard
Suite 300
Cupertino, CA 95014

Phone:  888-274-0680 or 408-252-9400, extension 118
Web:  http://www.alphasmart.com 

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Nick Anis is a food, wine, and travel and technology writer with over 24 books in print published by McGraw-Hill, Random House, Bantam, Ziff-Davis, Tab, and others. Nick's articles have appeared in The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, West Coast Media, The Family Publications Group, The Weekly News, and Travel-Watch.  His beats include food, travel, snow and waters sports, entertainment, family recreation, consumer electronics, home improvement, and automotive.  He is responsible for the Restaurant Row Ethnic Dining Guide, co-published by the Long Beach Press Telegram.  Nick is an accomplished downhill skier, PADI certified SCUBA diver, and when he's not sitting on his butt goofing off, enjoys a variety of active recreation including tennis, riding motorcycles, ATVs, wave runners, snow machines, horses, skeet and trap shooting he's also taken a stab at riding camels, donkeys, elephants, ostriches, lamas, dolphins, Reindeer, bulls, mechanical bulls, and buffalo.  Nick is a member (A Secretary/Treasurer) of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), a member of the North American Snow Sports Journalist Association (NASJA), Computer Press Association, The Writer's Guild, and listed in Books in Print, Media Map, and Press Access.  You can reach Nick at Editor@Travel-Watch.com.


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