Fill up your writing toolbox: AlphaSmart Neo

As I approached my forty-first birthday last September, I made the commitment to pursue my lifelong dream of writing with the goal of getting published. But first I needed to gather a few writing tools. I share a four-year-old MacBook with my husband, but I wanted to be able to start writing the moment an idea struck me without having to ask him to relinquish the laptop. I would have loved to obtain a new MacBook Pro—because I am also a graphic designer—but money was tight. Writing longhand was definitely out of the question. I looked into alternatives, so when my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I was ready with an answer: an AlphaSmart Neo.

 The Alphasmart Neo, The Artist's Way and Starbucks

The Alphasmart Neo, The Artist's Way and Starbucks

The AlphaSmart Neo

The AlphaSmart Neo is a great little device. Intended for writing only, it is free of distractions such as browsing the web, checking email, or playing games. For a writer who struggles with procrastination, having these boundaries on my writing tool was a compelling reason for me to choose the Neo.

The Neo is comprised of a comfortable, full-size keyboard and a tiny screen. It’s only available in an odd shade of green; I’d have preferred black. Sturdy and lightweight, it runs for 700 hours on only three AA batteries. It takes just a second or so to turn on, versus the minute or two to start up a laptop and launch Microsoft Word.

You know how a laptop gets uncomfortably warm on your thighs? The Neo stays cool.

The Neo is great for writing a first draft or for journaling, or my favorite—to capture ideas that come to me while I’m in bed, almost asleep. I just reach over and pull it out of my nightstand drawer.

It’s not great for editing. The small screen is just not big enough to do so comfortably.

It costs $169 new at, but my husband was able to find it used for $50 on eBay.

If I want to go for a long walk or head to Starbucks, I take the Neo with me instead of my laptop. It’s lighter, for one thing. And if I damage it (hard to do) or it gets lost or stolen, I’m not out over a thousand bucks; I’m only out fifty.

A few more details about functionality…  You can store up to eight documents. To toggle between them, you simply press File 1, File 2, etc. You never have to worry about saving your documents. The moment you make a keystroke, Neo saves it for you. If your battery dies, 700 hours later, you will not lose your work.

To transfer files to your computer, you first install NEO Manager. Just takes a minute. When you connect your Neo to your computer using the provided USB cable, NEO Manager launches, allowing you to export the .txt documents to the folder of  your choosing. I re-save them as .doc files. You can transfer files to your computer using the wireless functionality, but I just haven’t taken the time to figure it out. : )

Writing Tool Alternatives

I considered purchasing a Netbook, but the keyboard is much too small for long writing sessions. And it’s around $500.

As for the iPad 2 – it is good for very many things, but not for writing. Several coworkers have joined the bandwagon, excitedly showing it off, pulling it out during meetings. Soon, I heard complaints that it’s not very easy to type large amounts of text using the digital keyboard. If you don’t hit the letters and numbers just right, the strokes are not captured. The digital keyboard is also very small, and I’ve observed them scrunching their fingers to hit the digital keys just right while peering at the low profile screen. So they made the additional expenditure of a separate keyboard and mouse, along with a stand to prop up the iPad. After meetings, they have to pack all the separate elements into a bag.

I did witness one very appropriate application of the iPad being used with a separate keyboard. It was at a major, rather solemn event at the university where I work. I sat next to a reporter who typed away – very quietly I might add – on a keyboard resting on her lap, while the iPad was propped up at her feet. From time to time, she’d glance down to make sure her cursor was in the right spot. It was much less obtrusive to those sitting around her than a laptop would have been.

As for my colleagues, I have to wonder why they don’t just buy a laptop. Cost, I suppose. And we are a marketing department. We do need to keep up with the latest developments in technology to know how it can help us in our marketing efforts. Or perhaps some folks just like gadgets. The mean part of me thinks they’re just wanting to have the latest thing and don’t want to be left behind. I have to admit – it is an extremely intriguing piece of technology. And I heard that a laser virtual projection keyboard has been developed. How cool is that.

I’m slow on the uptake, though. I’ll let others test out all the kinks for me, then I’ll jump on board. In the meantime, I’ll divide my writing time between my AlphaSmart Neo and my MacBook – when I can wrangle my hubby away from Farmville. : )

Leave a comment


  1. daveterry

     /  September 1, 2011

    I agree, the NEO is what I reach for even when the MacBook is near. I use it for journaling, blog posts, when I’m out on the town or at Starbucks. It’s comfortable and the tactile feel is perfect for responsive typing. If I’m typing in the dark, no problem. I just upload to content to the MacBook and do the editing there. I agree the NEO is a wonderful modern day typewriter with a low-carbon footprint.

  2. I love my Neo! It is my go to device when I’m drafting a novel. There is a new developement with the Alphasmart Neo. RenLearn is in the process of developing a dongle that will allow you to hook up the Neo to an Ipad as an external keyboard. Scriverner, a great writing program, is developing a version to work on the ipad. When these three come together, I think it’s going to be a magical combination. 🙂 So if you love your Neo the way I love mine, heads up! Good things are coming down the road.

    • Oh my goodness… That may just tip me over the edge regarding the iPad. The biggest benefit of the Neo is that keyboard… and if it’s a wireless connection to the iPad, then it’s a beautiful combination. Thanks for the heads up Wendy!


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