The first impression of the Alphasmart NEO is that it is a really capable writing device. The keyboard feels nice, it’s a bit low profile, but that isn’t a bad thing by any means.
The keys feel good. It is a decidedly older style keyboard. It’s not a chicklet keyboard. I think the typing experience is good.
What makes the NEO such an interesting device when compared to the Hemingwrite is just how cheap it is. I purchased mine on ebay for about $30 including shipping.
The Hemingwrite by comparison is about $400. I can buy a bunch of Alphasmart NEO’s for the price of one Hemingwrite.
The screen on the NEO is an old style LCD screen that reminds me of using an old TI-83 calculator. It is not backlit or anything fancy whatsoever.
The good part of that is that the battery life on the NEO is outstanding. It is supposed to last for about 700 hours. I’ve heard some people say that it can last even longer.
The first set of batteries I put in the NEO were really low on charge, but the NEO powered up right away. It says I have over 70% battery life left. If that is true, then even on a pair of spare batteries, I got like 500 hours of usable time on this.
For as much writing as I do, that might last me well into the year, it could be the middle or end of next year before I change out the batteries. That is really cool.
Since Markdown is just a standard text authoring format, the NEO handles it just fine. You can make words bold or italic using the usual Markdown formatting. It’s not that bad at all.
To be honest, I don’t even do much formatting when I write in general and for what I’m doing, the NEO seems to give me what I really want from it - a distraction free way to write my first draft.
I will use Markdown to do headings and some simple stuff like that, but I mostly avoid the rest.
The Writing Experience
First of all, the keyboard is really a lot better than I expected it to be. It is a full size keyboard and I can touch type on it without any problem. It has a pretty good sound to it, It feels like a bit of a throwback.
I don’t know if it has fancy cherry switches or something, but it feels good enough to type on. I like it.
The default font width allows for 44 characters across the screen, which seems a bit small, but you can drop the font size of the screen and you get 52 characters, which feels closer to correct to me.
It’s a little cramped, but not so much that it would get in the way of being able to write coherently. That part works well for me.
I would not use the NEO for editing content, but that isn’t what I bought it for anyway. I consider the NEO a “first draft” machine and it does that part very, very well.
It is easy to sit down at the NEO and pound out a first draft. It feels similar to writing on a typewriter in that there are no distractions for you to deal with.
It’s just you and the text.
Other user experiences
While the feature set is pretty minimal, It does everything that I would want it to. It saves files in 8 different save slots. Each file holds about 10,000 words.
For me, that is plenty. My plan is to sync the NEO maybe once a week. I don’t usually have that many things that I’m writing at any given time, so that feels right to me.
It also has a word count feature. My writing style is to shoot for a minimum of 500 words a day. Most days that I sit down to write I will do 1,000 or more, but the goal is to hit 500. The NEO can tell me how much I wrote in each file, so it’s easy enough to know how much I wrote in a given day.
File sync is pretty interesting. You plug it in and it acts as a USB keyboard. I open a new text file and it essentially retypes it into the file.
It’s quirky in the best possible way.
My new daily writing pal
The NEO looks like it is going to be my new goto writing instrument for my daily writing. Going forward, I plan on doing my first drafts using the NEO of all my blog posts, books, or other writing.
My plan is to sync the files via USB every week or so. I don’t have a daily publishing routine or anything like that, so it is easy enough to simply sync weekly or sooner if I have something more important or timely to publish.
The whole first draft of this blog post was written on the NEO. All editing happens on my laptop before I push the content live.
That seems to fit my workflow because up until now I was using a distraction free writing environment on my laptop anyway.
Overall, the NEO by Alphasmart is a fantastic single use, distraction free writing tool. It does one job and it does it very well. If you like to write and have $30 to spend, the NEO is a good buy and right now is pretty easy to find on ebay or Amazon used.
Since they are no longer being made, if I keep using mine, it will be tempted to buy a few NEO’s to keep as a backup. After all, once you find something that works, it’s good to have a spare or two laying around.
P.S. I unpack more ideas in Creative Genius