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AlphaSmart Neo - wooed by its zen-like simplicity

Neo_large Every once in a while you discover something that absolutely blows you away. From the moment you first see it you know it's going to fill a purpose in your life so perfectly, that you must own it there and then. I last had that feeling when I first saw a Tablet PC. I knew instantly  that it was exactly what I needed to make my paperless operation complete, and I wasn't wrong. Today, after reading an Unclutterer post I've discovered a new absolute 'must have', a minimalist portable word processor called the AlphaSmart Neo (full specs on the machine are available via this link).  

The Neo seems remarkable for both the features it does have, and the features it doesn't. Quite a strange statement to make but bear with me. Massively in its favour, the Neo is light, robust, features a full sized keyboard and most pleasing of all, has a battery life of around 700 hours. Of course in order to give you that amount of 'juice', something has to be left out and the most obvious is the lack of a large display. However It simply doesn't need it. Its only function is as a word processor. It gives the facility to display 2-6 lines of text on its LCD screen and that's more than enough. The Neo also cuts down on the battery use as it has nothing in the way of major 'bells and whistle' features such as WI-FI, large hard drives, DVD drives etc.

However it's the Neo's minimalistic nature that makes it an absolute winner in my mind. You see I've been on a quest over the past few months of trying to de-clutter my electronic writing environment. Don't get me wrong, I love the Tablet PC and I love inking, but there are times when I need a distraction free environment to get my writing done (this became especially apparent when I was writing my dissertation). I've largely achieved this through using a few distraction elimination applications such as Scrivener, Ulysses, WriteRoom for the Mac and DarkRoom and JDarkRoom for Windows, but the temptation, albeit an underlying one, is still there just to quickly check email or RSS feeds. With the Neo, that temptation is 100% eliminated because the features that help you distract from writing simply aren't there.

Furthermore, that amazing 700 hour battery life seems so incredibly useful. Most of my day is planned around 'power pitstops' so I can imagine how having so little concern about running out of 'juice' can be so liberating. I'm also hugely impressed by the apparent robustness of the Neo. I can envisage using it in scenarios where I'd hardly dare to bring out my Tablet PCi.e. the bus commute to university.

The AlphaSmart Neo may be marketed more at schoolchildren than anyone else but I can really see the Neo fulfilling a major role, not only in my paperless life, but also in the life of any serious writer. I'm not alone in that thought either. Professional writer William Mize has been using an AlphaSmart since 2001 (the 3000, which is an earlier model) and he proclaims it as his  favorite writing gadget:

At least once a week, when I’m in the throes of working on a book, I think to myself, “Damn, I love my AlphaSmart".

So dear reader, today I fell head-over-heels in love. It doesn't happen often but I'm well and truly smitten. The difficult bit now, aside from raising the cash (although £200 is not insurmountable), is convincing my wife that I need one of these. Hopefully it isn't going to take too long because just as it is with a real lover, it hurts to be apart for too long :o)

So are you already enjoying a passionate love affair with an AlphaSmart? If you are then I'd love to hear about it.

Additional links
AlphaSmart Flickr Group
- A very active and VERY helpful group for AlphaSmart die-hards.
The Ultimate Writing Machine - This must be the most thorough review out there and you can really feel Mark Zedder's passion for the AlphaSmart Neo in his 4-part review (part 2 HERE, part 3 HERE and part 4 HERE). Mark proclaims "to my astonishment I found the keyboard incredible..[ ]..I can type blazingly fast on the Neo..[and] out of the box I was going full guns on [it]".
Simon Barrett's Neo Review - Teacher Simon Barrett provides an excellent hands-on 3 part review of the AlphaSmart Neo (part 2 here and part 3 here). Following a hugely passionate review Simon concludes "on a scale of one to ten the Neo scores an eleven".
Cecilia Lenagh's Neo Review -  Writer Cecilia's brief review on the Neo. She concludes - "If you are a writer looking for an affordable laptop alternative that offers straightforward writing time, durability, portability and economical operating costs, Alphasmart Neo is this writer’s choice for 2008!" - glowing praise indeed.
AlphaSmart Neo review for travellers - Nomadic wanderer Wade delivers an impression on the Neo from a travellers point of view. He concludes - "AlphaSmarts are a traveling writer's best companion".
Neil Somerville's Neo review - A review of the Neo by writer Neil Somerville. On the Neo he says "It is convenient, sturdy, portable, energy efficient and I have no doubt will help to increase my productivity and output".


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Good morning Robert! How wonderful for you to pick up on my love for the AlphaSmart. Thanks for the link love and I hope that this is the beginning of your affair with The Great Little Word Processor That Could.
While the NEO and the 3000 are great machines, do remember that there are other even earlier models that can be had for a song and a dance. Specifically "Stairway To Heaven" and the foxtrot.
I see that you also found the Flickr group, which is a very fun resource also.
Best of luck!

- Bill

Thanks for stopping by to say hi Bill. I'm honoured. Got to agree the AlphaSmart Flickr group is outstanding. If only other online communities would take a leaf out of the AlphaSmart Flickr group. The world would be a more pleasant place.

Anyway take care and continued success in all of your writing projects.

Hi there,

Glad you found my review helpful.

In the next day or so I will be doing an interview with the Product Manager for the Neo, you will probably find that of interest as well

Oh, you will be SO happy with the Alphasmart. I read "No Plot, No Problem," decided to write a 50,000 word novel and then decided to check out the Alphasmart. LOVE IT! Now my only problem is getting it away from my 13 year old, who wrote a large portion of his own novel on it and likes to use it to write in bed before lights out. The instant on and off and the automatic save are tremendous time savers. And having only the four line screen means that it is all that easier to turn off your inner editor and just WRITE. We've used it for a year now between us and have yet to change the batteries....oh, and if you are on a plane -- the time savings is (are?) wonderful. My first week I flew and the pilot announced we were leaving the gate, no we weren't, yes we were, etc about 8 times...on and typing and off and saved while the laptop folks were still waiting for their first warm up. It is a GREAT investment.

Sab - Thank you for your passionate appraisal of the AlphaSmart. If this level of passion and excitement doesn't make anyone reading it want to rush out and buy one, then nothing will. In fact you should consider working for AlphaSmart's marketing dept. :o)

The good news though Seb is I'm already the proud owner of a Neo myself. After seeing it for the first time I just couldn't help myself, and I rushed an order that reached me last Wednesday. I'm on my fifth day of ownership and I can already feel my level of passion and affection starting to rise to the same level as yours (if that's possible). I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS DEVICE!!!

So thanks for your enthusiasm. Thanks for your passion and continued AlphaSmart happiness to you and your son.

I hope you drop by again some time

Interesting device. I love the battery life. But I'm surprised people are able to tolerate the tiny display. When I write I really need to be able to glance back and forth over as close to a page of text as possible so that I don't lose the flow of my language and ideas. I don't have a bad relationship with my internal editor, so I don't need to be forced not to look back--I want that editor on the job.

Hi Karla,
Thank you for your comments. You know the small display isn't so much of the hindrance you may think, and it's the screen small size of course that gives the Neo its tremendous battery life.

The Neo's small display did cause me to hesitate for a moment before buying but I can safely say, in use it's been fine. What has helped is the download of an additional font set created by a member of the community. This takes the maximum of 6 lines of text display up to 9 lines, which gives you enough displayed text to avoid the flow of language and ideas being broken.

Sure it takes a bit of getting used to working on a smaller screen but it really is far from a hindrance.

After all the information and commentary I have read about the NEO, I'm definitely going to get one. It's better than a notebook, and since my fingers can fly over a keyboard a LOT faster than holding a pen - this is the perfect tool for me. Thanks to all - and Eolake who started this whole thread on his blog!

Great decision Robb. I know you won't regret it. The Neo is one of the hidden gems of technology. A 'gem' that most people overlook in favour of speed and performance.

Can you tell me if you have heard of any user groups for the Neo? I am helping a local resource teacher set them up for use at school. Thanks!

Hi Jaye - best place I can recommend is out little Flickr group:


Everyone is incredibly helpful and incredibly knowledgeable.
Hope that helps

Hello Robert,
Could you share a little more information about the fonts you refer to in your June 5 posting? Are these publicly available and if so, how does one go about downloading them to the Neo?
I'm a Neo novice so details will certainly be appreciated.
Thanks much!

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