I have been greatly impressed by this little unit, and in case you missed my earlier comments you can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. I write a lot, I likely produce more words than the average person, even the average writer, I guess I am a Write-a-holic. It takes a lot to impress me, but the Neo has done just that. It has no moving parts to break down, it is designed with abusive and clumsy users like me in mind. It takes a licking and keeps on ticking. And with a battery lifespan of 700 hours on three AA batteries what more could you ask for?

I mentioned in Part 1 that I first heard about the Neo through a work colleague, Paul is an avid cyclist who thinks nothing of cycling across India or Tibet. His major gripe was that in some countries internet access is spotty, and incredibly expensive for the traveler. He needed a device that had a long battery life, and the 2 hours that a lap top provides does not hack it, he needs a device that will allow him to write articles and then quickly and easily connect to an Internet enabled computer to publish them.  This sounds like the Neo! A couple of days ago I took my demo unit into work to let him play with it. After 5 minutes he simply said “OK, I need one, where do I buy it?”.

Paul and I have completely different interests, but we share that common goal of writing. This made me start to think about other people that might like the Neo. I talked to the very courteous and very helpful people that make the Neo and they told me that one of their markets is the classroom. And a great fit it is.

One of the best examples comes from Lancaster, California. Every November a very loose competition is run nationwide, write a book in a month, the official name is ‘National Novel Writing Month’, or by the acronym NaNoWriMo. Although aimed at adults there is also a junior version under the Young Writers Program. With the young writers the rules are pretty loose, 6000 words, and to hell with spelling and grammar. The object is to write, and to learn to love writing. In 2006 over 15,000 young writers participated in the program.

Teacher Doretta Patterson from Valley View Elementary School on Lancaster, California encouraged her students to participate. And 31 of them were supplied with Neo’s for the project. As Doretta describes “It’s been mind boggling, kids who have never written before are writing these wonderful stories”. Â

In this day and age of Video Games and Text Messaging, that warms my heart. Writing for the past three of four decades has been in a state of recession. It is wonderful to see a new generation pick up the baton and run with it.

The Neo has other uses in the classroom. In a classroom setting AlphaSmart has a handy little box that the teacher can attach to their ‘master unit’. They can then interact with the students Neo’s, Test questions can be transmitted out, and answers retrieved. What a great idea.

The Neo is a wonderful device, and one that the avid writer should look into.

If I have criticisms of it, they would be that the current incarnation does not support any additional external storage media. It would be so neat if it could accept flash cards or USB thumb drives.

The Neo is not a laptop, and the more processing power you enable, the faster the power source depletes. So it is a trade off between battery life and function. I love the Neo, it is pretty much indestructible, it has no moving parts, and it is light and compact. But, I have to admit that from my point of view, I would like to see a little more flexibility and function. The external storage is a must have, and I would love a larger screen, oh and some form of simplistic Internet access would just make my day. Of course the addition of any of these ideas comes at a cost, and the most significant cost is the opportunity for unit failure, the more places you have to plug stuff in, the greater the opportunity for someone to do something stupid, bubble gum squished in the flash drive socket, then a metal knife used to scrape it out, I am sure you get the idea!

On a scale of one to ten the Neo scores an eleven. You can get your own Neo from  AlphaSmart. I am hoping to do an interview with one of the Neo development team, so stay tuned!

Simon Barrett


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