by Jennifer Stevenson
I don’t go brand-crazy very often. I buy generic bacon one week and Oscar Meyer the next, and I couldn’t tell you what kind of ballpoint pen is in my purse right now. But I’ve just got to burble about my new toy, my Alphasmart NEO.
I’ve owned an original Alphasmart for maybe ten years. It had three features I didn’t like, and the NEO, the latest upgrade, has solved two of them: the four-line screen is now an eight-line screen, and the touch has been improved. NEO has the smoothest, most delightful keyboard I’ve ever used. I only wish it had all the function keys of a regulation PC keyboard; then I could plug it into my PC and chuck the keyboard I’m using now.
But I can’t, because the NEO is strictly for text composition. Thank goodness. This keeps me away from my email!
NEO holds 200 single-spaced pages across eight separate files. It runs for 700 hours on three AA batteries from the drug store. (You can get a fancy rechargeable battery, but why bother?) The On-off toggle key is also the Save key, and NEO turns itself off after a few minutes of inactivity, saving everything you’ve typed, of course. It’s incredibly durable—I’ve dropped mine a number of times onto hard floors.
You upload stored text from the NEO to your computer by USB cable, or, if you like fancy stuff, you can use the available infrared send-and-receive peripherals. Doesn’t matter if you use PC, Mac, Linux, whatever. Your computer thinks you’re typing really fast, because NEO only stores keystrokes. You can also download text into your NEO. I have my outline in file #1 so I can pull stuff out of the outline to other files, one scene at a time, via the familiar Copy and Paste keystrokes. It can spellcheck, bold, underline, cut and paste, and a few other little applets that I don’t actually use.
It’s cheap, too. I think my rig cost about $200, bells, whistles, tote bag, and shipping included.
NEO has a big brother, the Dana, which can do email and surf the net and handle spreadsheets, oh my, but I think that defeats the whole purpose. I need to get away from the internet, not have it follow me around. But of course I don’t own a PDA or iPhone either.
This little baby allows me to do the coffeeshop thing when I must must MUST get away from my email and write. I can take it on planes. I can sit in the yard, in my lawn chair, in the sun, and work. I can wake up at two a.m. and lie on my back in bed, with my NEO on my lap, and type in the dark.
The one beef I have with NEO is that the screen isn’t backlit. This means that if I want to write in the dark, I have to shine a little book light on the screen now and then to make sure that my fumblefingers haven’t turned on the all-caps, or hit some other key that kluges my input. I understand why the manufacturer decided not to backlight the screen. Backlighting would suck battery power, big time. However, I would settle for a little button you can push to make a temporary backlight, just to check on the screen.
These guys know how to build a keyboard. I haven’t used one I liked this much since the dawn of time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I used the NBI (Nothing But Initials), a dedicated word processor. There was a fast keyboard for you. I could do 140 words on the flat with the NBI. They actually consulted professional keyboard monkeys when they designed the NBI, and then they tweaked the beta accordingly. I think the Alphasmart people must have consulted keyboard monkeys on the NEO.
Now I see that there’s a NEO2 for the same price—ook ook! New toys! But can they top the first one?