Monday, July 7, 2008

Nifty Device: Neo by AlphaSmart

I'm writing this review on a nifty little device called the Neo by AlphaSmart. What on earth is it? It's kind of like a word processor, except it's laptop-sized. It's designed for one purpose--the entry of text. Well, maybe two purposes, if you add the transmission of the text to and from a computer to its function as well.

Think of it as a $219 no-frills laptop. It's /wonderful/ if you need a way to write away from your computer, but you don't want to spend the money on a fragile laptop.

I discovered the Neo via Kelly Gay, who is happily using her own Neo as well (and who calls it her "precious"). It allows me to write in the La-z-boy. No more sitting hunched over my computer all night after spending all day hunched over my computer at work. I actually prefer writing this way. My husband is going to get awful lonely in the computer room.

It's tough. Supposedly, it will withstand being dropped, and I believe them. The thing is made of hard plastic. It has a 700 hour battery life. That's right, 700 hours. On 3 alkaline AA batteries. I haven't even put a dent in the battery life.

The file system is a bit strange, but it's quick to get used to. There are eight file positions, each accessed by the push of a button. To get to this file, I push the "file 5" button. That's it. With one button push, I'm working on my novel. And it remembers where I was when I last entered text. Not even Microsoft Word does that. As soon as you enter the text, it's saved.

You can have any number of files at each position by giving them a name. I have not named my files so far; when I'm done with them, I simply upload them to my computer and clear the version on the Neo.

The drawbacks? There is absolutely no formatting. That's why I used slashes above, where I would usually use italics. I also have not found any way to remove some applications on it that are designed for teachers. Also, each file has a hard limit. I found that I need not bother transferring files that have more than 8000 or so words. Otherwise, I don't have room to actually work in the file, which holds about 10000 words, max. You can adjust this maximum file size, but so far I have not bothered. 8000 words seems a comfortably large chunk for me to work with.

It reminds me of the word processors of the 80s, except it transfers files instead of typing them out right away. It emulates all the same key combinations that Windows uses, so you can still copy with Ctrl-C and paste with Ctrl-V. There's nothing like a mouse or a touchpad; navigation is done entirely through keys.

There is another version called the Dana, which blends the Neo with a full-featured PDA, including a touch-screen. However, it seemed to have more functionality than I needed and I really wanted the toughness of the Neo. This thing looks to be as tough as a calculator.

Ok, now I'm going to upload this into Blogger and write about that experience. Ciao for now . . .

Done. I plugged the Neo into my computer using the USB cable, and hit the "send" button on the Neo. It typed the file directly into this Blogger window. That's actually a slow way to send files; I usually just use the software that came with the Neo to just send the whole file as a chunk. But it's kinda cool to watch it type the text onto the screen.

It's easy. It's fun. I'm going to take it with me on vacation next week. I think every writer should have one. Check it out.

10 comments:

  1. The no formatting is a turnoff, but wow, 700 hours? Does it do tabs? I think I could mostly live without other formatting if it did those.

    I don't suppose there's any chance it does hard hyphens...

    This sounds like a find.

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  2. Oooo, I might need one. I'd get so much more done if I couldn't, um, read and comment on blogs when I sit down to write...

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  3. Yes, it does tabs! And if you were to put a hyphen in between your words, it wouldn't mess with it. I'm assuming that's what you mean by a hard hyphen. I'm really not missing the formatting. I tend to stress words with underlines too much as it is.

    If you're having trouble with hard hyphens, and if you use Microsoft Word, then you need to see the first installment of my MS Word for the Novelist series. It's here:

    Creating a Manuscript Template

    Another good sales point, Robin!

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  4. I put up a post on it at Backspace and about fifteen people sounded off who had one. They all loved it.

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  5. The 700 hour battery life is tempting, but I think I'd rather spend about 100 bucks more and get a really cheap laptop from Newegg.

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  6. Ed, I didn't buy the Neo because of the price. I bought it because of how tough it is. Laptops are fragile. The Neo is built to withstand children, and that was the big selling point for me.

    What I wanted was an upgrade from my pen-and-paper notebook, and this is definitely it.

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  7. this sounds cool - sounds like something I could take inline skating with me! I'm always worried about taking a nasty fall. Even if I pad my laptop, the jarring could be enough to damage it.

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  8. I think it would survive inline skating. I would take SOME precaution to wrap it up, but it wouldn't be so worrysome as a laptop.

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  9. I have had an Alphasmart Neo for just over a year. I bought it to take to Australia and New Zealand to write a journal. Worked a treat. 20,000 words. As good as a notebook for getting down quick ideas. At the moment I am using it for work notes in front of the TV. You can forget about power - the batteries last a year (as long as you don't use rechargeables).

    Regards from UK.

    Terry

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  10. I have had one of these for over a year - I bought it to write a journal while on holiday in Australia and New Zealand. Fantastic. 20,000 words over the 4 weeks. It's a quite brilliant concept. Now I use it for all sorts of writing, from short personal notes to the preparation of work documents.

    Regards from UK.

    Terry

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