Laser PC6 with Text-to-Speech
Perfect Solutions Software, Inc.
15950 Schweizer Court
West Palm Beach, FL 33414-7128
Toll-Free Telephone: 1-800-726-7086
Fax: (561) 790-0108
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - July 25, 2002
What is the Laser PC6
The Laser PC6, from Perfect Solutions Software, is a portable computer with a full-sized keyboard. It comes loaded with word processing capabilities and more. It also has a variety of add-on features, such as a text-to-speech option that allows the Laser PC6 to "speak" the text of the word processing files.
Despite weighing in at less than three pounds, this keyboard punches a wallop. In way of size, dimensions of the Laser PC6 are about 11 inches by 8 inches, and only about 2.5 inches high at its tallest point. Besides functioning as a word processor, the Laser PC6 comes loaded with a Lotus compatible spreadsheet program, plus spell check and word prediction software. It also contains a typing tutor and a scientific calculator. The PC6 includes a database program and a telephone book, allowing up to five lines of information per entry. A homework calendar also comes preinstalled.
The keyboard is laid out in a standard Qwerty format. This is a full-sized keyboard that has a tactile dot on the J and F keys to aid in finger placement. Foreign language accents are easily accessible, and a sticky keys / repeat keys function can be enabled with a few keystrokes. Above the keyboard, the Laser PC6 has a small LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screen that measures about 9 inches by 1.25 inches. The text can be displayed on the screen in two modes: 80 X 8 or 40 X 4, the contrast of the screen can also be adjusted by the user. In the 80 X 8 mode, eight lines of text can be displayed, with each line containing up to eighty characters. In the 40 x 4 mode, you have only four lines of text with up to 40 characters per line. The 40 X 4 mode effectively displays the text in a 30-point font. Switching between the two modes is very easy. You simply hit one key! Unfortunately, the 40 X 4 mode is not available when using the spreadsheet.
The Focus of this Review
The Laser PC6 is designed for use in schools as a literacy tool used to help children learn to write. However, for the purposes of this review, I will be looking at the PC6 in terms of its word processing capabilities, and for its usefulness as a note taking tool for visually impaired individuals, in both a classroom and professional setting.
Ease of Use
When you first open the box that your Laser PC6 arrived in you will find that everything, you need is included, ranging from an instruction manual to a printing cable. To get you started, the unit ships with a one page 'cheat sheet' that quickly runs you through the basic steps to get the unit up and running. You'll also find 'cheat sheets' on any of the optional cartridges that you ordered, as well a vital information sheet that explains the power options for the unit. In addition to the 'cheat sheet' you will also find a booklet entitled, Ten Minute Tour. This booklet gives you a brief overview of all of the unit's functions. This booklet provides enough information to enable you to use all the programs contained in this portable computer. If you need more information about the functionality of the Laser PC6, you'll find it in the User's Manual that also comes with the unit.
A nice feature of the Laser PC6 is that you can wirelessly send word processing files to your computer. This is done via a small Ir (InfraRed) receiver, costing $35, which plugs into a desktop computer. When you're ready to transmit a file, you simply open the file you want to transfer, and then open a word processing program on your computer and place the cursor on where you want the text entered. Next, simply point the Laser PC6 at the receiver and hit the Ir send button on the PC6's keyboard. This works with both Macintosh and IBM Compatible desktop computers.
I transferred data from the Laser PC6 to various word processing programs on a Windows PC. These programs included WordPerfect, Microsoft's Word, Notepad, and Edit Pad. The transfer worked flawlessly every time. In addition to sending information to your computer via the Ir receiver, you can also send data directly to your printer, using the printer cable that ships with the Laser PC6.
Using the Word Processor
The word processing Laser PC6 is very easy to use.
It can hold up to 45 named files that can be reached with a few easy to remember keystrokes. Each file can hold about fourteen pages of text. To open a file you should first turn on the machine, or hit the escape key located next the space bar until you return to the main menu. From here you would hit the letter "A" to open the word processing program. If you want to open a new file, you would hit the letter "C" for create. You will be prompted to name the file. Simply type in the name you want for that file and hit enter - and start typing. If you want to work on an older file, you would hit the letter "E" (for edit) to bring up a list of previously saved files. You can page through this list using the arrow keys. When you find the name of the file you want, just hit enter and you will find yourself at the beginning of the document. Your data is automatically saved every time you leave the document or turn off the machine. In addition, the Laser PC6 has a built-in back-up battery that ensures that your data is saved, even if your main source of power is interrupted.
The Laser PC6's word processing program is, well, a word processing program. You can type in text and edit it. It comes with a cut and paste feature, as well as a type over feature. You can underline text and make portions of your text 'bold' or center the text if you wish. However, these embellishments are only visible
when your document is printed. You can also add foreign accents. Other formatting options range from line spacing to margin settings, as well as adding headers and footers. Other useful features included with this word processing program are a spell checker, a word search feature, and a find and replace feature. In short, this is a fully functional word processing program.
In addition to all the software that comes standard with the Laser PC6, you can also purchase various optional cartridges. These easily slide in, and out, of a small ROM expansion port located toward the back of the unit. Optional cartridges include a Roget's Electronic Thesaurus and a Text-to-Speech cartridge. Only one cartridge can be used at a time. For this review, I only looked at the Text-to-Speech cartridge.
This Text-to-Speech option does not 'speak' everything contained on the Laser PC6. It only reads the text found in word processing files. The spell checker also 'speaks', but only when being used to check text in a word processing file. It does not work in other programs contained in the unit, nor does it read menus. In addition, to hear the reader, you have to use headphones, or connect the cartridge to a powered speaker. A set of headphones ships with the Text-to-Speech cartridge. In addition, a Text-to-Speech
cartridge that has a
built-in speaker and amplifier will be available in September of 2002.
When considering the limitations of the Text-to-Speech option, it is import that you take into account that it was designed as a device to help children increase their literacy skills. It was not designed, specifically, to meet the needs of the visually impaired community. This said - within it limits, it is a very effective program.
Like most screen reading programs, the Text-to-Speech option can be used to speak individual words, sentences, paragraphs, or an entire document. It can also be set to speak while you type, reading the text letter by letter and then speaking the entire word, or just speaking each word as you type it. And, like most screen reading programs, the pitch and rate of the speaker is fully adjustable. As well, you can adjust the amount of time that the reader pauses in-between letters when set in the letter by letter mode.
Personally, I don't like using the 'speak while you type mode' with this unit, or with the screen reading program that I use on my regular computer. This is just a personal preference as I am a fast typist and I find that the 'reader' slows me down. I much prefer to go back later and check my work. However, the 'speak while you type mode' is an excellent option is you are just learning to type or if you are afraid that you might not be hitting the correct keys.
While I might not like to use the 'speak while you type mode' I do find the text-to-speech option to be indispensable when it comes to simply re-reading the text, and when editing the text. The Laser PC6 reader has the requisite computer sounding voice, but it is clear and readily understandable.
Taking Notes in Class and at Meetings
For visually impaired individuals, using the Laser PC6 can be an ideal way to quickly, and accurately, take notes in class or during meetings. Files are easily opened, and data is automatically saved. Other than a muted clicking that can be heard while you are typing and a slight chime when you turn the machine on or off, the unit is silent. Consequently, its use will not disturb others around you while using it. As well, if you have the text-to-speech cartridge, and you use the headphones, you can have your text read back to you without anyone else hearing. This enables you to easily go back over the text during your class or meeting, and as a safety measure to ensure that your fingers were not misplaced while you were typing.
When this word processing program is paired up with the text-to-speech option, you have a powerful, portable tool, that can be effectively used by visually impaired individuals in a variety of settings and for a variety of purposes.
For instance, I wrote this entire article on the Laser PC6 - while sitting on my porch! I then transferred the article to my desktop computer so that it could be coded into html so that it could be posted on the Internet. I also found that it was very handy when it came to conducting interviews. Normally I do not use a tape recorder because it makes many interviewees uncomfortable. However, when I take notes by hand I often find that I cannot read them later. This is because I cannot see what I'm writing, which has a tendency to affect my penmanship - especially when I'm rushed. And I'm normally forced by circumstance to write very fast when conducting an interview. While I was 'test driving' the Laser PC6 I had the opportunity to try it out while conducting an interview. I found that I could easily sit with it in my lap (there was not a table nearby) and effortless take down all the notes I needed during the interview - notes which I could actually read - yippee!!
The only real drawback that I found with the unit was that the text-to-speech option did not work with all the programs and that you only have two options when it comes to the text size. For most, the 30-point font displayed in the 40 X 4 mode will be more than sufficient. However, if you need a bigger font, you're out of luck. However, Perfect Solutions does make other products that you might find more suitable for your individual needs.
Overall, I found the Laser PC6 Portable Computer to be easy to use, and best yet, easy to learn how to use. It comes with complete documentation that clearly explains all of its features, and which provide detailed information on using its various software programs. It is lightweight, and although it doesn't have a handle, it is very easy to carry about. For longer trips, it comes with a small carrying case that looks like a mini-briefcase. In addition, it ships with the printing cable, enabling you to start using the unit almost immediately.
The current cost for the Laser PC6 and some of its accessories are listed below. For more details, check out the Perfect Solutions website, located at: http://www.perfectsolutions.com/
Laser PC6 $290 (select PC or Mac for the printer
cable, and Blue or
Burgundy for the PC6)
Ir receiver $35 (select USB, PC, or Mac)
Rechargeable battery $20 (20 hours use per charge,