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Alphasmart Neo2 Review: The Joy of Distraction-Free Writing!

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

I'll go ahead and say it; writing can be difficult. Better yet, most of the time, it's like pulling teeth with pliers and no anesthesia.* It's painful, you probably don't want to do it, but if you are a writer and feel the pull, you don't have a choice.

What does this have to do with reviewing the Alphasmart NEO2? Well, because writing is so hard, we tend to look for ways to make the process easier and dare I say it, enjoyable. That's why we own so many fancy pens, elaborate journals, and vintage typewriters! I challenge you to find a writer that isn't embarrassed by the amount of half-filled or empty notebooks they have hidden around their home office! I am one of *those writers,* as in, I'm always looking for something to make the work a tad more enjoyable, whether it be a pen-shaped like Ahab's peg leg or lighting a Kurt Vonnegut candle when I need inspiration. 

I'll admit something else, I get "Writing Tool Envy," which is the medical term for writer's who covet other writer's stuff.  For the last few years, I've seen posts on Facebook and Instagram of writers showing off this oddly-shaped keyboard with an LCD screen. What is that ugly, yet strangely compelling device, I wondered, and most importantly, do I need one? The answer is always yes. Have you heard of the term distraction-free writing? It's a modern-day term to describe what us old-timers used to call writing with a pen and paper. As romantic as writing an entire book in long-hand sounds, I've tried it, and it doesn't work for me. My hand gets cramped, and I can't read my writing (I now understand why the nuns from my grade school called my handwriting chicken scratch). And for you typewriter enthusiasts, while it seems hip to write your novel on that creaky Remington that you got for a steal off of eBay, it isn't practical in this day and age. Everything is done electronically, so if you're serious about writing, you'll still have to retype your manuscript into a computer.  The problem with computers is that they are distraction machines! My MAC is loaded with computer role-playing games, music, and something called The Internet! All of these things combined compete for my attention, and all of them are more fun than writing (yet none of them are as satisfying). This is where the Neo2 AlphaSmart comes in. You can only do one thing on it: write.  No Instagram, no Facebook, no Youtube.  Only writing.  My favorite writing tool on the computer is a distraction-free tool called Ulysses. I love it, and yes, the interface is clean and uncluttered, unlike Word, which is more cluttered than a writer's bookshelf. But is it genuinely distraction-free? Here's a quick graphic to help you figure out if your writing device is distraction-free:

The Neo2 is an actual distraction-free writing tool. It's lightweight, portable, has a long battery life, and NO INTERNET ACCESS. And best of all? It's cheap! You can score one on Amazon or eBay for less than $30. Why is the Neo2 so cheap?  They don't make them anymore.  The Neo2 premiered in 2007 and was discontinued in 2013. Back then, it retailed for a few hundred dollars. The good news is that you can get a used one for dirt cheap! I picked mine up from Amazon for the low price of $35, the same cost for a lovely Moleskine journal, and three Starbucks lattes. Not bad for a fully functional word processor! I won't go into all the specs for the Neo2-you can find all you need to know in the online manual. Here are a few features of interest: -Built-in spell checker -Built-in thesaurus -Long battery life -Word counter -Adjustable font size -Arrow keys The Neo has 8 separate files that you can type into, and each holds about 51000 characters. You can almost double the limit by using their desktop software.  When your document is ready, you can plug the Neo2 into your computer (MAC/PC) with a USB cable, open up the word processor of your choice and watch the show! What show, you ask? The Neo2 uploads by "typing" into your word processor one word at a time. Yes! You get to relive the glory of writing your future Pulitzer Prize winner in real-time!

Technical stuff aside, what I like most about the Neo2 is that it's fun to use. The keyboard feels nice, it rests comfortably on my lap no matter where I'm sitting, and most of all, it allows me to bang out the first draft of anything that I'm working on without the pull of the internet or other distractions. You can write anywhere without worrying if there's a WIFI connection nearby. I've been in a few situations where the less-that-optimal (crappy) Barnes and Noble WiFi caused me issues because I couldn't get the stupid cloud to access my documents.  The one thing you should remember is that the Neo2 is made for getting your first draft down. Yes, you can edit with it, but it's not made for that purpose. As we say in the writing world, write drunk on your Neo2, edit sober on your computer. And to prove how much I enjoy the Neo2, I wrote this entire review on the device. How meta is that? If you have a Neo2, I would love to hear your take on it. And if you don't, what are you waiting for? Oh…and one last thing, if you're crafty, you can trick them out. *People do this. I once worked with a guy who borrowed a pair of pliers from my tool-kit. When I asked him why he needed them, he said, "I have a loose tooth." I told him to keep the pliers.

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