Alphasmart: Built-to-last writer’s tool

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I get a lot of questions about it, questions I asked a NaNoWrimo author, my tongue hanging out of my mouth like an idiot who forgets what fairgrounds are like. These computers are popular with the NaNoWrimo lot. You see, Alphasmarts are portable lightweight word processors, with fantastic battery life. They’re cheap and dependable, with documents auto-saving, (as you type), and superb functionality for restoring files that have gone skewhiffy. There’s no internet capability (except on the Dana model), which means no disappearing into Wikipedia or bigger holes. You can just write. Storage wise, the Neo and Neo2 (the ones I’d recommend), hold a good size novel across eight files. They’re also durable. I stepped on one, cracked it side to screen, and it continues to work a treat. (Right Alex?)
Transfer takes place via a USB cable, slower than a stick or card, but charming in it’s own way when you hit the send button and watch the text cross to the desktop document, scrolling quickly as if typed by a highly trained phantom. It’s both Mac and PC compatible, and you can also connect straight to a printer, if that’s your bag. It’s not particularly good for editing, as you can view only six lines at a time, but for travelling and noting it’s perfick. The keys are high, inspiring those who came up on typewriters to really let loose without worrying about the sensitivities of say, a laptop.
The earlier models I’ve owned, the 2000 and 3000 do the job and no more. The 2000 doesn’t, if I recall, have cut/copy/paste. I’ve not owned a Dana, which will talk to a Palm OS. I’ve currently got a Neo and a Neo 2, both of which come with find/search/replace, limited spell-check and dictionaries, along with mini applets: a calculator; a typing tutor. There’s a mains supply but I’ve never used it for the three AA batteries last about six months under daily use. Should it go kappoof, any story I have in there will return when the powers back on.

The backside: easy instructions!

The backside: easy instructions!

Initially Alphasmarts were a schools resource for students with dyslexia and other issues. Sadly, the line was discontinued in 2013. For a while, the manufacturers are selling kits of spares, bags and the infra red receivers at discount. The essential USB leads seem much easier to lay a hand on, and I got one new there for £6. As for the computers themselves, that’s begun to get a little tricky. Buying them in the US seems easy with job lots popping up everywhere. To buy from the UK, eBay is currently the only option. The price is holding at about £45 for a Neo or Neo2 model, which usually comes with the USB lead and a bag. If you can stomach the 2000 or 3000, or just want to take them for a trial, expect to pay under £20. (My first Alphasmart was a 2000, purchased in 2014 from eBay for £2 plus a tenner postage)
It’s un-cluttered word processing in an age of apps. A hip modern equivalent featured on Kickstarter a while back, the Hemingwrite, looks to be going out at, (I guesstimate), around 」400.
Then there’s Alphasmart’s recent heir, Forte, retailing at £178. Forte does all the same things as a Neo, along with word prediction, text-to-speech and USB stick compatibility. I’d like to try one out. For now, I’m still in love with my Neo.

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