by Karen Pike

The recently released AlphaSmart 3000 model has several new and promising features sure to excite both teachers and students. The AlphaSmart, a portable keyboard weighing only two pounds, is an inexpensive device for notetaking, typing, editing and storing electronic texts. New editing features make the 3000 a more powerful word processing tool, enabling the user to cut, copy and paste text within and between files. The 3000 offers eight files for storing documents and additional memory which allows each file to hold up to twelve pages of text. The spell checker operates faster than that on the 2000 model.

Now Wireless-Enabled

Continuing to be compatible with most computers and printers, the AlphaSmart prints typed text to be easily transferred to a computer or printer via the use of an error-free infrared (IR) interface. IR technology makes wireless transfer possible and eliminates the need to connect the AlphaSmart to a computer with a cable. To use IR transfer, the user points the AlphaSmart at the computer, from a distance of up to three feet, and simply presses the send button. AlphaSmart 3000's ordered with IR come with either a Macintosh or PC IR pod. The AlphaSmart IR pod cannot yet be connected to an IMac, although this will soon be possible as AlphaSmart, Inc. is developing a USB port pod, scheduled to go on the market in the winter of 2001. To print directly from the 3000 using IR technology, the printer must be IR equipped. Inexpensive IR upgrade kits are available for both AlphaSmart 2000 and 3000 models.

Those who choose not to use IR transfer can save a few dollars by ordering the 3000 without the IR option, and connecting the AlphaSmart to a computer or printer with a cable. A new feature that makes connecting via a cable even easier for the youngest AlphaSmart users is a USB port that is compatible with Macintosh, PC and IMac computers. The 3000 model still has a built in serial port which makes it possible to connect it to computers without USB capability.

Portrait of the Alphasmart 3000

The Alphasmart 3000

KeyWords SmartApplet

for Keyboarding Instructions

Particularly exciting is the promise of new applications, called SmartApplets, which can be easily downloaded directly onto the AlphaSmart 3000 using the applets button. The 3000 comes preloaded with a four-function calculator, although this feature did not seem user-friendly enough for young children to operate. At present, one can purchase only the KeyWords SmartApplet, an instructionally based keyboarding program with fifteen lessons ($39 for a single user). This keyboarding program is quite different from the similarly named KeyWords software program downloadable to older AlphaSmart models using the "Get Utility" software. When using the SmartApplet programs, the text which appears on the AlphaSmart 3000 display screen, such as the actual keyboarding lesson, is not erasable. This is a vast improvement from the erasable text which was downloaded to the AlphaSmart 2000 using the "Get Utility" function. This feature should make the applets kid-friendly and very appealing to teachers. AlphaSmart, Inc. is developing several additional SmartApplets that will be released in the near future. These applications can be purchased individually, as lab packs, or with school site licenses for unlimited use.

One Disappointment

The now translucent color of AlphaSmart 3000's blue plastic shell has plenty of kid appeal, but the lack of an improvement to the four line display is disappointing. The display quality continues to be significantly poorer than that of more expensive portable computers, and some letter shapes are visually similar to the look of old dot matrix printers, which may be confusing to students with learning disabilities.

The cost for a single new AlphaSmart 3000 is between $199 and $244, depending upon whether one wants the IR option and rechargeable NiMH batteries. When using standard AA batteries, battery life of the AlphaSmart 3000 is reported to be between 200-500 hours, double that of the 2000 model. School pricing for purchase of multiple units is available.

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Karen Pike is coordinator of the Lower School Learning Resource Center at Princeton Day School. She is an alumna of the LDTC graduate program in the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey.

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