Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The AlphaSmart 3000

AlphaSmart 3000

Have you ever wanted to be one of those hipsters with a mechanical typewriter in a coffee shop but didn't want to deal with all the hassles and noise of a real typewriter?  Here's the next best thing - the AlphaSmart 3000.

Originally sold to the education market, these are essentially keyboards with little 4x40 character LCD screens and enough memory to hold a few thousand characters of text.

I read about these devices a few years ago and finally got around to buying a few from eBay.  They're dirt cheap now, and you can get them individually or in lots of up to 50.  They seem to go for about 10 bucks each in working order.

I bought a lot of 3 from a reseller who evidently bought them from an elementary school, as they still have the school property stickers on them, and some leftover essays from the students that used them.  The essays are a nice little bonus, a "found item" from days gone by.  I got to read about whale migration and a trip to Hollywood Studios, among other things.

One of the main selling points of these things is just how limited they are.  If you want to write, you have everything you need to write - a blinking cursor and a waiting keyboard.  You don't have social media, Wikipedia, YouTube or anything else to distract you.  About the only other thing you can do with it is play with the built-in (surprisingly cool) calculator.

You get 8 files, easily accessed with 8 hardware buttons, and a next-to-useless spell check.  8 files is more than enough to give you the space you need for different projects without giving you enough space to start too many to handle.

The keyboard is decent, full size, and clacky.  It actually does give you some of that typewriter feel, unlike a modern laptop.  It takes a bit of effort to type, which must translate to greater meaning and impact, right?  

The screen is just fine.  I used to type up entire research papers in high school on a 1x20 screen.  4x40 gives you a sentence or two of context and lets you review the last few phrases typed for clarity, grammar and spelling.

Power requirements are incredibly minimal.  3 AA batteries can power the device for months.  Power on is instant.  There's no waking time or worry about battery life.

And perhaps the best part is how you get your work off the device and onto a computer.  No memory sticks or files to mess with!  You open a document of your choice on the computer, then plug the AlphaSmart in with a USB cable.  The device simply emulates a keyboard and sends keypresses to the computer.  Press "send" on the AlphaSmart, and it charmingly types your document into the computer, at about the rate a very fast typist could manage.  There's something pleasing in seeing your work appearing on the screen letter by letter, quickly but not instantaneously.  Makes you feel like you accomplished something!

The device also gives you a separate mental space to write in.  Like many others, I work in front of my computer all day.  I also use it (too much) for recreation.  Even if I feel like getting some words out, it can be difficult to open "just another document" on the computer and switch gears.  This is another place to be, plus I can take it anywhere.  Because they're 10 bucks, you could put one in every room and never be without a scratchpad.

So - 2 thumbs up from me, and see you at the coffeeshop!  And yes, this was all written on the AlphaSmart.