With all of the talk lately about how pricey the Freewrite (formerly the Hemingwrite) word processor/typewriter by Astrohaus is, I’ve noticed a few writers mention a cheaper alternative. The Alphasmart.
There are a few reasons why writers say they want one, but the most popular is because it offers distraction-free writing. I like that, but it’s not why it held my interest. The internet doesn’t get in the way when I’m ready to write. I needed something I could type on and take with me anywhere, especially outdoors, without worry I’d break it somehow. Also, not having to worry about plugging it in because the batteries last so long is a huge plus.
You can say I’m a fan of the Alphasmart line. I started with the 3000 version I bought off eBay for $12 quite a few years ago (2005, maybe?). Later, I bought a brand new Neo. I used this one almost every day. Since my daughters kept using my Neo whenever I was done with it for the day, I ended up getting them each a used Dana. But when we heard that the Alphasmart line had been discontinued I ended up going back to eBay to get one more Neo, and, eventually, two Neo2s.
Why am I telling you this? They’re not for everybody, but I really love these word processors. Yes, they were originally created for school and students with special needs. Their small, lightweight, portability and ease of use caught the eye of writers everywhere, especially after ads for it showed up in magazines, like Writer’s Digest.
There are people who might point out the easiest and best way to write on the go is pen and paper. True, but I had surgery and sometimes typing is easier on that arm. Plus, even though I still write by hand, I enjoy typing more.
Are there things that would make it the perfect writing machine for me? Sure. My favorite model is the Neo2. If there was one thing I’d change is the LCD screen. First, I’d like it to be the size that’s on the Dana model. With a screen tilt like the Dana as well. I’d also prefer the screen color to be lighter. White maybe. But that’s it. Well, maybe an option for an SD card slot, or updated WiFi that doesn’t need an extra receiver. By the way, Dana is the only model with an SD card slot and a backlight option. I’ve found nice book lights that clip on my Neo with no problem. Some Danas and Neo2s have WiFi capabilities, but it’s limited to email and sending/receiving files.
With that said, here’s some information on what they offer and what I like about them. Unless otherwise stated, these are mostly for the last two Neo models.
- They are the size of a normal keyboard with a screen area.
- Can have 2 to 6 lines of text on the screen at a time. Great for 1st drafts. Not so easy for editing. It’s doable though.
- They’re lightweight at about 2 pounds.
- Tough exterior. They were made for child use. Makes it easy to take anywhere without worry it will get damaged.
- Instant on. No waiting for a computer to boot up. Hit the on button and write. Great for some of us, who can sometimes lose our train of thought by the time the computer is ready.
- 8 file button/folders allowing up to 200 pages of text combined. (100 pages in the 3000 version.)
- Saves instantly as you type. No worrying about files being deleted if you forget to save. And no delay.
- The Dana and Neo versions have smooth, light touch keyboards. The 3000’s keys are harder to tap. Not sure on earlier models.
- The military green on the Neo is nice, but I love the dark charcoal color for the Neo2.
- Out of all of them, the Neo2 has the best contrast settings. Letters are clear and dark if you want them to be.
- Includes home, end, arrow buttons, backspace, delete and esc keys.
- Send straight to printer with USB printer cord.
- Send files to any computer writing program with USB cord.
- 3 AA batteries last up to 700 hours of writing. It’s less if you use rechargeable batteries. Only 20-25 hours for Dana.
- The Neo models have lithium batteries that last about ten years. This is so if your AA batteries die and you haven’t changed them within a certain time frame it still keeps all of your words in memory. It’s time to change the lithium battery when it’s no longer holding memory. You can find instructions online on how to change it.
- Has word count command.
- Includes calculator (part of the student package, along with learning apps. you probably won’t need.)
- Can view/hide battery status.
- Includes thesaurus and spell check.
- IR option. Will need IR receiver for this.
- Some Neo2s have an older WiFi option to make it easier to send files back and forth to computer. Will need to use the WiFi receiver made for it. I rarely see those for sale.
- Select text, select all, cut, copy, paste, all included.
- AC adapter option (buy separately)
- Important commands are listed on the back of the unit.
- There’s more I’m sure I’m forgetting. Like being able to use bold.
- At this time, the final updates and manuals are still offered for the Neo versions online at:
Give it time to load. Sometimes the page is awfully slow to load. I recommend saving these files on CD, zip drives, or elsewhere.
As already mentioned, they were discontinued. However, they still show up on eBay and other online auction sites at extremely low prices. Besides the Alphasmart line being a cheap alternative to the Freewrite, there’s other similar models. Others include The Writer, QuickPad, and Fusion (same company as The Writer).
As for Alphasmarts being distraction free. Well, that’s really up to you and how much you can resist using your smartphone, or other distraction worthy devices while writing with it. For me, it’s the ease of use, toughness, and portability factor that made me love using these word processors both at home and away. Plus, I can fix lines in my writing along the way, instead of either being stuck with what I wrote, or having to use backspace (deleting everything else I wrote after) to get to the area I want to fix.
Please feel free to leave a comment.