A Computer for Every Student! And it Speaks!

Laser PC6

Snow Hill, NC
Large Print Reviews (dedicated to special needs individuals)
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Technology & Learning Magazine

Laser Computers Help Children Learn How to Write
By Karen Welsh, Staff Writer, Snow Hill, NC

Light-weight, portable computers are being used at West Greene Elementary School to help special needs children learn to write.

Computer technologist Rebecca Reagan and Cheryl Malone, special education teacher, gave Greene County School Board members a brief demonstration Monday of how the laser PC6 portable computer works.

Only an inch thick, the computer looks more like a laptop. Each unit costs well under $300 and operates over 20 hours on a rechargeable battery pack, Reagan said. Students can beam their work into the desktop computer using an infrared connection.

Board member Pat Adams asked how the computers are holding up in the classroom. "Great," Reagan said. "They're very sturdy, very durable." Malone said she and Reagan read an article about the PC6's, which are designed to aid both exceptional and mainstreamed children with word processing, databases, spreadsheets and calendars for homework assignments.

"It's a tremendous resource for children who need extra help." she said. "The new PC6's are easy to use and any child can learn to operate the entire program independently," Reagan said. The PC6 automatically saves each child's work, sparing the frustration of lost work.

Reagan and Malone approached Greene County School Superintendent Mazingo with the idea. He decided to buy a few of the machines for a trial run with special needs children. The exceptional students were excited to have their own computer, Reagan said. Even children who had a difficult time with the mechanics of writing with a pen became adept at typing on the full-sized keyboard.

Soon, children who were struggling with writing a sentence were typing half-page paragraphs. "You just excited to get your hands on things that work," Malone said. "It's wonderful to see students pick up their PC6's, go to their seats and start writing."

The trial was considered a complete success. The schools system now owns about 80 PC6's. "At first we were targeting exceptional children," she said. "Now we're broadening out to all the children."

West Greene Elementary will now have two carts loaded with PC6's that can easily move from class to class and be recharged with one plug in the wall outlet. "It's like a portable computer lab," Reagan said. The school system is already planning many different uses for the PC6's. "We're anticipating using these for the writing test," she said. "Right now the children dictate while someone writes it down. The PC6 will replace that process."

"It's nice to be on the cutting edge," Superintendent Mazingo said. "The PC6 is a tremendous discovery."

State of the Art: Portable Keyboards Let You Process Words Anywhere By David Pogue, syndicated columnist of the NY Times

Max parks his hoverbike in front of his housing pod's acrylic dome; the artificial-intelligence sentry scans his retinas, then waves him inside. After switching on the hologram player, Max unloads his laptop, a $200 tablet that weighs one pound, contains no moving parts and can be dropped without damage. Its batteries are half depleted < only 350 hours of power left. He points the machine at his home computer and presses the Send button; the words he wrote on the road are silently beamed to the desktop machine, where they appear as though being typed by a secretary high on caffeine.

Of course, all of this is sci-fi nonsense, except the part about the laptop.

The world is filled with fragile seven- pound $3,000 laptop computers with two- hour batteries. But not all laptop makers prize megahertz, screen resolution and memory above all other specs. A few tiny companies, turning those priorities inside out, are making portables of a completely different sort: cheap, simple, rugged, light, amazingly power- stingy word processors.

Now, these aren't traditional laptops by any stretch; they're more like glorified keyboards. Instead of a screen, you get a monochrome L.C.D. readout that shows only four or eight lines of text at a time. It's not even backlighted; too bad for people struck by inspiration in the middle of the night. There is no trackpad (only cursor keys), no modem and only enough memory to hold about 100 pages of typing.

Still, for every person who uses a laptop for animated PowerPoint shows in meetings, there's another who doesn't do much more than type. Students, of course, are far and away the biggest consumers of these portable note-takers; for the price of a single real laptop, a school board can buy 10 of these smart keyboards.

Smart keyboards start up and shut off instantly, are apparently crash-proof, save your work automatically and preserve your files when the batteries are removed. Because there is no hard drive or other moving parts inside, these machines withstand youthful handling that would shatter a real laptop (and its owner).

When compared with the Palm-and- folding-keyboard setup that is increasingly popular among journalists, writers and researchers, a smart keyboard offers considerable savings, more rugged construction, greater typing comfort and dramatically improved battery life. And beaming the resulting plain- text files to a Macintosh or PC by infrared is simpler than a Palm synchronization; the smart keyboard pours your text directly into whatever document is on your computer's screen (Word, Note Pad, an e-mail program, whatever).

At first glance, Perfect Solutions's red or blue 2.75-pound Laser PC6 (www.perfectsolutions.com) could be the AlphaSmart's beefier brother. Only these two laptops can generate accent marks, and only they offer properly descending g, j, p, q and y characters. (On the other machines reviewed here, these letters are squished into the space occupied by other lowercase letters and distracting to read.)

The PC6 lets you create and name 45 documents (100 pages total), [as apposed to the Alphasmart's 8 files]. Its best feature is the 40/80 key, which switches to a smaller font; this eight- lines-per-screen mode brings you much closer to desktop word processing than the usual four-line mode.

The Laser PC6 comes with phonic spell check, homework calendar, typing tutor, spreadsheet, database and scientific calculator programs. Its cartridge slot accepts either a $35 Roget's Thesaurus or a $99 Text-to-Speech cartridge that speaks back your text in a synthesized voice.

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Laser PC6

Although the Laser PC6 resembles some of the other alternative keyboard input devices and costs about the same, it does a lot more. It comes with a word processor, typing tutor, phonic spell checker, calendar, calculator, spreadsheet and database. The unit has a ROM expansion port, into which you can connect such optional cartridges as Roget's Electronic Thesaurus and Text-to-Speech. The calculator supports the use of parentheses for grouping, has a memory, and includes mathematical functions such as square root, basic trig functions, log and exponents. The spreadsheet is Lotus-compatible and can be exported to popular desktop computer spreadsheets.

The Database is a simple 5-field data storage program. Think of it as a series of index cards, each with room for five lines of information. Students could use it to gather data on a field trip, or organize research information from the library or Internet.

The Laser PC6 switches from a 4x40 to an 8x80 display at the touch of a key, and also has the capability to send formatted text directly to a printer - a timesave for printing out reports and presentations. The other alternative keyboards send only raw text to a printer, so formatting (bold, justification) must be done by first uploading text to a word processor on a computer. With one keystroke, the PC6 can upload its text wirelessly, via an optional inrared receiver, to any desktop computer application that can take text, word processor, email, Powerpoint, etc.

WNBC-TV, NY (Aired week of July 23rd, 2001.)

A Computer for Every Student

Perfect Solutions Consulting, Inc.

2685 Treanor Terrace

Wellington, FL 33414

Tel: (561) 790-1070

E-mail: perfect@gate.net