A different kind of screen time: An AlphaSmart word processor in 2020

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It seems like a good year to cut back on internet use and increase creative output, and my $50 secondhand 2007 AlphaSmart Neo old-school / likely-from-a-school word processor is definitely helping.

alphasmart neo word processor
My ‘new’ secondhand 2007 AlphaSmart Neo, purchased via Amazon. Sadly, AlphaSmart devices are no longer manufactured (but many used ones can be found online).

If you’re not familiar, these tough and portable word crunching keyboards were created by former Apple employees in the early 1990’s to be an affordable computer emulating option for classrooms (although some authors and journalists grabbed them, too).  They run on AA batteries for what seems like months and save text to a meager but usable dollop of internal ram. Folks eventually or frequently attach their plastic AlphaSmart device to a computer with a cord (the Neo model uses a printer USB cable) and press SEND … then watch the stored text magically type into an open Word file or email message, where editing and formatting can be done writing backed up.

Although they are no longer manufactured, AlphaSmart word processing keyboards such as the Neo have gained popularity as simple, rugged and frugal distraction-free writing machines. An earlier model, the AlphaSmart Pro, helped me get over writer’s block as an undergraduate, and it was also one of the few laptop options available that I could afford (with the bonus of being Mac/IIGS and PC compatible).

I wish I would have kept my Pro, but the Neo has a better feel, I think, as well as a bigger screen, which allows for some font size adjustment. I’m using my AlphaSmart mainly for reflective writing and goal-tracking, as well as to outline some of what I’m reading offline (this week, Adam Minter’s 2019 book, Secondhand, as well as Suze Orman’s 2020 book, The Ultimate Retirement Guide for 50+). It’s a pleasure to grab the AlphaSmart, click it on (one button, with nearly zero boot delay), and just WRITE (er, type), worrying about formatting and what’s happening on the interwebs some other time.

I also bought a micro USB adapter so that I can transfer my Neo writing to an Amazon Fire tablet or an Android phone if needed. Once connected to these devices or a laptop, my AlphaSmart doubles as a USB keyboard — pretty cool!

I am by no means an AlphaSmart power user, and there’s an avid community of fans on YouTube. I went with a Neo model based on video reviews, and I’m happy with this retro choice. It’s good to be back offline!

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