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Alphasmart

(This is a page dedicated to the word processing wonder that is the Alphasmart 3000. It was mainly written on July 17th, 2011 but the links have been updated as of 4/27/2013)

What is an Alphasmart 3000? It is a full-size keyboard with a 4 line LCD screen that is mainly only usable for word processing. It is a great writing tool because you can do very little other than write on it. It does have a calculator but there is no internet, no video games, no nothing! And, it runs on AA batteries for months before it needs new batteries. It is also 10 years old so there are some things you’ll need to do to get it ready for it’s new use as your dedicated writing machine.

Alphasmart

Why buy one? It’s super portable, you never had to worry about finding a wall outlet, and you can write with zero distractions. A lot of people use them for the “Write a book in one month challenge” known as NANOWRIMO.

It saves your file as you write and you have 8 files you can use that are opened with dedicated buttons. You transfer your writing via a USB cable to a PC and it can type directly into whatever application you have open. The PC sees it as a keyboard and the Alphasmart basically “types” your document on the screen. Also, you can transfer the files as text files if that is what you prefer.

On a side note, I have used my Alphasmart at work on a legacy system where copy and paste do not work right. I had to change a security function manually for about 500 users. That would mean a very tedious process of typing in this information 500 times. With the Alphasmart, I created a file of the keystrokes and just hit SEND 500 times. This saved me about 3 hours of work.

Why not save money and buy an Alphasmart Pro or Alphasmart 2000? Any model older than the 3000 uses PS/2 cables instead of USB. You might make that work – I didn’t want the hassle. Also, the Alphasmart Dana is out there and runs Palm OS. It also runs rechargeable batteries instead of AA’s. I didn’t want to deal with that.

I would go with the Alphasmart 3000 or Neo models only but that is just my unsolicited opinion.

Buying an Alphasmart

Where can you buy one? I bought mine on eBay from seller westcosurplus for $24.99 plus $11.15 shipping. It came with the USB cable. (As of 4/27/2013, westcosurplus still sells Alphasmarts!). My Alphasmart looked like it was hardly used. There is not a scratch on it. It works and types perfectly. This is important because some people complain that certain keys stick over time.

I also bought a case to keep it in. Any 13” notebook case will work. I bought one on eBay from seller onecall. It is the LaCie ForMoa Black 13-inch Laptop Case and it cost $18.66 shipped. It was designed for the 13 inch MacBook. 

case

Yes, I could have found a cheaper case or used a slightly bigger one or none at all. I bought it to keep the dust out and for carrying out to Starbucks or other places. Have I done this yet? No. I am a huge slacker.
So, as I said before, these devices are 10 years old so there are several things you need to do if you purchase one:
  • Check for sticky keys!
  • Try to connect it to your PC and make sure it transfers files. Make sure you transfer off anything that is on there. These typically come from Elementary schools and the files either make no sense or will have you collapsing in laughter.
  • Change the backup battery in the device. More details below.
  • Optional: Upgrade the software from 1.6 to 3.01 using available software. More details below.
Changing the backup battery

The Alphasmart 3000 uses a very common CR2032 battery to help backup all of your files when the main power (your AA batteries) is off or when your AA batteries die or you are swapping them. This battery is supposed to last about 10 years and most of these are 10 years old! You will typically get a warning if your battery is low but sometimes the only way to know is to turn off your Alphasmart, pull the AA batteries, wait about 10 minutes, put the AA’s back and see if your files are still there.

The process involves removing your AA batteries and then unscrewing the 8 phillips head screws from the back of your Alphasmart. The front and back comes right apart except for the display cable that is attached from the display on the front half to the rest of the unit that is the back half.

There are good pictures of this process on Flickr and I will put links in the order of the process here after my picture showing you where the screws are. The picture set I am linking to is missing this so use my picture as step 1:
back_as
Move the cursor over the pics linked to below to see items highlighted to make the process easier.
O.K. Did you see on step 9 how it says that you will be asked if you replaced the battery and you will have to hit Y? That did not happen for me. I got a system error when I did it. I thought – “Uh, oh! I killed it!”.

Fret not – if you get an error (mine said “Bus Error Accessing: 0x00405555 Next Instruction At: 0x000274F4 Turn the unit off and then back on.” This did not work), just do this:
  1. On your Alphasmart 3000, with the power off, hold down the RIGHT SHIFT plus the BACKSPACE keys. While these keys are depressed, turn the power ON.
  2. A message will appear in your display reading: "Are you sure you want to reset the AlphaSmart to factory defaults? Press N for NO. Press Y for YES." Hit the "Y" key to advance.
  3. When prompted for the password enter "tommy". This will re-initialize your Alphasmart 3000 enabling you to load the updated Co:Writer SmartApplet.
Hopefully you did not have the error and you just hit Y. Either way, you now have an Alphasmart with a new 10 year battery!

Upgrading the Software

After reading a thread on the Flickr group for Alphasmart, I felt like I absolutely had to upgrade the software.

After I upgraded the software, I really questioned whether it was worth the trouble. What I can do now with 3.01 that I could not do before is rename my files so the names show up when I hit the File buttons. I guess I also have a better dictionary and thesaurus but I do not use them.

Finding the software is a real pain – I had to ask someone in the Flickr Alphasmart group for a link. It is not posted anywhere. Well, I posted it in my public Dropbox at this link. It will remain there until the Alphasmart people come after me. Also, the instructions for the upgrade are on pages 4 through 9 of the document available here.

Like I said, it might or might not be worth it to you.

Enjoy your Alphasmart!

There are all sorts of shortcuts covered in the guide I found that I have posted here. I don’t use any of them yet. I just power it up and type. Some of the blog entries you read here and hastily typed out on the Alphasmart and then transferred to the PC for editing. I need to use it more. Usually I look at the Alphasmart and the Nook when I am about to leave the house and the Nook wins.

I hope this guide is helpful. You can always contact me through the blog if you decide to take the plunge and have questions.

4 comments:

  1. Hi there, the user guide links do not work - do you know where I can find it?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello! I fixed my dropbox link above and the document is also available (as of 4/27/2013) at http://www.irvingisd.net/alphasmart/documents/Sys%203%20update.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  3. Be very careful with the update. I got an AlphaSmart 3000 in excellent condition and wanted to add "Beamer" to it. Downloaded the file and instructions (above). Was extremely careful to follow the directions and when I hit "Send" the update started, then stopped and gave me an error code that was something like "Could not find Rom 3.0 small", then "An error occurred during send operation." Now the AlphaSmart 3000 displays two lines (so it's probably bricked). Support pages at Renlearn.com say it lost AlphaWord and I can install version 1.6 (which is what was on it) but that I'll need a PC Updater cable. AlphaSmart PC Updater Cables are apparently rarer than hen's teeth now and I haven't been able to find one yet. If anyone has the pinout for this cable, or knows someone who has them for sale, I'd appreciate the information. Thank you.

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