Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Neo

by Annette Lyon

People often ask about how I write, what tools I use, so I thought I'd blog about it here.

My AlphaSmart NEO is a lifesaver for me. Without it, I wouldn't have drafted my last three books nearly as fast as I did, and I continue to draft with it. The NEO is how I squeeze writing into the daily chaos that is family life.

Begun as a way to teach grade school students how to type without the enormous cost of lots of computers, the AlphaSmart quickly found a cult following among writers, and for good reason.

At its most basic, an AlphaSmart is a portable word processor. It's got a sturdy shell, a small screen that holds 4 lines or so of text (depending on your model and the font size), and a full-size keyboard.

My NEO uses so little power that my rechargeable battery gets charged maybe three times a year. There's no saving involved. Once you type something in, it's there until you delete it. There's no boot-up time, either. You push a button, and it turns on. You push it again, and it turns off (or just wait a few minutes; if you don't type for a while, it'll turn off to conserve power).

The earlier versions (the AlphaSmart 2000 and 3000, no longer available) had slightly clunkier keyboards and design. The NEO is sleeker and requires a much lighter touch to type with. As a result, I can write much faster on the NEO than I could on my old 3000.

The NEO also has a word count feature, which I really missed on the 3000. The NEO has 8 files you can write in, and each one can hold something like 32 single-spaced pages worth of material. I've never yet filled a file because I transfer my data to the computer quickly, but I like being able to have several things going at once.

Also new with the NEO is the ability to remove (but save) a file from being active and use that spot for another work, essentially giving you several times more than 8 files to work with. I've never needed to use this function, but it's another plus for writers who might fill up a lot of text before getting to back to their computers.

The AlphaSmart DANA version has a few bells and whistles, but also a few drawbacks, like how you have to save, and I know of a couple of DANAs that have had problems like fatal errors, things I've never heard of with a NEO.

Very minor drawbacks withthe NEO are how quotes and apostrophes come out straight from the NEO, while my word processor has them curly, so to make it all match, I have to search and replace all those marks. Same with em dashes. I make them with a double hyphen on the Neo, then search for them and pop in the em dash.

Such minor fixing after transferring the data over is no big deal to me because the NEO is such a lifesaver in so many other ways.

If you're looking for a high-powered laptop, this isn't it.

But if you're looking for something light-weight, easy to transport, easy to turn on, that won't lose power after hours and hours and HOURS of writing, that keeps your work without any effort on your part, something that costs a fraction of a decent laptop, this is your toy.

I mean tool.

Mine has been dropped and stepped on (which happens when you've four children and their friends running around), and it's taken the abuse.

We inherited a 2000 recently, and I passed it on to the kids so they'd stop trying to use my NEO. They love writing their own stories, and with 8 files, they each get to "own" two of them. It's perfect.

When it's time to transfer my work to the computer, I just launch the "get" utility program and push the "send" button. The infrared does the rest.

I can also transfer from the computer to the NEO, but since, at least for me, the NEO is best for drafting rather than revising (that little screen is tough to revise on), I rarely send anything the other direction.

My NEO has let me draft on car trips, in hotel rooms, in the lobby of the dance studio, in the doctor's office, on the deck swing as the kids play outside, poolside while the kids are in swimming lessons, on a bench at the park, and tons of other places when I'm on the go.

It's literally how I cram a lot of my drafting into family life. Without it, I wouldn't get nearly as much done.

To learn more about AlphaSmart's products, visit their website here.


Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

What a fabulously thorough review! I think I know what I want for my birthday now...

Darvell Hunt said...

I'm a big fan of AlphaSmarts, too, but being a computer nerd, I prefer the AlphaSmart Dana, because you can run Palm Pilot software on it. It's a little bigger, I think, but not much.

Yes, I've had problems with losing data on my Dana because it locks up sometimes. Not good, but usually I save often to the internal SD card, in case I lose the memory of the machine.

Don't tell anyone, but sometimes I even use my Dana in sacrament meeting. For 20 years, I've used time during church meetings to jot down journal entries. One of my primary uses of my Dana is writing my journal with a wide-screen compatible Palm OS program called Daynotez. So far nobody has asked what I'm doing with a computer when someone from the dry council is speaking--but if they did, I'd just say I was taking notes. :-)

Here's a comparison of the two from the AlphaSmart web page:



C. Michelle Jefferies said...

I WANT one but my DH just got me the lap top..... I'll have to wait. Sigh! maybe if i promise to go camping with him..... :)

ali cross said...

When I first got my Dana I love, love, loved it but then I had weirdo problems uploading and ... ugh.

I need to fix it up and then next time I'm only going to use it like you use your NEO - just for drafting and lots of saving!!

Great review Annette!

Tamra Norton said...

I LOVE my Dana. I bought it used from a friend who had a couple of fatal errors (she had bought it used as well, but had the company replace the "motherboard"). And the first time I used her rechargable batteries I had an error too. So I just buy new batteries every so often and I've been absolutely fine. I've been using it for a couple of years now without a hitch.

I recently went on a business trip with DH and I spent 4 heavenly days writing at a B&B. Another way I get writing in is to take it back to my bedroom to write in peace and quiet. With a household of 9, someone is always wanting to use the computer.

Did I mention that I LOVE my Dana? :)

Janette Rallison said...

My laptop weighs 16 pounds. I hate lugging it around. I wish I had a Neo.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Annette -

Here I come out of lurkdom to ask: How much does this marvel cost? Laptops are too cumbersome for me. This seems like an ideal alternative.

Susan J. Reinhardt

The Golfing Librarian said...

16 lbs?!?! Did your laptop come with a built-in desk?

Anonymous said...

can you transfer to microsoft word?

The Golfing Librarian said...

You can find them on Ebay quite often at decent prices. However, the nicest thing about them is the fact that there is no flip-up screen to look over.

Annette Lyon said...

Susan, They run roughly $250, slightly more if you want a case and the rechargeable battery (which I recommend). You should be able to get a NEO with the works for $300.

Katie Parker said...

Great review, Annette! I can guess that an added bonus of using one of the AlphaSmarts--for me, anyway--would be that I'd actually be forced to write instead of surfing the Web or chasing one of the other millions of applications I have running around on my computer. Hmmm...

jeff pearson said...

Hi, and thanks for your review. I concur totally. I write for a living, I'm Mac/Pc savvy and very late to the Alphasmart party.
I found a well used Dana for $20 on fleebay and I'm shocked at the increase in productivity it brought with it. Now I have 8 projects running that just need a press of the on key and the relevant F key, and I catch the idea.
It is so good as a writing instrument that I've just bought an as new Dana and a virtually unused Neo for the princely sum of $90.
If you stumble across one, buy with confidence (but check it hasn't come from a school - they will be marked and have had a bit of hammer over the years).
You'll be glad you did - honestly!