Have you ever been so excited about something that you became obsessed with it and everything even slightly related? Was there ever something that you stumbled upon and wondered how you ever go along without it?
Well, the AlphaSmart is my latest OMG thing. I first came across them online whilst scrolling through one of my favorite Facebook fan pages called Writers Write. The page was featuring a female blogger’s blog and there was a photo of some strange device sitting ever so comfortably on a picnic blanket in the grass. I googled Neo and of course all I got was a bunch of posts about the movie The Matrix but somehow I knew that whatever it was she was referring to had nothing to do with Keanu Reeves.
Fast forward a week and I am on Facebook chatting with one of my tech crazy writer friends and they shoot me a link saying ‘people are recommending the hell out of these’ I clicked and there it was, the Neo.
Right away I knew what I was looking at and just what it was for. From the moment I saw her I knew I had to have her and all her friends. But before I give you all the filthy details of this little love triangle, let me tell you exactly what we’re talking about.
The AlphaSmart is a portable word processor that runs for 700 hours of heavy use on 3 AA barratries. It was initially developed by Apple engineers who were attempting to provide a durable, reliable and affordable alternative to laptop computers that students could use to take notes, write essays and use for classes without the added distraction and temptation of games, web browsing and other bells and whistles.
The AlphaSmart was also a long time essential tool for special needs students who have difficulty with handwriting and getting things down in a fast or timely manner. In the late 90s these things more than served their purpose and there are even some student success stories on youtube, blogs and forums.
Today teachers are still keeping AlphaSmart alive by ordering secondhand lots on Ebay, Amazon or from other sellers and using them in the classroom for students to take notes, quizzes and complete assignments. However with laptops and tablets being dirt cheap most schools have moved on from the AlphaSmart.
What’s fascinating is that the AlphaSmart has found a new fan base among many writers and continues to be a go to word processor for many authors, journalists and students. The Alpha is alway widely use by writers participating in NaNoWriMoThe (National November Novel writing Month) and at one point was actually being rented out for free during the event. It’s portable size, durability and amazing battery life all make it the perfect companion to anyone who needs a basic workhorse that will let you get the job done with no distractions.
Imagine the freedom of being able to write anywhere at anytime without ever having to worry about lugging around your laptop or searching for a power source. The added luxury of distraction free writing on a device that’s only purpose is write until you can’t think straight? No games, no browsing, no loading just WRITING!
Once you are done banging out your novel, essay or article all you have to do is plug her into your computer or laptop via USB, hit the “send” key and watch as your words gracefully spread across the screen. This happens to be my new favorite part of the writing process, I totally feel like Doogie Howser MD sitting at my computer at the end of the day while I watch my words just tiptoe onto the monitor.
I’m actually in bed with the lights off writing this post on my AlphaSmart Dana which has a backbit screen that you can turn on and off to suit your needs. I’m getting it all done with no distractions, no Facebook or e-mail checks, no hot laptop burning a hole in my leg or bright lights making my eyes tired.
The AlphaSmart has done wonders for my productivity and I am simply in love with them. Anyone that knows me knows that I have been completely obsessed with all things AlphaSmart for the past 2 weeks. In fact, since first hearing about the Alpha I have purchased 3 different lots of AlphaSmarts online for unbelievable prices, some to resell and others as backups and craft projects. YES, I fully intend to join to tribe of Alphasmarties that disassembles and customizes their devices. Below is my somewhat failed attempt at pimping one of my alphas. She’s a work in progress.
Lets talk about the history of the Alphasmart and how far they have come over the years.
The AlphaSmart line started with the original AlphaSmart which was first shipped out in 1993 and only was compatible with apple computers. There wasn’t much to them, they did what they needed to do. It was used for typing and sending files, I suppose that was pretty much all anyone cared about at the time. I would say underwhelming in terms of looks, however I still get a little tingly looking at it. I love old electronics sue me!
In 1995 the AlphaSmart Pro was born. The Alphasmart pro looks exactly like the original Alphasmart only this device was compatible with mac and windows it was finally making its mark. Still kind of an eyesore but thats just my opinion.
Enter AlphaSmart 2000 in october of 97. This 3rd generation pretty much set the standard for all other models in terms of design. It was a curvy little blue number that had the added feature of spell check. Praise GAWD!!!
As we move on in our journey we meet the AlphaSmart 3000 which was born in January of 2000. At this point in my research I am wondering to myself why I hadn’t heard of the Alphasmart at this point? The Alphasmart 3000 had pretty much the same look and feel of the 2000 only in a sexy translucent boni blue plastic casing that calls to mind the first imac computers. From the 3000 to the Neo are honestly the only Alphas worth getting in my opinion because they are still easily compatible with any computer (and even some tablets) today. All you need is a usb cord and you’re all set.
I should also mention that there are two different looks of the 3000. The Sexy dark green one above and this bondi blue one here. I’m not sure exactly why I have come across two different looks for the 3000 or what caused this but I will say I like them both in terms of looks, however the light blue ones tend to have issues with the keys sticking and not being clicky enough for my liking after awhile. Which would I am sure explain why the darker green ones have a total keyboard makeover…Did I just answer my own question? Either way heres the other one.
After the 3000 the Aphasmart brand was still going strong and producing processors that were and still are one of the best writing tools to date. By the way since I started writing this blog I have moved back and forth between 3 rooms and am now doing laundry just clicking away in the few minutes I have between loads.
In the June of 2002 the Dana was launched. The Dana is the model I am typing on right this second and I am madly in love with her. Dana is a very different breed of Alpha. Unlike the other simple yet amazing Alphasmart devices the Dana is a Palm OS device. Anyone who has ever owned a palm device will feel nostalgic using the dana. The touchscreen and stylus are just a few perks of the dana. Its sleek design feels like like apple pie in your hands and the Alphaword Plus app is comparable to pretty much any other word processing software in terms of options and editing.
While I decidedly use all of my Alphasmarts solely as word processors and do my real editing on the computer, the Dana can be an all in one if you simply need to get it all done in one shot. As I mentioned earlier the Dana also has a backlit (slightly larger) screen that can be turned on and off which I more than appreciate.
Other Alpha users will tell you that all you need is a clip on book light for the 3000 and the Neo which I agree is a great option. All the extra perks of the Dana come at a hefty price, Battery life! My Dana gobbled up batteries like pork chops and if you forget to send your docs before the battery dies you LOSE IT! Like LOST IT LOSE IT! So make sure you send your files regularly and also never let the battery die completely, keep an eye on it and you should be fine.
Some models of the Dana also have wifi capabilities ( like this one for example) however I have yet to use it nor to I desire to at this point. Another great perk of the Dana is that it also allows beaming of apps and docs to the Neo and vice versa which is another feature I LOVE, did it last night with an ebook I am working on and lets just say I felt like a boss. Beaming is also a great way for using the Neo during the day and only using the Dana at night so you save batteries and only use it in low light.
Speaking of the Neo, this is our last (or should I say second to last) stop on the Alpha train. The Neo was first launched in August of 2004. Looking at the Neo will leave you thinking alphasmart decided to take it back to the old days. Its design is not exactly identical to the 3000 but we get the gist. The housing is a dark army green and in size and form it takes after the Dana, the screen is a happy medium between the large Dana and the smaller 3000.
If you showed most people that Dana and the Neo almost all of them would assume the Dana was the newer model which to me is hilarious. The Neo is perfect in just about every way except I wish it had an Alphaword Plus and backlit screen.
Of the batches of Alphas I ordered the Neo arrived first, the 3000s second and the Danas last. I only used the Neo and the entire time I as bitching and moaning about it not having a backlit screen. To some thats not a problem but for me its HUGE.
Somewhere around 2008 the Neo received a software update all of which really don’t matter to me. After the Neo it gets a little fuzzy all i remember off the top of my head is that a new company acquired AlphaAmart in the late 2000s called Renaissance Learning, which continued to manufacture and distribute Neos to schools in the US and UK. I believe you can still buy the Neo hubs on Ebay as well, they are probably awesome for homeschoolers.
In the summer of 2013 the Alphas met their fateful end and were finally discontinued, however the remaining inventory for the Neo 2 in the UK is still being sold and the support and software is still available.
Being that you can hop on eBay and get great deals on Alphasmarts I personally don’t see why anyone would pay 175 bucks for a neo 2, but honestly what do I know? I’m simply jamming all the info I have acquired in 2 weeks into a blog in an attempt to spread the word about this awesome word processor. I am still learning and trying to get an idea what all the apps are for and why they are needed. After all, the only thing I REALLY need my alphas to do is write and send the files to my computer, which all the models I currently own already do!
I think I’ve done a pretty bang up job briefly walking you all though the history of the alphas without the added super technical gibberish that even I don’t understand but to quickly give some last details I will run through some other minor things about the models I own.
At the moment i own the Neo (my love) the Dana (my lover) and the 3000 (the stepchild that I love like my own, I really don’t I’m just saying that because I want my marriage to work) They all came originally with the rechargeable batteries installed I am not sure yet if any of them work because I didn’t have a charger to test them but I will test that out soon enough.
With the Neo taking the rechargeable battery out was super easy all you have to do is unhook them and pop in some regular old AA batteries. According to everyone the Neo will last 700 hours of regular use so I was more than happy to hear that I didn’t just add another battery gobbling device to the roster of toys my children own. Also the Neo and 3000 models both have the simple to find “file” keys at the top of the keyboard labeled from 1-8, in my mind I can only assume there are 8 to accommodate 8 periods of classes for students which is pretty awesome but also it also means you can have eight files dedicated to different projects, book chapters, notes etc. The Neo can hold up to 800 pages of text, to some thats a novel, WHOA!
Don’t quote me but I am assuming the 3000 can hold the same and both of them have the same battery life which makes many people compare them to calculators in terms of power.
The 3000 when it comes to rechargeable battery was a pain in the ass! You literally have to unscrew the body and unplug the battery, which is located in the most awkward corner of the keyboard all the way at the top next to the power port. Once thats done you reassemble it and put in your own damn batteries! I actually think thats why I was able to get such a great AS IS deal on 3000s from Ebay. I am pretty sure the seller assumed that the rechargeable batteries didn’t work and they were selling a box of duds.
The Dana also had rechargeable batteries installed but much like the Neo all I had to do was unplug the cord and put in regular batteries.
If you are a writer, student or just someone who likes the idea of a basic portable word processor, I can’t stress enough how much of a game changer this device is. All I can say is get one! Do it now, you won’t regret it. It’s as simply as typing your document, sending it to your computer (which by the way also recognizes the alphas as an external keyboard) and send.
To be honest it doesn’t matter if you get a 3000, Neo or a Dana you will love them once you own them. Take it somewhere quiet and write, take it on a road trip, a plane ride, the bus, a coffee shop, to school, on a picnic, the beach, anywhere you can imagine and you will see why writing really should and can be done anywhere.
Once you are done pour yourself a drink sit back in your chair, plug your alpha into your computer and watch your words as they spill across the screen, there really is no feeling like it!
If you are new to the Alpha tribe or just googling up all the info you can about the AlphaSmart let me give you a link to the best group of alpha owners on the internet. This group is just filled with information, pics, tips and random posts. I love this Flickr group and can honestly say they are most welcoming and helpful.
Make sure to follow my blog for more updates and advice and if you are too lazy to google feel free to ask me any questions you may have. I am more than happy to help. Do you have an AlphaSmart? Have you ever used one? Do you love it? I’d like to know. Share your experiences and questions in the comment section.
Until next time STAY PRESSED ^_^