Tag Archives: alphasmart neo

Comparing 3 Alphasmart Digital Typewriters

An Alphasmart is a digital typewriter that was designed to help teach keyboarding to grade school children in the public school system. The Alphasmart has a full-sized keyboard, is portable, lightweight and built to take a beating. It has no internet connection. It stores the keystrokes the student makes in file buffers that can later be uploaded either to a computer via a cable or to a central unit in a classroom setting. Since the children can not access the internet, they learn to write without distraction and pick up keyboarding speed with ease.

The last few years, the Alphasmart has been phased out of the school systems in favor of tablets and chromebooks (a limited laptop). Many of these tough old alphasmarts now flood eBay for a low price. For $20, you can have a self-contained writing machine with a full-sized keyboard and a small screen interface that will not get between you and your writing. I personally use an Alphasmart Neo as my drafting machine of choice, but I started out on an Alphasmart 3000 and found it more than up to the task of writing a novel.

There are three main model types of Alphasmart to choose from. Which one is right for you may not be readily apparent. Below I am going to make a comparison of the three models going over their strengths and weaknesses. I know writers that use any of these three models, so once you know the differences, you should be able to determine which is the right one for you.

Alphasmart Neo and Samsonite Shuttle Case

Alphasmart Neo

The Neo is known for the sharp lettering on its LED screen and can be seen in bright sunlight when you write outside. The lines that are shown are adjustable via the alphasmart manager program. It ranges from 4 to 7 lines. I have mine set at 5 lines because I like the text to be a little larger.

You will need a book light to use with your Neo when writing at night. I always bring my Mightybrite dual music stand light with me to the coffeehouse when I write with it.

The Neo has eight compartments for your writing, each will hold approximately twenty-five pages of text. The Neo comes with a built-in thesaurus, dictionary, and word count feature. Having an instant word count on the go has been a real asset to me during Nanowrimo when keeping track of your word count is critical to keeping up the pace of your drafting.

Battery life on the Neo is fantastic. It takes 3 AA batteries and this will keep your Neo running for 700 hours. I change out mine once a year and my machine is ready for instant writing at any time. I never need to hunt for an outlet when I’m out writing in coffeehouses and I can take my Neo to the park or into my backyard for outside writing.

There is no internet connection for the Neo. This makes it an excellent non-distraction machine to use for your writing. I do bring my smartphone with me when I write so in the event I do need to look up something on the internet on the fly, I can do so, but the extra effort this takes usually keeps me from doing the act. I view this as a positive thing.

Alphasmart Dana

Alphasmart Dana

When new writers are looking over the Alphasmart line, many gravitate to the Dana. It has a slot for an SD card, has a word processor, and a larger screen to see your work. However, there are problems associated with the Dana that you need to be aware of.

First off, the palm based word processor that you can use with the Dana is no longer supported. Even if you found a free download of the program, the license keys are gone. If you have a license key from the past, you can use the word processor, but if you are a new user, you are out of luck. You can upload any palm based software into the Dana and find it compatible, but frankly, if that is your goal, I think you are better off with an inexpensive laptop or tablet. The Dana does not have the ability to save every keystroke the way the Neo does, it stores the data on the SD card. There will be times when you will lose all your text.

The screen on the Dana is larger, but it is fainter and harder to see the text. Some people have gone as far as remove the over screen on their machines in order to make the screen more readable, but this is difficult to accomplish if you don’t have the technical skills.

Like the Neo, the Dana does have the standard simple word processor, dictionary, thesaurus, and word count features. However, it does not have the battery life. Your Dana will last only a few hours on a charge, similar to a laptop.

Alphasmart 3000

Alphasmart 3000

My first Alphasmart was the 3000. It has a solid, full-sized keyboard with a good feel. My typing speed is fast on the machine and the screen has sharp, crisp lettering. The standard eight files in the AS3T only hold around 8 pages each, so when writing on it, I recommend “sending” your data to your computer each night and freeing up your space when you can. It is good to get into this habit anyway so that you store your data in a safe place. While the AS3T is a rugged machine that stores every keystroke, I feel better seeing my work in my Scrivener program on my desktop.

The desktop manager does not have a word count feature in the AS3T. It only has a simple word processor, dictionary, and thesaurus.

The AS3T uses three AA batteries and has the same 700 hours of run time as the Neo. You pop your batteries in once a year and then don’t worry about it. The AS3T is a little more square and longer than the Neo and I find it harder to perch on my lap, but if you have a tabletop to write on, you should be fine. The AS3T also will need a book lamp to light up the keys and screen when writing at night or in a dim coffeehouse.

Rating the Three Alphasmarts

Of the three machines, I feel that the Neo is the best choice for an author. The keyboard is the most ergonomic, the screen is the sharpest and easiest to read and it holds more data. The word count feature is a real plus too. Being able to turn on the machine and start writing in around two seconds is a real plus.

My second choice is the Alphasmart 3000. While it doesn’t store as much data as the Neo and the keyboard is slightly less comfortable, it is a solid and dependable machine. I own one as a backup and will not part with it.

Finally, I feel that I should give a word of warning about the Dana. While I do know of people that own and prefer them, I feel that due to their age and that much of their palm OS software is difficult to come by, makes the Dana a poor choice. Spare yourself the headache and look at the Neo or AS3T.

Novel Reference Journal

Neo and Notebook

Every author has their own process of writing a book. Mine has developed over the past six or seven years to use National Novel Writing Month to jump start a single long term project each year. I use the energy of my fellow wrimos to push myself to writing, but there is more to the process than simply showing up for write-ins during the month of November. I also set aside the month of October to plan my novel and December to do the first rough editing of it.

One of the first things that I create for a new novel project are an outline, character sheets, location and object descriptions. I start by brainstorming ideas in a composition book, writing these down by hand with my fountain pens in ink colors that suit my mood. I condense these ideas into plot points in another section of the notebook until I have a rough story line.

At this point, I move the plot points into my computer, using each bullet point as a scene file in my Scrivener program. I don’t name chapters or try to lock them into position, I’ll wait and finalize that once the rough draft is completed. My file names are simple descriptions of what happens in the scene with a little more detail written into the “index card” portion of the Scrivener file. In the research section of Scrivener, I set up my reference files. This is not the final step in my process, although I realize that for many people this is the point where they would start drafting because they write their stories in Scrivener via a laptop.

I find that I do not enjoy writing my novel draft in Scrivener, there is too much temptation in the internet or other distractions if I am in front of a computer. Instead I like to draft with a digital typewriter, a machine known as an Alphasmart Neo. The Neo has several advantages in the drafting process. First, it has zero internet connection and it keeps me from distraction when I write. The machine is difficult to edit on so it keeps me moving forward in the writing process. I tend to write around 50% more words when I use the Neo as apposed to writing a draft on my desktop. Finally, the Neo has the advantage of not needing a power plug. I can write anywhere on a couple of AA batteries for 700 hours. However, without a laptop to view Scrivener, I also have no access to my reference notes when I’m on the go. This is especially critical when I’m out at write-ins for Nanowrimo in November.

Filofax Writing Journal with NeoMy solution is to create a second reference book, but instead of keeping it digital, I write it on paper. This way my information is always available to work along side my Neo and I don’t need to rely on finding a power plug or to rely on my smartphone. In years past, I’ve used a personal sized Filofax to organize my notes. The personal size was small enough to tuck into my writing kit and the rings allowed me to move the papers into a different order. However, after a year or two of this system, I began to discover that the smaller page size was too small for all the notes that I like to bring. It forced me to write everything smaller or to print my information by cut and paste onto pre-punched paper that was not suitable for the fountain pens that I enjoy writing with. I longed to move up to an A5 size Filofax, but the binders are rather expensive.

This year, I was browsing the A5 sized Filofaxes, intending on picking one up for my yearly reference journal, when I happened upon the Staples ARC system in Junior size. Junior is the same size as A5. I could choose covers of polycloth (plastic) or of leather. The pre-punched paper came in lined notes, quads, or projects. A “notebook” purchase with a polycloth binder came with .5” rings and 60 sheets of notepaper. It was the right size and more than enough pages to create a workable reference journal for my novel project, with room to expand if need be. The price was a mere $14. I decided that it was time to try something other than a Filofax.

I purchased the following for my 2014 Nanowrimo Journal:

    A black and white polycloth cover
    .5” black rings
    Black A5 plastic dividers with stickers
    One plastic ruler
    A pair of large rubber bands designed to keep the journal closed

When I brought the journal home, I organized it with the black section dividers and labeled each section with the following:

    Outline
    Characters
    Locations
    Objects
    Notes

ARC Journal - Outline IndexAt the front I placed a 2014 Nanowrimo Sticker to decorate the journal a little. I labeled the project, my name and the year. It will make this easier to look over years later when it is in storage. My Outline section has two parts. The front of the section has a checklist of all the scenes of my novel. Behind this index, I write the scenes again, but I also put in a paragraph description of what the scene is about, basically the information that is in my Scrivener “index card”. My ruler stays in the scene summaries at the point where I’m writing the story to make that section easier to find.

At the end of each writing session, I will upload the text from the Alphasmart into Scrivener on my desktop. I check off each completed scene in the journal index so that I know it is done when I’m away from my computer. No more accidentally writing the same scene twice, I can see my progress in my work, and I gain the satisfaction of writing that check mark. It is a little reward for me.

This year, I’m continuing work on a novel I started back in 2011. Several of the scenes for the story are already completed. They are in a different Scrivener project file so I don’t count them toward this year’s word count, yet I want to see them in my outline so I get a good idea of where all the scenes fit in the story. They are incorporated in my checklist and summaries, but I have pre-checked them in the index and wrote a note in red ink in the summaries to let myself know that these scenes are already finished. Again, I don’t want to accidentally write scenes that I do not need to.

ARC Journal - Outline SummariesThe other sections of my notebook contain my character sheets, location descriptions, object descriptions and a section for notes. Mainly the note section holds blank pre-punched note paper for the ARC Journal so that I can add new pages on the fly.

One of the surprises I had with the ARC Journal is that the paper is of a heavy grade that is very friendly to my favorite fine nib Platinum Plaisir fountain pen. The Coleto Gel Pen that I use for color coding also works well with the paper. I like the way the note paper is printed. I feel it gives my journal a more professional look. The final extra I purchased for the journal were the rubber bands. I use one to keep my ARC Journal closed and it works flawlessly. The ARC tucks into my writing kit smoothly, never opens or mangles the pages, and the polycloth seems to slide into my bag far easier than the composition notebooks or Filofaxes I’ve used in the past.

I write with a lapboard under my Alphasmart Neo and I’ve discovered that the pull out mouse board that comes with it makes a perfect ledge to hold my ARC Journal. It keeps it off the tabletop at coffeehouses so my notebook doesn’t get smudges or wet if a coffee drink happens to spill nearby. I’ve been very pleased with this year’s journal during my writing adventures.

What sort of notebook do you use? Let me know in the comments.

Article by Wendy Van Camp – Nanowrimo: A Writer’s Workshop

My article, Nanowrimo: A Writer’s Workshop, has published on Lit Central OC Magazine today. This is a magazine that features writers from the Orange Country area of California. The editor is DeAnna Cameron, the founder of the OC Writers. The magazine features articles about the process of writing, book reviews, and author spotlights.

Alphasmart Neo and Samsonite Shuttle Case
Alphasmart Neo

National Novel Writing Month starts Nov. 1 every year. People from all over the world gather together in coffeehouses, libraries, and other public locations to write 50,000 of the rough draft of a novel in 30 days. It is a time of writing madness. You set aside the regular activities of your life and focus on getting words on the page.

Read More: Lit Central OC Magazine

Preparing Your Nanowrimo Writing Kit

Writing Kit 2013Every October I prepare for National Novel Writing Month. Nanowrimo promotes the act of writing 50K words toward the rough draft of a novel. People join together all over the world to support their fellow writers and to help all of us cross the finish line toward success. Most of the writers of Nanowrimo are beginners. The participation in Nanowrimo can be a submergence learning experience where new ideas, techniques, and tools are all explored at a rapid rate to get the beginner writer off in the right direction. Although I am now a published writer, I still look forward to Nanowrimo because it gives me that huge energy boost and camaraderie that keeps me going on a new project.

One of the main things that I do to prepare for the event is to put together a writing kit. It allows me to participate in the local write-ins that take place at various hotel lobbies, coffeehouses, and libraries. Every writer has a unique kit that they assemble to aid them in the writing process.

I start out my writing kit with a designated bag. I will keep this bag packed with all my writing gear at all times. It allows me to pick up the bag and go on a moment’s notice. I know that everything I will need will be available in the bag. I’ve used everything from a grocery sack to a cloth tote bag. My current writing kit bag is a Solo Laptop Tote. It looks like leather and is stylish, but not extremely expensive or heavy. It is large enough to hold all my gear and offers my electronic devices a bit of padded protection. Any laptop bag or backpack should work for this purpose.

Next, I pack in my Alphasmart Neo. I prefer the Alphasmart to a laptop for drafting. An Alphasmart has been my go to device for Nanowrimo for the past four years. I started with a $30 Alphasmart 3000 for my first Nanowrimo write-ins because at the time I could not afford a laptop computer. The AS3K has a run time of 700 hours on 3 AA batteries. Basically, I pop in the batteries and I’m good to go for the year. The screen is LCD and easy on the eyes, unlike bright computer screens or tablets, and it has no Internet capability. Unless I deliberately turn on a device to access the Internet, such as my cell phone, I am not distracted by Facebook or other on-line time wasters. I credit the AS3K for helping me reach my 50K word goal for the first time. The following year, I upgraded to the Alphasmart Neo. The Neo has a more ergonomic keyboard, the 8 built in files can hold more data and the screen is somewhat bigger than the AS3K. I find that my typing speed is faster on the Neo. It makes a great keyboard for computers and tablets, needing only an USB connection to operate. The Neo is about the size of a small Mac Air laptop, but is much lighter in weight and far more durable.

Mighty Brite Duet LED LightI store the Neo in the laptop portion of my bag and I bring along a few accessories to go with it. I keep my USB printer cable in the bag, it is the way that my Neo accesses my computer at home. I use it to upload my writing at the end of each coffeehouse session. I also have a Mighty Brite Duet light system that I clip to my Neo in dark situations or to write at night when I’m camping. The Mighty Brite has two LED lights that can light up my keyboard evenly. It was originally designed to be a music stand light for musicians, but many Neo owners equip their digital typewriters with this light because the clip is strong enough to grip the back of the Neo’s housing. Finally, I bring along a rubberized lap board. It provides a grippy place to perch my Neo if I’m writing on my lap or gives a more stable surface for my device when writing on a table. The Neo never gets hot, but the bottom is a little slick. The board keeps my Neo from sliding off my lap. The board I use is a Logitech Portable Lapdesk.

Logitech Lap Board

I bring several paper bound books with me. First is a composition notebook with the outline, character sketches and other notes for my novel. With it I have a pouch with a fountain pen and a Coleto Mult-pen for color coding. Perhaps it is old-fashioned, but I find that when I’m brainstorming new ideas, I do it better on paper. I index the front of my notebook so that I can easily find the sections inside where my notes are and I always have blank pages available for writing down new ideas on the fly. The other two books I bring are a Pocket Webster’s Dictionary and a Pocket Thesaurus. I like having the means to look up words without having to rely on electricity or wifi access in a pinch.

The final device I like to bring is my iPod Touch with earbuds. Usually, the general din of the coffeehouse is fine as background noise, but sometimes the PA system is not playing something that I find pleasing. When you put on earbuds or headphones, people also take this as a signal that you do not wish to chat and you can carve out more writing time for yourself that way. My iPod Touch is set up with several apps that I use for research, including a dictionary, thesaurus and an app called Lists for Writers. I also carry a cell phone, but I tend to not bring it out unless absolutely necessary because it is too easy to pull out a game or to read Facebook when I do so.

All writers have unique items that they like to bring to write-ins during Nanowrimo. The key is to keep all the items in a single, portable, bag and only bring what is necessary to promote good writing habits while you are away from home. Do keep in mind that local write-ins are a great place to talk about writing and gain advice from your fellow writers. Do not close yourself up completely when you attend a write-in. Most of the habits that I have as a writer were learned as a Nanowrimo participant. Open yourself up to the information available during the November writing push and most of all, have fun!