So let me tell you what I want out of a portable gizmo. Not Android. Not iWhatever. I want something simpler because I am the kind of guy that gets easily distracted. However I don’t like the Freewrite (formerly known as the Hemingwrite and got a name change because of Ernest Hemingway’s estate.) The Alphasmart is close to what I want, but even if it were still being made It isn’t quite there.
I want this thing I saw on flickr. Possibly with a piano hinge along the middle so it will fold up. Black and white display, possibly e-ink for the sake of readability anywhere, and the back of the display with fold out legs or some other way of adjusting display angle.
I want it to do the following things:
Word Processing. Plug into the usb on something else either to transfer files out, hit a button so it ‘types’ out whatever’s open into the device it’s plugged into (that sees it as a keyboard and storage device,)
Able to read epub docs since ‘why not’.
A SD card slot (full sized SD card mind you.)
A headphone jack so you can listen to music while you work.
Wifi so you can sync to a central server (include Windows, OSX, and Linux solutions) for document syncing not to a ‘cloud’ but to a local machine that would either be the teacher’s personal box, or for those at home a dedicated backup device so you have your copy on device, copy on SD card, and off site copy. I cannot count how often I have lost work and wished a backup existed, or finding backups I’d forgotten about years later.
The other thing is I want it user serviceable. Something I could go in and replace the battery on, pop the screen out if need be, pop keys off to clean the keyboard. I’m tired of sealed black boxes. The problem is sealed black boxes are easier to make, easier to sell people on sex appeal of, and easier to convince people to trade up in two years when the battery that can’t be replaced gives out for the new shinier model.
Market it as a cheap durable alternative to Chromebooks. There is literally no software to need updating, or get infected, or the like. If you can make them cost $100 or lower they’ll have a market. I’m not sure you can do that, but it’d be nice. Support for MP3/OGG/FLAC would also serve so people can listen to lectures or podcasts, and epub support would be good for distributing texts to students or staff that you want easily read and notes taken on, but not editable on its own.
We can do this. It is doable. It is possible. Also I want proper full travel keys. Not chicklet keys. I don’t care if they’re membrane or not since right now I’m on a twelve dollar logitech keyboard and it feels a lot nicer than chicklette.
I want this. Failing that I want to know how to build this. Why? As a bit of background I have owned the following portable gizmo things over the years:
Game Gear: Sucked batteries dry. Was kinda fun but the battery thing limited it greatly.
Two Game Boys: I ended up losing one, gave the other to my step brother with a copy of Pokemon Yellow. I like this little handheld in spite of my poor vision. The later revisions that aren’t pea soup green and black screens lasted a good long while. There’s even a genuinely good chineese knockoff system. Unbelievable, but true. A genuinely good chinese clone system.
First Generation Nook: The screen ended up delamination or something during a move. Was sorta simi useful for awhile but it just kept getting progressively worse. Til that point it was a nice solid little reader.
Nook Touch: I Liked this thing. Very lightweight, easy to grip, Had tactile buttons but also could swipe. Unfortunately a six inch ding and the screen froze.
Nook HD: I genuinely like this thing. Granted I put Cyanogenmod on it because barns and Noble has moved on and the interface is meeeh. However it is a really nice tablet outside of the fact the battery flaked out really hard on me and even though it probably is good hardware wise, it may as well be dead due to no working battery. That is something I am going to harp about. Who designs a device that will not work when plugged into a wall? Barns & Noble did with this thing, because if you unhook the battery it will not work. I did this by basically pry the case apart, unscrewing sixteen screws, carefully prying it apart, and then unhooking a tiny little clip. User serviceable this thing ain’t, and never was intended to be serviced by the unwashed masses. Unfortunately even if it’s getting power, you can’t use it at all. I thought going in when I got it maybe just maybe it would work off of AC when the battery inevitably goes and support has been dropped. Nope. This thing is dead as a doornail and I’ve gotta search the aftermarket wasteland for new things to plug in that cost as much as a refurbished tablet, which makes me wonder why bother?
So I have experience with handheld gadgetry. I also know me and that I do not do well with focus when trying to get things done, this is why I want something that is task oriented rather than ‘can do everything’, but not so hyperfocused there is no flex and is completely useless. This is why I want basic ebook and audio support. This is partially why I feel the Alphasmarts failed. In the face of ‘sexier’ options they couldn’t stand up in spite of doing the one thing they were designed for really well.
Is such a device going to happen? Not unless I learn a lot of electronics and make it myself, because there literally is no market for it now. Chromebooks have eaten up the education sector, and there are plenty of secondhand alphasmarts for $20 or so on ebay plus Freeright taking up the ‘look at how trendy and awesome I am’ market.
Still. I can’t be totally alone in wanting something that’s somewhere between ‘smart typewriter’ and ‘full blown tablet.’