Two weeks ago I said that I was buying an "AlphaSmart Neo" as a productivity aid and an encouragement to write. My Neo deserves a blog entry of its own, and it's only fitting that I compose it in the expected way: sitting on my balcony with this gorgeous little device on my lap.
I was worried it would look childish; it was primarily developed for school kids, after all. Despite the large font used for the keyboard keys, however, it's nicely sedate and can pass for a professional device. There are no dancing pandas on it and it's not even neon.
I've had it for less than 24 hours and I'm already getting something out of it. I can escape all distractions -- and the distracting word processor on my actual computer -- and just type away. Quickly, efficiently. Quietly, with keys that have just enough "click" to them. Free from the tyranny of italics and boldface and page formatting: type, type, return key, tab key. Type, type, return. That's all it does.
I was afraid it would be broken. Other than an initial problem transferring files to it from my Mac (the capital I's became inverted exclamation points), a simple upgrade to the computer software has made for trouble-free usage.
Things it doesn't have, but it should: a method of controlling the key repeat delay, which is far too slow when you're editing text. Sensible keyboard shortcuts would be nice too; they're hackneyed and weird and there are far too many of them to ever remember. And hey, why not a port for flash card storage? Or a clock?
Things it doesn't have, by sensible design: there's no mouse. The screen is big enough for typing, but not quite large enough for effective editing. Surprisingly, nobody has reverse-engineered the operating system and built a Z-Machine interpreter for it.
The only thing that really bothers me is this: when you select text and then hit a key, the selected text doesn't go away unless you hit DELETE or BACKSPACE, which is not the way that typical word processors work (but it's probably a good idea in the absence of an "Undo" function).
None of that is very important. You're supposed to type a draft on the Neo, then send it to your computer for further editing. And if I spend enough time using the navigation and shortcut keys then I'm sure I'll learn the essentials.
So yes, I love this thing. I love its simplicity and its motivating power: when I grin at my Neo it doesn't grin back, and I'm forced to get down to work instead of checking my email. Again.
Now the real question is: what do I call it? I need a name that communicates cool, friendly professionalism, but doesn't imply that I'm ripping off the style of somebody I respect. So "Miss Laurie Anderson" is out.
Now, at my computer, I just plug the Neo into the USB port and click send. Through some sort of keyboard emulation, the text appears here in my blogger interface as though I were typing it. Then I add some links and formatting, and you can almost smell the fresh breeze that this entry was composed in!