Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Product Review: Neo by AlphaSmart

(Apologizes to those of you who have already seen this review, posted elsewhere.)

I wrote this review on a nifty little device called the Neo by AlphaSmart. What on earth is it? It's kind of like a word processor, except it's laptop-sized. It's designed for one purpose--the entry of text. Well, maybe two purposes, if you add the transmission of the text to and from a computer to its function as well.

Think of it as a $219 no-frills laptop. It's wonderful if you need a way to write away from your computer, but you don't want to spend the money on a fragile laptop.

I discovered the Neo via Kelly Gay, who is happily using her own Neo as well (and who calls it her "precious"). It allows me to write in the La-z-boy. No more sitting hunched over my computer all night after spending all day hunched over my computer at work. I actually prefer writing this way. My husband is going to get awful lonely in the computer room.

The Neo is tough. Supposedly, it will withstand being dropped, and I believe them. The thing is made of hard plastic. It has a 700 hour battery life. That's right, 700 hours. On 3 alkaline AA batteries. I haven't even put a dent in the battery life.

The file system is a bit strange, but it's quick to get used to. There are eight file positions, each accessed by the push of a button. To get to this file, I push the "file 5" button. That's it. And it remembers where I was when I last entered text. Not even Microsoft Word does that. As soon as you enter the text, it's saved.

You can have any number of files at each position by giving them a name. I have not named my files so far; when I'm done with them, I simply upload them to my computer and clear the version on the Neo.

The drawbacks? There is absolutely no formatting, except tabs. Also, each file has a hard limit. I found that I need not bother transferring files that have more than 8000 or so words. Otherwise, I don't have room to actually work in the file, which holds about 10000 words, max. You can adjust this maximum file size, but so far I have not bothered. 8000 words seems a comfortably large chunk for me to work with.

It reminds me of the word processors of the 80s, except it transfers files instead of typing them out right away. It emulates all the same key combinations that Windows uses, so you can still copy with Ctrl-C and paste with Ctrl-V. There's nothing like a mouse or a touchpad; navigation is done entirely through keys.

There is another version called the Dana, which blends the Neo with a full-featured PDA, including a touch-screen. However, it seemed to have more functionality than I needed and I really wanted the toughness of the Neo.

Ok, now I'm going to upload this into Blogger and write about that experience. Ciao for now . . .

Done. I plugged the Neo into my computer using the USB cable, and hit the "send" button on the Neo. It typed the file directly into this Blogger window. That's actually a slow way to send files; I usually just use the software that came with the Neo to just send the whole file as a chunk. But it's kinda cool to watch it type the text onto the screen.

It is NOT a laptop replacement, nor does it attempt to emulate a laptop in any way. It is simply a text entry and storage tool. Those of you in the market for a laptop, should go ahead and buy one. I was not in the market for a laptop. I wanted a replacement for my pen and notebook, which this tool suited admirably.

This is not a new product. When I posted my review on the Backspace writer's community (bksp.org), a bunch of writers--some published novelists--sounded off on how much they loved their Neo. However, it's new for me, so I wanted to share it with the rest of you, because I know so many of you write in one form or another.

It's easy. It's fun. I'm taking it on vacation with me. I think every writer should have one. Check it out.


Robert Burdock said...

Hi Tia,
We're discussing your love of the Neo over at the AlphaSmart Flickr group (http://www.flickr.com/groups/alphasmart/discuss/72157606235277235/ ) and would love it if you came along and said HI! (I'm assuming, probably incorrectly, that you don't know about the group. Apologies if you're already a member)
Warmest Regards

Boczkowski said...

Oh hi Rob,

nice blog Tia - we're a little biased toward the Neo, but still a great review for the uninitiated.

No wires! Great isn't it?!


Kimber An said...

Very cool! Sitting up to the computer is killing my back and my hands. Maybe this little bad boy could bring some flexibility to my life.

Laura said...

I so want one of these!!!! Thanks, Tia!

Tia Nevitt said...

Kimber, I thought of you when I wrote this. I really think you could use one. Since there's no mousing, it will be easy on your hand.

Laura, I impulse-purchased mine within an hour of discovering its existence.

Amanda Ashby said...

Tia, I haven't been around in ages but just saw this post. I've wanted a Neo forever because it's like a laptop but without the internet - now that's what I need!!!!!!

Tia Nevitt said...

Let me know if you get one! I love mine. And yes, my blog reading has taken a sharp decline since I received mine. I really need to catch up.

Tia Nevitt said...

Robert, I should have answered your comment earlier. I'm not a member of Flickr and it won't let me post without joining. Thanks for the shout-out!

Raven said...

Tia, do you know approximately how big the Neo is in inches? Maybe I missed that spec on their website, couldn't find it.

Tia Nevitt said...

I just measured it. It's 12.5 inches wide and almost 10 inches from keyboard to the top of the screen. The thickness ranges from about a half inch at the keyboard end to an inch and a half at the screen end.

The viewscreen is rather small, as you can see in the image. I use the smallest font size to get the most text possible. If you're not worried about extreme durability, as I was, you might want to check out their other product, the Dana. It's more expensive and has a lot more features--more than I wanted, actually.

Oh, and I've spent HOURS on the Neo, and I have not even made a dent in the estimated battery life. I know the Dana does not have battery life anywhere near that long. Something else to consider.

Anonymous said...

Finest purchase I've made in a while

I've had my Neo for over a year, and it's a beautiful, beautiful thing. It's been a godsend to me as I write my dissertation. For note taking, there's nothing like it, and it's ideal for library work--if you need to go hunt down a book, just grab the Neo and go, with no worries about someone stealing your laptop.

I've used the Neo with LaTex to create fully formatted MLA articles--dump your tagged text into a LaTex editor and instantly you've got a pristine professional looking document.

I've also used basic html to format documents and import into Word. So while you can't natively format text in the Neo, you can tag it for your word processor.

Tia said...

HTML tags--what a brilliant idea! I'm going to start doing that immediately.