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Topic: AlphaSmart Serial "laptop" - $10 (Read 7319 times) previous topic - next topic


Jul 11, 2011, 09:32 pm Last Edit: Jul 11, 2011, 09:38 pm by focalist Reason: 1


I am tempted.  I have a little experience with this in a school setting, but not from a technical rip-one-open-and-resuse perspective.

The thing is, it's rumoured to be able to run embedded Linux and it does have RS232 serial communications, a full keyboard and small LCD display, as well as battery.  Even "as is" they make nice little typing tutors for kids, but it does have a data transfer function and I think it can also act as a serial terminal.  This thing BEGS to be married to Arduino.

They are available used all over the place, school systems used them extensively until "real" computers entered the classroom.  They can be bought cheap, are tougher than rocks, and seem too good to be true as even a serial terminal for I/O to projects...  You could even piggyback on the internal battery for Arduino power.  If this can act as a basic serial terminal, it's more than worth it's price!

Thoughts or experiences?


I have several 3-Com Ergo "Audrey" appliances, 1 is still NIB, all in great shape since I never got around to hacking them into MP3 players or something, just used 1 as a Titan-TV surfing tool until the display got too small for that. I think these would be something interesting to work with also.

We have a couple Palm Dana's also, based on Palm Pilot software.
Designing & building electrical circuits for over 25 years.  Screw Shield for Mega/Due/Uno,  Bobuino with ATMega1284P, & other '328P & '1284P creations & offerings at  my website.


Jul 11, 2011, 10:04 pm Last Edit: Jul 11, 2011, 10:41 pm by focalist Reason: 1
What exactly DON'T you have ferreted away?

No wonder you took up swordfighting, it'd be the only way you could keep the spouse at bay.  I'd say you need a warehouse, but you already went and got one of those, and then decided to put the SWORDS in it, not the toys.  Think about that.  You are now totally defenseless.  There's probably a fencing term for it, and you're in it!

At least keep a dagger near the "parts bins" to let her know you still mean business..

Actually I think the Dana things ARE the newer version of this device.  "AlphaSmart 3000 Dana", yes?   Looks like they sell for about $50, and actually are touchscreen, pretty much Palm devices.. a lot different than previous models.  The thing is, if it doesn't have a usable interface like RS232, it won't be of much help in an Arduino context.  I'm hoping that these could be used as serial "dumb terminals", and I'll bet having all the good new stuff precluded the good old serial port which we would be wanting.

Those things even have wireless apparently.. hmm.  Still, a simple serial terminal is a good place to start... and maybe even end up.  For Arduino, the most useful thing would be a simple serial terminal with TTL levels.  It almost might be better to have the "oldest" ones that around, as our interfacing tends to be on the lowest level possible.  Hmmmm....


And, I just looked up what that "Audrey"  Jobbie is. .... that's a cute as heck little device. 

To be clear, I'm sure we could reverse engineer the guts of one of the mini-laptops etc.. I was kinda hoping for a turnkey "terminal".

You let me know when you are going to have a yard sale, okay? 


Yard Sale?  Never!

Yes, that looks like what we  have.  Has a USB port.  Wife had trouble with drivers to get PCs to talk to it.
Looks/acts like a palm pilot with built in keyboard, and memory sockets.
Son used it for school, moved data off it via memory card.

Website for it is still active, maybe things have been updated since start of school year.
Designing & building electrical circuits for over 25 years.  Screw Shield for Mega/Due/Uno,  Bobuino with ATMega1284P, & other '328P & '1284P creations & offerings at  my website.


I used to work at AlphaSmart on the Danas and Neos. I worked on the teacher software for downloading/uploading data to 30 of them at a time using the special cart and a big USB hub. If you have any particular questions on them I can probably get an answer. AlphaSmart was purchased by Renaissance Learning back in 2005? which is when I left, after the stock options were actually worth something.

I think the last person I knew working there has just recently left but I'm still in touch with the founders and the rest of the engineering team so we might be able to help if you decide to hack one apart.


We can't get them to talk to PCs or to print from them.  And they seem to go thru batteries quick.

I'd like to be able just to use it as is, not sure what I'd do with it if we opened it up.
Designing & building electrical circuits for over 25 years.  Screw Shield for Mega/Due/Uno,  Bobuino with ATMega1284P, & other '328P & '1284P creations & offerings at  my website.


For Dana's download the latest version of AlphaSmart Manager from here http://www.renlearn.com/neo/downloads/dana.aspx
There are also links for the other models that are still supported. With the manager software you should get the drivers needed to talk to the devices over USB. There are also some firmware upgrades there too but I haven't looked into those. I don't have any hardware to test on, the only thing I kept was an old keyboard from one.

The Palm varients are annoying as they really are all PalmOS and no simple serial or USB. You have to get the old Palm tools (Metrowerks or gcc) if you want to write software for them. I'm not sure they were ever upgraded to the newer versions of PalmOS.

If you get some old Neos or AS3000s those are pretty nifty and you can use the Get Utility and AlphaBeam to send data back and forth.


Well, that's a project for another time. My wife (network engineer, with 3Com (that owned Palm)) spent a bunch of time lst fall getting all the latest stuff on it, and we each had several Palms before that, so we're quite familiar with them, and in fact would still be using our Palm Vs  if the battery charge control chip hadn't died in them.  Had to  put stuff on SD card, then print from another computer. Really wanted them (we have 2) to print to this nice portable Pentax PocketJet II (1 pound thermal printer, really nice), but just couldn't get there.

I'm not really a software guy, and she even less so, so I don't us writing any apps for anything.

My crude ham-fisted arduino coding is about as far as I'll go.  I have written programs for 14 boxes I made on 4 main varieties (couple are a little different for different shiftout hardware), biggest is 15,000 bytes, and not a function written for any of them! Its pretty ugly in places 8) But I have an awesome blink without delay methodology worked out so they all run very quick, and I have tabs in the IDE figured out for ease of working thru the code.
Designing & building electrical circuits for over 25 years.  Screw Shield for Mega/Due/Uno,  Bobuino with ATMega1284P, & other '328P & '1284P creations & offerings at  my website.


I went as far as making a panel with 20*4 LCD and 16 keys to do what these terminals would do when connected to a main frame. I am still waiting for the PCBs. Would be nice to hack the old "laptops" into arduino's terminal. You plug one of these to an arduino and start typing in commands and arduino would respond. Very retro+sci-fi. May need to do modem hand shake to agree on speed and I will like the sound effect too.
Serial LCD keypad panel,phi_prompt user interface library,SDI-12 USB Adapter


Jul 23, 2011, 05:22 pm Last Edit: Jul 23, 2011, 06:08 pm by focalist Reason: 1
Well, all I really had in mind was a cheap portable device with a serial terminal..  Though the AlphaSmart and DreamWriter *might* be capable of it, I can't seem to find a solid answer.

However, I did find (and got for around the same money! woo hoo!) a device I've wanted for years.. a Tandy T200.  These were sold as portable word processors, and are built like tanks.  For a long time (and still today for die hard fans) they were "standard issue" for reporters and writers.. they run forever on batteries, the keyboard has a real nice feel, and they can interface to anything, because of their built in serial port with a lightweight terminal software.

The T100/T200/WP-2 are not easy to find usually, I got really lucky.  I still think that the DreamWriter may be our best bets outside of the "proto laptops" like the Tandy and the Citizen clone of it, there's a guy selling DreamWriter 100's on ebay for $2.99, but shipping is almost $11 per, they don't fit in a USPS fixed-rate pack.  Without knowing if the DreamWriter would work, I decided I'd be happier with the T200.

One thing I have noticed is Credit Card terminals getting really cheap.. typically, those are Windows CE devices with a pretty good touchscreen.  Seen them going for around $20.. but then again, at that price, you can find a used PDA of one platform or another with a serial port and terminal software.  Somewhere in a box I have an iPaq that someone gave me after the battery died and they found out it would cost a fortune to add wifi.. I should see if I can dig that up and cobble a serial cable for it..


I might dig up some of the psion 3c (mx) I have lying around and see if I can get them to work with the arduino and bitlash......


Sep 20, 2015, 10:37 pm Last Edit: Oct 05, 2015, 07:00 pm by robtillaart
thank you

moderator: removed meaningless URL

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