The AlphaSmart NEO

AlphaSmart NEO
You are the One, Neo. I have spent my entire life looking for you.

So, a month ago, I wrote about wanting an eInk writing device. I then purchased an AlphaSmart NEO from a seller on eBay for around $40. The idea is to have a tool, with a good physical keyboard and free from distractions, to take with me anywhere and be able to write. As bizarre as this thing may look, it’s actually pretty incredible. Though the memory is limited (not really) and you get only 8 files, the total storage capacity is around 72,000 words, which is enough to win the NaNoWriMo and then some. The screen IS small, but this isn’t an editing tool, it’s a writing tool. Just write, edit later. Boot up time? Instant. It saves after every keystroke. And it runs over 700 hours on 3 AA batteries. I’ve only used it about 50 hours so far.

I’ve hauled this thing with me to places like the Renaissance Festival, the back yard, the mall, work, the hospital. I get inspired, I bust it out and write. It helps that I’ve gotten into the habit of taking a small backpack with me most places.

One of the coolest parts of this device is how you get the files off. For most other portable electronic devices these days, you’d either be saving to “the cloud” or you’d plug it in via USB and drag & drop the files. The NEO, however, is a fully functioning keyboard. When you want to get a file off, you plug it into your PC with a USB cable, the PC recognizes it as a keyboard, you open the program you want your file in (Word, Notepad, Google Docs, WordPress, etc), put the cursor in the correct field, select the file on the NEO and press Send.

As an example, yesterday I had to take my father to the doctor. I also needed to write a review of a movie for Shakefire. I took the NEO with me and wrote the review while I was waiting at the doctor’s office. When I got home, it was lunch time, so I made some lunch. I then sat down in front of my PC, hooked up the NEO, opened up the entry form for the site and pressed Send. While I was eating, I got to watch as the NEO typed out my review. It types a little faster than I do – well, I probably beat it in raw typing speed, but it types at the same speed without stopping. And as it typed, I read. Because I could read comfortably and my eyes were incapable of glancing ahead (the NEO hadn’t typed it yet), this lead to more critical reading. It was as if I was reading someone else, not me.

In addition to the editing, there was a certain… gravity? weight? added by watching the words type out. Something very satisfying. I’ve written a lot in my life, but when I’m done I’m always done, the writing just is. Watching the NEO re-type everything I’d written, it just adds a level of “I wrote that” pride that I didn’t have before.

Another nicety, since this thing can’t do much more than write, I get more writing done. When I sit at a PC and write, if I have a question about what I’m writing, some detail, I’m tempted to Google it.  Doing so often leads to a lost twenty or thirty (or more) minutes reading sites, checking emails, and doing stuff that isn’t writing. The NEO allows for much more focus on my writing. Sure, there are programs you can get to disable your Internet access, but as easy as it is to disable it can also just as easily be re-enabled. With the NEO there is no Internet access to enable.

Anyway, I’ve written more in the last month than I did in the previous 5 or 6 before it. The freedom the NEO has given me is unparalleled. I can’t say I’d recommend the device to every writer, because every writer has their own style, but if you haven’t found a style that works best for you yet, I’d totally recommend giving one of these a shot. Buy one on eBay, and if it doesn’t work for you, sell it on eBay.


  1. This device sounds cool, but im searching for something with e-ink and Internet connection. I’m using WordPress and writing outside via 3G could be amazing. ¿Do you know something like that?

  2. Guys, I am an engineer and an avid reader, less avid writer and want to create a product that allows e-ink reading/writing. along with some browsing ability, for me mostly wikipedia/blogs matter. I am doing a survey of what features would you want in such a product, I want to catter to writers/readers specifically.


  3. Dear Kazam,
    What I’d like in an e-ink writing device is to be very lightweight and perhaps have a port for a folding keyboard. I’d like a word-processor of course which could be quite simple but I’d like a basic in-line outliner function so I could order larger documents. Long battery life and visibility in daylight are essential. I’d also like some means to back up when I’m not going to be going home for several months (SD card or USB stick would be fine). I wouldn’t want the screen too small, an A5 format would be ideal. The e-ink would ideally be paperwhite standard although that isn’t essential. I’d also like it to work as an e-reader so that I could carry my reading material with me.

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