QuickPad Pro Works as a Portable, Cheap Word Processor

I am typing this review on my QuickPad Pro, which, like the AlphaSmart, is a portable dedicated word processor (though it has limited spreadsheet and personal information manager software). On the one hand, the QuickPad Pro is sort of a technological throwback, but on the other hand, it performs its main task well.

The QuickPad Pro weighs in at about 1.5 pounds and is about the size of a piece of 8 1/2 by 11″ paper. It runs off four AA batteries, which should get you through 100 or more hours (I’ve had mine for several weeks and am still on my first set of batteries). The cost is a mere $329 plus shipping.

The keyboard is a standard laptop-sized that is comfortable — the only downside is the half-sized space bar key, which takes some getting used to.

The screen is a non-backlit LCD that supports two separate text modes: 16 lines x 60 characters or 8 lines x 60 characters. This alone is a huge advance over the leader in these sorts of machines, the AlphaSmart. I eventually stopped using my AlphaSmart because the 4 line x 40 character screen was far too limiting. The QuickPad Pro’s screen makes it possible to edit long documents that would be far more difficult to do with something like the AlphaSmart.

The screen’s contrast can be adjusted somewhat to compensate for different lighting conditions, though without any backlighting, you need to have good lighting for it to work.

The QuickPad Pro has another feature that dramatically increases its usefulness compared to its competitors — a Compact Flash slot. I plugged a 64MB CF card into mine and used it to store all of my files. This also makes it possible to use the QuickPad Pro for writing/editing large projects. For example, I’ve copied the draft of the book I’m writing onto the CF card.

However, the one drawback to using a CF card is that when a card is in the slot, it sticks out about half an inch. This makes it difficult to store the QuickPad Pro with the CF card installed, requiring users to remove the card when storing the unit in its case. A better design would have used a CF slot with an ejection mechanism so the card could have been recessed entirely within the unit.

There are several ways to get data from the QuickPad Pro to a PC. I primarily use the CF card — just insert the card into a CF reader attached to a computer and copy the files.

Additionally, files can be transferred using USB, a free serial port, or via the QuickPad Pro’s built-in infrared transmitter. The unit ships with an infrared receiver that can be attached to PCs that works relatively well, if somewhat slow.

There are some odd oversights with the QuickPad Pro. The most inexplicable is that there is no built-in spell check function. Even the AlphaSmart offered a limited spell-checking function, and its absence in the QuickPad Pro is a major oversight.

There is also no way to do a word count on a document — a feature I’ve always found helpful. Saving documents has a major possible “gotcha.” When the user is editing a document or typing, those changes are not being saved automatically — lose power, and you also lose any changes.

Unfortunately, there’s also no way to save a document and continue editing it. To save a document, the user has to press “Escape,” which brings up an odd menu asking the user whether or not the document should be saved. If the user types “Y,” the changes are saved, but press “N” or mistakenly hit “Escape” again, and all changes are lost. There needs to be a way to save a document while editing it, and the user should be required to type “N” to cancel saving changes — users are simply too likely to mistakenly press “Escape” twice.

Finally, the battery compartment was not very user friendly. The battery compartment requires using a coin to open, which is odd given that even at a couple of hundred hours per set of batteries, even moderate users are likely to replace the batteries several times a year — having to pop the battery compartment is extremely inconvenient compared to the AlphaSmart’s elegant battery compartment.

However, none of these problems detracts from the fact that the QuickPad Pro is hands down the best sort of portable word processor since the Tandy 100. It is light enough that I can throw it in my backpack and not know it is there. And since I don’t have to put up with long boot times or worries about having the system shut down after just a couple of hours, I get a lot more writing done than I ever tend to do with my laptop.

For people who are looking for a cheap alternative to a laptop for basic writing tasks, I cannot recommend the QuickPad Pro highly enough.

9 thoughts on “QuickPad Pro Works as a Portable, Cheap Word Processor”

  1. Dear Brian,

    I recently purchased a secondhand Quickpad Pro. It came with the original case and all of the original cables and parts. As far as I can tell, it has never really been used. However, it did not come with any kind of manual or documentation.

    I was wondering if you had continued to use your Quickpad Pro, and if you were able to answer any questions about it. My main problem with mine is that it will not read from a Compact Flash card. It simply says that there is no card inserted in the drive even though one is there. I thought perhaps that it wasn’t formatted properly, so I entered DOS mode on the unit and tried the format command. However, it says:

    “Drive not available, or the kernel build option SUPPORT_IOCT is disabled”

    I don’t know what this means. I am using a 128 MB CompactFlash card, and I’ve started to wonder if perhaps the Quickpad Pro can’t handle cards that large. (I read online that it could.) You mentioned using a 64 MB card. Have you tried a 128 MB card?

    Thanks for any information you can toss my way!


  2. Dear Brian,

    A quick follow-up: I realized that an old digital camera of mine came with a 32 MB compact flash card. I tracked down that card and popped it into the QuickPad Pro, and it worked just fine. There were no problems at all. So it looks like the problem was not the Quickpad Pro but the 128 MB compact flash card I was using. Either the Quickpad Pro can’t handle a card that large or there is something about that card that it doesn’t like. Either way, it doesn’t matter at this point. Text files take up so little room that even a 32 MB card is far more than I would ever need. I did some quick calculations, and it looks like this 32 MB card can hold over 7,000 pages of text. So there is no need to use 128 MB cards anyway.

    Thanks again.


  3. One last follow-up (in case someone else out there with a QuickPad Pro is encountering the same issues):

    I did a bit more experimenting with my 32 MB compact flash card, and I have to temper my enthusiasm quite a bit. It turns out that the QuickPad Pro editing program has a file size limit of 64 kilobytes, which equates to something like 14 or 15 pages of text. Therefore, no file can be larger than 14 or 15 pages. This limit applies whether the file is held in internal memory or on a compact flash card. I can copy files of any size to the compact flash card, but when I try to open them, I get this message:

    “File too large to load into the buffer!”

    This seriously reduces the usefulness of this device. It’s convenient to be able to store unlimited content on compact flash cards, but it is a giant pain to have to divide everything up into 15-page chunks.

    I’d be very interested to hear if anyone out there has found a way to bypass this internal buffer limit. Somehow, though, I doubt that it is possible.


  4. By the way, you state that there is no way to save a document and continue editing, but that it isn’t true on my QuickPAD Pro.

    I can simply press Ctrl-s and the file is saved with whatever changes I’ve made and I can continue typing. I assume all QuickPAD Pros have this ability. It also has the other standard Ctrl- functions:

    Ctrl-s save the file and contiue editing
    Crtl-c copy text
    Ctrl-x cut text
    Ctrl-v paste text
    Ctrl-home move cursor to beginning of file
    Ctrl-end move cursor to end of file

    You also state that there is no Spellcheck built in. Mine does have a Spellcheck feature. In fact, one of the keys on the keyboard is labelled “Spell Check.” Running Spell Check is as simple as pressing that button.

    Perhaps you have a different model than the QuickPAD Pro, because mine also does not require a coin or anything else to open the battery compartment. I can open it easily with my finger. The Alphasmart NEO, on the other hand, does require a screwdriver to open the battery compartment.

    My big problems with the QuickPAD Pro so far are the screen and the memory buffer. I find the larger screen is not an advantage at all, because it is very difficult to read. I have to use the largest font size in order to comfortably read anything, and at the largest font size, it displays only slightly more text than the NEO (8 lines of 58 characters vs 6 lines of 58 characters). The NEO’s screen and font is far superior to the QuickPAD Pro’s screen and font in terms of readability.

    The memory buffer, as I noted in a previous comment, in the QuickPAD Pro is also quite small at 64 kilobytes. This allows for only about 14 pages of text to be entered into memory at one time. It’s nice to be able to save files to a compact flash card, which gives you unlimted memory and storage. However, no file can be larger than 14 pages.


  5. Have you looked at Victor’s software page for this device? If the built-in word processor doesn’t suit your needs, then you can install Lotus Symphony 2.0, Microsoft Word 5.5, Microsoft Works 2.0, Wordstar 7, or Vi (Elvis). Since this thing runs off of DOS, you can pretty much install any DOS application on it I suppose.

  6. Would like to donate my QuickPad Pro to the Goodwill, and have everything in place but the charger. Do have a box full of chargers, just not sure which one goes to this piece of equipment. Do you happen to have the specs for charger? Thanks

  7. Some later units did come with a charger – mine has a 240v charger and a port for it on the rear, at the left of the IR port. The charger has 12v output, and a small barrel-type connector, but no indication of whether it is center + or -.

    When used, it can recharge NmHi batteries. There’s a brief description of it in the last couple of pages of the user manual available from the above victor-notes.com URL.

    If I recall, the user manual indicates that when in use with a charger, the batteries are not depleted.

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