Tiger Learning Computer
Tiger Electronics has begun shipping the Tiger Learning Computer (TLC), a small, notebook-like computer targeted at homes with children, which is based on the Apple IIe. (Actually, it reminds us more of the Apple IIc, with its built-in ports and lack of slots, but the software is IIe/IIc compatible, so we'll set aside that quibble for the moment.)
The TLC comes configured with 128K of RAM, two cartridge slots, and a slew of ports on the back: serial (modem), PS/2 mouse, parallel (printer), joystick port, headphone jack and video and audio output ports. The TLC uses a television for a monitor (a lthough it can be hooked to a composite monitor like any Apple II)...in the absence of RCA input jacks on the television, the video can be routed through a VCR or an RF modulator. Also included with computer are: cables for video and audio, a PS/2 mouse, and. power adapter. A manual explains the ports and workings of the computer, and is well-written and clear. Note that there is no disk drive port; programs are loaded from ROM cartridges which measure approximately 2 inches by 2 1/2 inches. AppleSoft B ASIC programs may also be typed in and saved to the RAM cartridge. (I hope you've saved up all your back issues of Nibble magazine--you'll be able to put those two line programs to work now!)
The TLC ships with five ROM cartridges containing the following programs: AppleWorks 4.3 Word Processor, Invisible Bugs, Sun and Seasons, Grammar Gobble and Picture Chompers from MECC, StickyBear Typing and StickyBear BasketBounce from Optimum Resourc es, and Math Shop: Weights & Measures and Math Shop: Fractions and Decimals from Scholastic Software. All of them except AppleWorks are great choices for the target market, and work well. The computer also ships with a RAM cartridge, which can be used to store data created in AppleWorks or other programs with save functions. Tiger Electronics says that there are other programs available, including telecommunications software that allows users of the TLC to browse the World Wide Web, but we did not previ ew that software.
Some of you may wonder why I don't give AppleWorks higher marks...in fact, I think Tiger Electronics would be better off if they dumped including AppleWorks, and included FrEdWriter instead. The problem with AppleWorks is that it is an 80-column text program, and 80 columns just cannot be displayed on a television clearly--which will be the normal setup for the TLC. Also, with only the Word Processor module included, new users can easily make mistakes and try to create a new spreadsheet or database d ocument and get themselves into endless error messages and prompts for the DB Program or SS Program disk. Also, since AppleWorks is on a ROM cartridge, customized settings cannot be saved to disk, so they must be reentered every time (and if a TLC-user i s going to print to a printer other than the default Epson FX printer, they will have to reenter the settings every time they plan on printing). FrEdWriter, which can be displayed in 40 columns, and is much easier to use, would be a better bet for the ta rget audience.
When the computer is first booted, it displays a splash screen with the name Tiger Learning Computer (and plays a fanfare which my three kids found very entertaining), then boots to a graphical desktop (with a female voice inviting the user to pick an activity). Clicking on a disk drive lets you boot one of the cartridges inserted into the computer, clicking on printer lets you configure the printer port, etc. After you launch a program, the mouse is pretty much useless in the software included (exce pt for AppleWorks), but if other software that does use the mouse is purchased, then you have a very serviceable mouse. The keyboard is a bit on the small size, but I was able to type without too much adjustment being required.
The TLC retails for $149.00. As competition for a genuine Apple IIe it loses points in the face of the Apple IIe's greater expandability, storage, and superior keyboard; but compared to the many "pre-computers" being sold in stores ranging from Zany B Rainy to Toys-R-Us, the TLC is a hands-down winner. It's a real computer with a selection of software from the best educational software library around.