Product Review – Alphasmart NEO

If writing is something you do on a regular basis, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Alphasmart NEO as a must have tool.  As I mentioned last month in this post, I had my eyes on a NEO for some time but waited until I could save the money needed to buy one.  I went ahead and sold some unneeded items laying around my house on the internet until I had secured the $220 needed for the purchase.  As my package arrived to much anticipation, I carefully unpacked the NEO and the carrying case that came with it.  My first thought was how light the unit was.  It was MUCH lighter than my laptop that I haul around with me here and there.  The feel of the unit was nice and the space it occupied on the table was considerably less than a traditional laptop.  I had read when I purchased the unit that it came with batteries to get you started.  I was prepared to hand them off to my kids and purchase some good alkaline batteries but to my surprise, the NEO folks had packaged three Duracell batteries for me to use.  That was a pleasant addition to the package.  A few moments later the batteries were installed and the battery door secured with a tiny screw and I was in business.

I had skimmed the basics of getting started in the NEO manual and decided to give it a whirl.  I pressed the “on/off” button and within a few seconds, the unit was ready to use.  I began by typing a few phrases and was pleased with the feel of the keyboard.  Very nice and responsive.  A good typing feel that’s similar to the laptop and one that was easy to get used to.  Later, I traveled to a local coffee shop to set up and start writing my blog posts for the coming week and figured I could put the NEO to some hard use and see how it would respond.  I am happy to report that it handled the task beautifully and the entirety of my posts last week minus the Friday blog roundup were all written on the NEO.  

Next was the transfer of my text files from the NEO to my PC for use on the blog.  The NEO comes with a USB cable and software but again I was surprised at how intuitive the NEO was when I hooked it up to my machine and instantly, it recognized the computer and was ready to transfer the text.  A quick press of the “send” key on the NEO and my work was on its way to the Google Docs file that I had opened for this test.  In a few moments, the files were transferred perfectly and I was done.  You can transfer your NEO files to any program (usually a word processor) that you open on your computer.  
After a few weeks of using the NEO, I feel I can give you a decent review of the product and let you decide if it’s right for you.  What follows are what I see as the pluses and minuses of this device.
The positives:
The NEO boots instantly.  You do not have any long boot times when starting it up.  You turn it on and it’s ready to go.  This is convenient if you want to simply capture some thoughts and don’t want to have to go through the process of booting up a laptop.
The NEO is light and easy to carry.  Much lighter than a laptop, the NEO is light and easy to take along anywhere.  The carrying case that came with it is a must and is only included at no cost with a special offer NEO has made with the various writing magazines.  To get one for free, you need to purchase your NEO through a special URL available in the magazines.  Otherwise, the case is an additional $20.
The NEO is small.  A full size keyboard contained in a much smaller size.  The NEO is really a high tech typewriter without the paper, cartridges, and white out!  It’s light weight and small size make it convienent when you’re cramped (as is the case with some of those small round tables at the coffee shops).  Last week, I was in my favorite coffee shop and all the “laptop” tables were taken and the wi-fi guys (of which, I am one) were already there.  Normally, I try to cram as best I can in the small round tables but with the NEO, it was a breeze to sit down with my coffee and begin writing immediately with enough space to be comfortable.
Another plus is the battery power of the NEO.  When using it to write, I no longer have to worry about running a power cord to my table which can be cumbersome.  Also, you do not need wi-fi to use it so I can take it to places I frequent that do not have internet service.  For example, we had a beautiful day one day last week and I was able to take the kids to the park and, after playing with them for a while, I was able to retire at a covered rest area and write with no need to worry about power or internet service.  I could never do that with my laptop because the built in battery always dies an hour or so into the work.
The Negatives:
There really aren’t that many but to be fair, here are the things I see that could be a concern.
The LCD screen is exposed and could get scratched easily.  I nearly purchased a NEO from a private individual who was selling one but balked when I heard that it had been used by a middle schooler that had treated it somewhat rough.  The screen had been forcefully pushed in and one of the lines on the display didn’t work.  I decided to go ahead and buy a new one.  The screen is a nice size and easy to read but it could be damaged if not carefully protected.  The NEO site brags of the unit’s durability and I’m sure they are right but I’d hate to get the screen scratched because you really need all of it to effectively read and edit your documents.  That’s why I mentioned earlier that a carrying case is a must.  The screen and keyboard are exposed and need to be protected.
You need to learn to use the AlphaWord word processor.  This really isn’t much of a negative.  99% of the time, the NEO’s word processor works just like anyone else’s but there are some differences you need to aquaint yourself with when writing with a NEO.  There is no mouse so when I wanted to edit a line or several words, I instinctively went for the mouse to click and select text.  The NEO has some key combinations to duplicate this activity and also has some other “page up/down” keys you need to learn.  It’s not a big deal.  By the end of the first week, I had much of it committed to memory.
The last thing I would mention is your need for internet.  This is a personal vice for each individual.  The thing I love about the NEO is that it is perfectly designed to do what it does and that is to faciltate writing.  You have no distractions to take you away from the task and what I’ve found is I’m much more productive in my writing when using the NEO than a traditional laptop.  That said, there are times when you need to use the ‘net to communicate and you don’t want to carry both devices around all the time.  That would negate the reason why you bought a NEO.  My thoughts?  I plan out my writing endeavors.  The NEO goes with me more than my laptop.  I try to be more efficient and effective in my work and get the laptop stuff out of the way.  The NEO goes with me when I’m working on a sermon or just reading in general.  It’s much easier to take along for notes.  If I’m going to do internet work, I tend to keep my NEO safe at home until it’s needed.
So to summarize my final advice would be this: If you are a writer or someone who writes a lot in your work, like a pastor or business professional that prepares reports, than the NEO is a worthwhile investment that will make you more creative and productive.  It is NOT for the casual writer or someone who just wants to have the latest toy.  If you have that kind of money, more power to you but I thought about this for a while before making a purchase.  For me, the NEO has been a great addition to my tech gadgets and it surpasses a laptop in the areas it’s designed to be used in.  If you write a lot, I would wholeheartedly encourage you to pick one up.  And of course, this entire piece was written on an AlphaSmart NEO!

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Product Review – Alphasmart NEO

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