How the Neo Alphasmart helps you write for 700 hours on three AA batteries

Reading time: About 2.5 minutes

How can you write if you’re easily distracted by email? Even more challenging, how can you write in a coffee shop if you don’t have a laptop? My suggestion? Try the Neo Alphasmart….

I’m embarrassed to admit that my handwriting is so bad (and so physically discomforting for me) that I no longer write by hand except for dire emergencies or for signing cheques from the Bank of Mom. Instead, I use my Neo Alphasmart.

Originally designed for kids with learning disabilities, the Alphasmart is a small, portable word processor. How do I love it? Let me count the ways:

 I can easily pick it up and carry it with one hand (although I usually put it into its purpose-designed bag.)

It runs for 700 hours on three AA batteries (!!!) Hard to believe, I know, but I cannot remember the last time I changed the batteries.

 It has no Internet, no email, no Facebook, no Twitter. In other words, it offers no excuses or distractions from writing. Furthermore, it does not interest my children in the least! (To understand the huge advantage of this, you should see them argue over whose turn it is to use my iPad!)

It has a very small screen, allowing you to see only four lines of type. This is, in fact, an advantage if you are inclined to edit while you write because it will smartly break you of the habit.

It has eight files in which you can create eight different stories or chunks of writing. You gain access to them by hitting buttons across the top of the machine.

You can download text you’ve written by attaching a cable from the Alphasmart to a USB port on your computer. Just open a blank Word document and then hit the send button. Voila! In a matter of seconds, your story will begin downloading to your main computer for editing.

Because it was designed for school kids the device is virtually indestructible.

It’s fantastic for travel. You could take it camping and write at a picnic table or down by the lake –- no electricity required. Airport security people barely give it a glance and it’s lightweight enough not to strain the wimpy little pullout trays that airlines inflict upon us.

My only complaint about the device is that it doesn’t have a word count key, so I have no easy way of figuring out how much I’ve written. Otherwise, it’s pretty much perfect. Oh, and it’s relatively inexpensive, too. Cost is somewhere between $149-$169 US and the website can direct you to a reseller.

Right now I’m sitting in a coffee shop writing this column on my Alphasmart. I find that getting out of the house for at least some of my writing is a great way to break up the day.

I discovered the Alphamart several years ago thanks to an ad in a writing magazine I follow. I didn’t tell you about it until now because I always thought I’d try to sign up as an affiliate. But, well, I haven’t. I don’t even know if it’s possible. (The man who sells the devices in Vancouver caters mostly to the learning-disabled market.) But if you ever want to write away from your desk, I highly recommend you find out who sells it in your city.

POSTSCRIPT: The Alphasmart has been discontinued but is still available in places such as Ebay. It’s worth looking for one!

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