Monday, August 06, 2007


No, I'm not talking about the Matrix.

Many people have asked about my favorite writing tool, so I thought I'd finally get around to blogging about it.

It's a lifesaver for me. Without it, my last two books wouldn't have been written nearly as quickly as they were. It's how I squeeze writing into the daily chaos that is family life. It's also how I can sit beside my husband in the evening as he's watching TV without abandoning him for the computer (but still get some writing in).

What is it? It's my AlphaSmart NEO.

Begun as a way to teach grade school students how to type without the enormous cost of lots of computers, the AlphaSmart quickly found a cult following among writers, and for good reason.

At its most basic, an AlphaSmart is a portable word processor. It's got a sturdy shell, a small screen that holds 4 lines or so of text (depending on your model and the font size), and a full-size keyboard. It uses so little battery power that my rechargeable battery gets charged maybe three times a year. There's no saving involved. Once you type something in, it's there until you delete it. And there's no boot-up time, either. You push a button, and it turns on. You push it again, and it turns off (or just wait a few minutes; if you don't type for a while, it'll turn off to conserve power).

The earlier versions (the AlphaSmart 2000 and 3000, no longer available) had slightly clunkier keyboards and design than the NEO, which is sleeker and requires a much lighter touch to type with. As a result, I can type much faster on the NEO than I could on the 3000. The NEO also has a word count feature, which I really missed on the AlphaSmart 3000 I owned before.

It has 8 files you can write in, and each one can hold something like 32 single-spaced pages worth of material. I've never yet filled a file, but I like being able to have several things going at once. New with the NEO is the ability to remove (but save) a file from being active and use that spot for another work, essentially giving you several times more than 8 files to work with. I've never needed to use this function, because I always transfer my work to my computer pretty quickly after writing on the NEO.

The DANA version has a few bells and whistles, but also a few drawbacks, like how you have to save, and I know of DANAs that have had problems like fatal errors, things I've never heard of with a NEO.

If you're looking for a high-powered laptop, this isn't it.

But if you're looking for something light-weight, easy to transport, easy to turn on, that won't lose power after hours and hours and HOURS of writing, that keeps your work without any effort on your part, something that costs a fraction of a decent laptop, this is your toy.

I mean tool.

Mine has been dropped and stepped on (this happens with four children running around), and it's taken the abuse. I use it all the time.

We inherited a 2000 recently, and I passed it on to the kids so they'd stop trying to use my NEO. They love writing their own stories, and with 8 files, they each get to "own" two of them. It's perfect.

When it's time to transfer my work to the computer, I just launch the "get" utility program and push the "send" button on my NEO. The infared does the rest.

I can also transfer from the computer to the NEO, but since the NEO is best for drafting rather than revising (at least for me; that little screen is tough to revise on), I rarely send anything the other direction.

My NEO has let me draft on car trips, in hotel rooms, in the lobby of the dance studio, in the doctor's office, on the deck swing as the kids play outside, poolside while the kids are in swimming lessons, on a bench at the park. Without it, I wouldn't get nearly as much done.

For more information, here's their website.


Shanna Blythe said...

I also really like that there aren't any distractions on it. Laptops are computers so they have everything--internet connection, games . . . you get the picture. With the NEO you are just going to be writing. I LOVE that!!

An Ordinary Mom said...

I might have to look into this, especially with Christmas and my birthday coming up in a few months :) !! I spend a lot of time in the car and other places waiting and waiting. It would be nice to be able to better utilize this time. I have a laptop, but it just isn't conducive to hauling around.

Thanks for the info!

Luisa Perkins said...

THAT is cool!

Unknown said...

Annette, thanks for blogging about the Neo. I've been trying to decide where I should get one or not. The main drawback for me was the small screen. I'd like to be able to see probably 10 lines at a time instead of 4. But what you say makes sense. Maybe I could get more writing done if I hauled one of those with me everywhere. Food for thought.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

Thanks for the information about the NEO. Shanna is right, laptops have too many distractions, and the NEO sounds great for hauling around. I love the fact that the batteries last so long.

Annette Lyon said...

Shanna, You're right; no distractions is another great point with the NEO!

Ordinary Mom--I got my 3000 for my birthday. Absolutely invest in one! (Sounds like we're both Christmas babies.)

Candace, The Neo has a bigger screen than the 3000, and it's set at the default of 4 lines, but you can increase it I think to about 6 lines or so. I prefer to keep it at 4 lines so the text is bigger and easier to read.

For drafting, the small screen doesn't bother me. In fact, it's nice to not be distracted by how many pages you have written or when the next page break is or to constantly be rereading what you just wrote. It's great for just sitting down and PRODUCING.

Josi said...

Amen--I love my Alphasmart. I have had it for over two years and written three books on it, two christmas letters, countless rants and a few articles. Love it, Love it, Love it.

Unknown said...

This is so tempting. Sounds like a good investment. Thanks for posting, Annette. I looked into it a while ago, but did nothing more about it then. Maybe now's the time.


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