Jeremiah enjoys spending time outdoors camping when not serving as a network administrator, and is a fan of renewable energy.
How to Avoid Getting Distracted by the Internet While Writing
Writing is easy—when you're not distracted. But if you're easily distracted like I am, you can easily get side-tracked by the internet and email, as well as social media.
Sure, pen and paper is ok for jotting down flashes of inspiration, but I'm not one to sit down and write out a first draft of anything on paper. That's why I tend to write with a computer, either on my desktop or a laptop.
Like I said, though, I'm easily distracted—especially when I'm researching a topic and can easily get sidetracked by either branching off and researching unrelated things or lose my train of thought due to incoming emails. Therefore it's imperative that when working on a first draft of anything that I avoid the internet. However, that's easier said than done when at a moment's notice I can open a browser or turn my WiFi connection back on and lose focus. So I needed to find something that would work a bit better for me, and to do that, it would have to completely remove the temptation of getting online.
A Blast From the Past
As luck would have it, while browsing a local thrift store one day, I happened upon a Neo2 word processor that was produced by Renaissance Learning before the product line was discontinued in September of 2013.
Immediately my mind flashed back to elementary school and how we were taught and practiced our keyboarding skills. At that time our school had a number of AlphaSmart 3000 units with the bondi-blue translucent color scheme that hearkened to the original iMacs that started to replace some of the PC's in the classrooms at that time. I remembered fondly learning and honing my keyboarding skills on those units and watching as the teacher uploaded our text into a word processor and evaluated us for our typing speed in words per minute and spelling and grammar errors.
Fast forward about 18 years and there I was, holding one of those units successors, the Neo2. I paid my $5 and brought it home and I've been using it ever since. In fact, other than editing and formatting this articlle, I wrote the entire thing on my Neo2, without distraction!
The thought hadn't occurred to me to look for something like an AlphaSmart-esque device to use for simple word processing. However, after digging a little deeper online, I realized that a lot of people used the AlphaSmart 3000 and Neo/Neo2 models for writing. Something that was designed for education turned out to have an alternate use outside the classroom and in everyday life.
Are AlphaSmart Devices Compatible With All Computers?
The Neo2 that I purchased can connect to PCs or Macs, although I'm not sure if Linux treats them the same way since one of my laptops running Linux didn't recognize it at all and my Neo2 simply showed that the USB connection was suspended, so I'll have to dig a little deeper into that mystery later on.
Setup is extremely easy. If you have a unit that has a USB port like the AlphaSmart 3000 or the Neo and Neo2 models, all you need is a USB cable with a square(ish) male end which is commonly used by most USB printers, plug it in and your computer will recognize it as a keyboard, which you can type on just like any other keyboard and interact with your computer. That's where it gets interesting.
Since there is no software or any drivers that you need to install for your computer to recognize it, you simply open your favorite word processor, making sure that window is active and pressing the “send” button. The way this works is that the AlphaSmart or Neo/Neo2 is acting as an “player” keyboard so-to-speak, rapidly re-typing whichever file you have open into the active text field on your computer. Depending on the size of your document, it may take some time to input it and you need to leave the word processor as the main window, since if you click into something like your web browser bar in another window, your text will proceed to begin being input there and you'll have to start the process over again. It's a small price to pay for what's basically the easiest method of near-universal compatibility without having to install anything.
How Many Pages Can My AlphaSmart Hold?
|AlphaSmart 3000||Neo and Neo2|
Total Pages (No Extra Applets)
Pages Per File Maximum
How Much Text Can an AlphaSmart Store?
Storage-wise, the Neo and Neo2 models have eight file buttons along the top row, where one might normally see the function keys on a standard keyboard. Each file can hold approximately 25 pages each, with up to 51,200 characters by default, which also includes spaces, tabs and carriage returns.
Using the Neo Manager software from my PC, which is completely optional, I actually changed the setting to increase the maximum amount of characters each file can hold to 102,400 characters, or about 50 pages. Bear in mind however, this is just the maximum that any single file can hold, you won't be able to have 400 pages total stored on a Neo or Neo2 since any applets you install from the Neo Manager software, such as the Spell Check or Thesaurus applets share the same storage space and the internal memory leaves enough room for about 200 pages total to be stored on the device at any one time.
My Neo2 shows 164.7 pages available to me currently even though I have 4 files currently in use, a handful of pages each but containing enough text to flesh out a good article from each one. My Neo2 had the spellcheck and thesaurus applets installed when I picked it up, but I'll probably end up removing them just because I won't use them any way, and the extra space could come in handy.
You can check how much space you have at any moment by pressing ⌘ and "i" together to see both how many pages are used by the current file you are in and how many more pages you can cram into it, as well as how many pages everything together (files and applets) are using and overall how many pages are remaining under the "System" column. If you fill up a file, it automatically prompts you to switch to another file to continue, or to send your current text to a computer to free up space.
The AlphaSmart 3000 can store roughly 12.5 pages of text per file, also having a maximum of 8 files. The maximum page storage on these units is 100 pages, again, with minimal applets installed.
Battery life wise, the AlphaSmart 3000 and Neo/Neo2 are all rated for over 700 hours of use from three AA sized batteries, which is leaps and bounds above what any laptop can provide. And you don't have to guess at how low the batteries are getting as each time you power it on, you are presented with a battery gauge along with the system version that is running on the device.
You can also access the Control Panel applet, via the "Applets" button on the top-right of the keyboard, select "Display battery status..." and check the battery status at any time to see an approximate percentage remaining. There is an internal battery that serves to preserve the text in memory when the AA's are dead or being changed. So far that battery doesn't appear to have died in mine but to be safe, I plan on plugging in and send my text to my computer before changing them. Better safe than sorry! The internal battery can be changed, however the Neo2 has two different sets of star pattern screws on the bottom and I'm assuming the Neo model is like this as well, but the AlphaSmart 3000 uses regular Phillips screws according to others online. I'm not about to go digging for those tools unless I actually need to get in and change the internal battery so that can wait for now.
Portability and Ease of Use
For portability, I can't really think of another electronic word processor that comes close to my Neo2. It's lighter than the last netbook that I owned, even including the batteries, weighing in at about two pounds. Plus it has a full-size keyboard, compared to chiclet sized keys that were cramped and a hassle to do any significant amount of typing on. Even without a trackpad or trackball, my Neo2 is still quite easy to work with using keyboard shortcut commands. Besides, I can pick it up and carry it anywhere with me, and I don't have to worry about the battery dying within a few hours like a regular laptop. This makes it perfect for taking it to the park or on a camping trip if you want to get a lot of writing done.
The screen itself is a bit more generous than the AlphaSmart 3000 that I grew up learning on, offering a few different “fonts,” which actually just change the text size so that you get more or less text on the screen at one time. Unless I'm in a very well-lit space, I prefer to have the font size set for four rows, that way I have no trouble straining to see when I'm writing in the living room for example with indirect light. In a brightly lit location, I sometimes set the font for five rows to get more text on the screen.
Bearing in mind that the Neo2 and its kin are not designed for editing, the screen doesn't lend itself to seeing the document as you would in a word processor application on a computer, but that makes it excellent for simply focusing on getting your thoughts and ideas down and not worrying about how the final document will look until you're ready to edit it.
Verdict: A Great Tool for Writers
If you're a writer or have friends and family that love to write, an AlphaSmart 3000, Neo or Neo2 may be an excellent tool and gift to give someone. If you do happen to find one in a thrift store or somewhere like Goodwill, don't hesitate to snap it up; you could turn a profit on one easily since they're still a hot item on the second-hand market, especially in good condition.
If you're purchasing one-second hand from sources like eBay, you will come across many AlphaSmart and Neo/Neo2 units that are being sold from school surplus inventory. Therefore, some may have school names or other information etched on them or written in permanent marker, or maybe just labeled with stickers. The ones with permanent marker can be cleaned easily using a solvent to dissolve the permanent marker ink, but I won't be discussing that in this article.
If you own or ever used any AlphaSmart word processor, post your experiences or thoughts in the comments below!
Jeremiah Simpkins (author) from Pulaski, VA on June 23, 2017:
Hi Mela! It's so wonderfully simple and works with just abut anything. That's why I love it!
Mela on June 22, 2017:
Just got my first Alphasmart Neo2 via Ebay. Typed some text, connected it to my Linux Mint PC. Opened Openoffice. Pressed send.
Tadaaa. Text was transfered.