A few weeks back I ordered a Neo Alphasmart based solely on reading Ann Aguirre’s twitter about a month back when she was talking about it. She praised her Alphasmart for a few things: its non-connectivity, its battery life, and its single function. I’ve now been using it for about two weeks. Reader, I’m about to praise it for much the same things.
Design-wise, it looks a bit like a giant calculator and a typewriter had a baby. It’s smaller than a laptop and very light. I’m a big fan of its portability. It’s just so easy to take it into the backyard, or to the couch at night. It doesn’t get hot so I can hold it on my lap if there’s no convenient table nearby.
You can only see about four lines of text as you type, which for those of you who are tempted to endlessly edit as you write (and want to stop yourself at the first draft stage) might be a really good thing. I do find it occasionally frustrating when I can’t easily check against something I decided a few pages back, but in that case I just leave myself a note in brackets to check it later, which is my usual way of leaving future me notes for later at the first draft stage. (I generally find them as I go in edits, but I also search on them to make sure I didn’t miss any.)
Another downside–if you want to count the minimal text as a downside–is that the keyboard is a little different from my laptop keyboard. My fingers haven’t quite adjusted to the difference, and I make many more typos. Also, I usually compose in Word, which corrects a lot of common typos. I really had no idea how many “teh”s and “adn”s I type on the regular, since generally they get fixed as I go. On the Alphasmart, they remain, taunting me.
But on the whole, it’s light and has an incredible battery life (on, I believe, a pair of AAs), doesn’t light my legs on fire if I want to balance it there, and perhaps most importantly, all you can really do on it is type. I do sometimes have a problem with checking twitter, or following links and then obsessively closing out my tabs during what is supposed to be writing time. This eliminates that distraction. And then when you’re done, you plug it into your computer and watch the letters scroll across the screen, magically typing themselves. It’s great.
All in all, I’m quite happy with my purchase. I’m writing a short story on it right now, and it’s great to be able to take it outside. (I haven’t taken it to a coffeeshop yet, but I’m going to, as well as take it on some road trips later in the summer and maybe get some writing done in the car.) The Neo Alphasmart is n longer being made, but there seem to be plenty available on eBay and Amazon. If you ever have an issue with computer-related distraction or just want a portable, non-heating option for writing on the go, I’d recommend it.
(Added bonus: My dog is very happy with the additional outside time. Here he is looking up through the table, wondering if the Alphasmart is going to manifest a treat. Sadly, that is not one of its capabilities.)