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Alphasmart NEO for Traveling Writers

Alphasmart NEO for Traveling Writers Following the lead of Loren Everly (loreneverly.org) I picked up an Alphasmart writing device, and it has revolutionized my ability to write while traveling. Alphasmarts are essentially keyboards that are ale to memorize keystrokes and then type them out on command into a word processing program on a computer, or [...]

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Alphasmart NEO for Traveling Writers

Following the lead of Loren Everly (loreneverly.org) I picked up an Alphasmart writing device, and it has revolutionized my ability to write while traveling.

Alphasmarts are essentially keyboards that are ale to memorize keystrokes and then type them out on command into a word processing program on a computer, or sent directly to a printer. All I have to do is turn the device on, type away, plug it into a computer, push send, and the contents of what I wrote is sent to the word processing program or into the compose mode of Blogger. The Alphasmart NEO model that I use has eight different files, so I can have eight separate writing pieces that I can be working on at the same time. When I finish one, I just send it up to my laptop, edit it, save, and then publish. It is as easy as that. Alphasmarts are also light weight and highly durable. The instruction manual says that I can drop it and it will keep on working. I do not want to test this, but I appreciate the fact that the designers took durability into account.

Alphasmarts were originally created to be a low cost educational aid for grade school kids. They are now meant to replace many of the functions of a computer for a fraction of the costs. It seems to me that anything that is made for children is probably made tough. I do not believe that even the rigors of travel could even compare to the destructive forces of an average school child. Alphasmarts even look tough.

One of the things that I like best about the Alphasmart is that they are incredibly straight forward and simple. There is nothing complicated about it. It has big buttons that simply do as they are labeled. “Print” means print, “spell check” means spell check, “send” means that it sends the file to a word processing program. It is simple, there is even a short guide on how to use it written on the back of the Alphsmart itself. They are made for school children, they make sense.

The Alphasmart that I have was given to me from my parents for Christmas and is from the NEO line. This is a new model Alphasmart and costs $220 direct from the factory. It is possible to get old and used Alphasmart models off Ebay for $10-$20 a piece, but I only had ten days in the USA and I did not have the time to take a chance with an Ebay purchase (and my parents wanted to buy me something nice for Christmas hehehe). So I called up the factory, told them that I wanted an Aphasmart NEO, and five days later it was at my doorstep.

I have found that traveling with a laptop, and using it as my sole means of word processing, has some serious disadvantages. On a good day my batteries only last for a little over an hour, so if really want to get some work done I need a reliable electrical outlet. Sometimes you have this on the Road, and sometimes you don’t. In Europe, finding rooms with plugs is not a problem, but in Morocco this was very difficult, China is hit and miss, and South American is also highly inconsistent. I have often had to pay more money just to stay at a hotel that has electrical access in the rooms, solely because I wanted to write on my laptop. I know that Andy has a whole host of tricks to rig up electrical systems in rooms without outlets, so if you are still not sold on the Alphasmarts go here to read them:

It often takes my laptop a good five minutes to warm up and be ready to work. It is a little discouraging to take it out of my bag, plug it in, and start it up and wait for this long when I just want to take a couple notes or write a short piece. Sometimes you just want to write something really quickly, and do not want to go through the hassles of plugging in, starting up, and shutting down a computer.

I also found it a little difficult to take out my laptop in all circumstances that I wanted to write in. I often do not feel like digging out my laptop on planes, busses, trains, in restaurants, in the morning that I plan on leaving a town, while waiting for this or that, just to have to shut it down in twenty minutes and shove it back into my rucksack. I have also found that it is not a very good idea to take out a laptop (or an Alphasmart in most instances, although they are far more inconspicuous) in public places in the majority of the world.

With an Alphasmart I can write in almost any situation that suites my fancy. I just pull it out of its bag, turn it on, write away, and then put it back. Alphasmarts turn on and off instantly, and I do not even have to bother saving what I type, as the device does this automatically. Alphasmarts are far quicker to use than a laptop, and with three AA batteries they are powered up for 900 hours. They also do not require electricity. In point, the Alphasmart allows me to write in a format that can easily be transferred to a computer’s word processor in many situations that I could not with a laptop. Just having the ability to take out the Alphasmart and write whenever I please has increased my productivity greatly. I still do not use it publicly, but in those little lee moments in travel when I have a few minutes of downtime- like just before going to bed, or while sitting around a hostel waiting to leave, or in the interim between doing things- the Alphasmart has been invaluable.

Alphasmarts can simply go where laptops have difficulty. I still carry a computer with me, but I find myself writing most of my drafts on the Alphasmart first, and then transferring the contents to the laptop to be saved and published. Using an Alphasmart and a laptop in tandem allows me to write in far more versatile circumstances while traveling. These two devices are able to compliment each other adequately, as they can do what the other cannot. Alphasmarts are simple, easy to use, durable, lightweight, fast, and reliable.

Alphasmarts are a traveling writer’s best companion.

If you want to write or blog while traveling and do not wish to carry a computer, or if you want to compliment the boundaries of a computer, then use an Alphasmart.

Alphasmart NEO Information
Alphasmart NEO Homepage

Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
Barva, Costa Rica
January 30, 2008


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Filed under: Travel Gear, Travel Writing

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

7 comments… add one

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  • Anonymous October 9, 2009, 7:34 am

    I wonder about all these people that say their laptop computers take up to 5 minutes to boot and be ready to work with. Are you using some obsolete model? Because and Windows laptop I've owned, all of them cheap, consumer products, has been able to boot and be ready to type in about 30 seconds. I guess you just load your computer with useless software that slows it down, but even that can be easily fixed, just managing the list of appls that will load files to memory at boot.

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  • Mick P October 22, 2009, 6:39 am

    I agree with the comment about beaming to a PDA or similar. I use the infra-red beam to send files from my Neo to an old Palm Tungsten T. There's even a little bit of software (details on the AS forum, as listed above) that you can put on the Palm which will allow file renaming and conversion. It works a dream and the mere fact that you can transfer to a Palm gives great peace of mind. In fact, my files go directly to the SD expansion card in my Palm, giving huge flexibility and a very easy way to keep valuable files backed-up and safe.
    By the way, the Neo runs on 3 AA batteries, not AAA, which although are slightly heavier are also more widely available. Not that you need them too often.

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  • jack February 19, 2012, 7:32 am

    Thanks again for this tip, Wade. When you first sent me over to this thread, I knew it was something I needed to have. Over here in China, it was difficult to a new one like the Neo, but I did find an older model, the AlphaSmart Pro, on taobao(Chinese Ebay) for $11. It doesn’t have the amount of memory as the Neo and it weighs more, but it does exactly what I need it to do. Thanks again for the tip.

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  • Jack February 26, 2019, 12:58 am

    Well I was playing around with an Alphasmart Neo that I picked up at a junk flea market several years ago and decided to resurrect this post.

    Are you still using the Neo or have you relegated it to the junk heap? Has the nature of the game obsoleted these beasts?

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    • Wade Shepard February 27, 2019, 4:41 pm

      Hello Jack, I still like my Neo but I don’t travel with it anymore. The battery life is incredible but I can’t remember the last place I was in where it was challenging to find an electrical outlet. It used to be a pretty regular occurrence. The global adaption of the smartphone really changed the game. Now it is unacceptable for a hotel to have rooms without plugs. In fact, plugs are everywhere now. On top of that, batteries have gotten better. Even my Macbook gets almost 10 hours of battery life. My Blackberry can go for two days on one charge. It’s a new era. Also, I travel with a full rig of filming gear so I don’t have any room to spare for anything in my carry on allowance. That has a huge impact on all my gear decisions.

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      • Jack March 1, 2019, 11:23 pm

        For sure, back in the day 3 hours was pushing it for battery life on a laptop. Nowadays 6 hours or more is the norm. They are also instant on. It’s hard to justify a single use device these days of reducing baggage allowances. That said, the rise of devices have made it easier than ever to travel light.

      • Wade Shepard March 2, 2019, 8:46 pm

        That’s true! It’s hard to fathom what we used to have to do to travel and run websites — especially in the pre-smartphone era. It makes me laugh thinking about my old Asus eeepcs that had like 2 gigs of storage. Now I’m shooting single video clips sometimes that are 20 gigs haha.