THE RACE is on to provide the best budget dedicated writing machine. Leading the field on price and ease of use is the AlphaSmart 2000 which, in addition to its predecessor's range of facilities, features a built-in spellchecker.
The AlphaSmart 2000 is a stylish, compact word processing unit with a laptop-sized keyboard and small LCD screen. For your cash, you get the unit, batteries, cable and handbooks. It has been designed purely as a basic writing machine and has limited facilities for handling text.
It is intended that pupils will use it for pre-presentation writing - for getting those ideas down quickly before transferring them to a desktop computer for final editing. It is well-suited for this. The ease at which text can be transferred is remarkable: plug it in and press the Send button. It can communicate with Acorn A7000sRiscPCs, Apple Macintosh and PCs, and link directly with almost any parallel printer.
Its tiny LCD screen (four lines by 40 characters) is rather limited - it should be backlit to overcome problems with ambient light and poorly lit classrooms. However, this is the only serious shortcoming of an otherwise well-specified machine.
It runs on three AA batteries and has a sensible 80-key layout with software control over four differing keyboard layouts: QWERTY, left handed, right handed and Dvorak. The latter configurations require the use of keyboard stickers to nominate keys. It can store 64 pages of text (128K) in eight separate files with password protection. This makes the machine ideal for multiple users.
Once a piece of text has been entered and spellchecked, the host computer must be up and running with a word processor loaded and a file opened. The AlphaSmart 2000 is plugged directly into the keyboard and, at the press of a key, the transfer of text is undertaken directly into the file. An optional Y-shaped connecting lead is available for PCs and Macs, negating the need to disconnect the keyboard each time.
At Pounds 199, the AlphaSmart 2000 is the most affordable, dedicated word processor available - but it does have limitations. For more features, filing options and integration, you can pay more for the Tandy DreamWriter 200, or go the whole hog and pay more than Pounds 400 for the Apple eMate.
The AlphaSmart 2000 is ideal for what it does. One of the main aims of prewriting (the raw draft that will be edited and composed later) is to build and develop fluency and, to this end, the AlphaSmart 2000 is well-matched to the task.
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AlphaSmart 2000, portable computer keyboard, Pounds 199+VAT