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.