ALPHA SMART  –  The tool for the easily distractible

By  Penelope Folsom

If you’re a writer or a wanna be writer or just someone who takes lots of notes – here’s a gadget that’s meant for you.  The AlphaSmart is a word processing keyboard – nothing more.  The simplicity of the operation is admirable.  In this day and age of complicated electronics – this little device is a dream.  You won’t need a six week course on how to get connected or two remote controls to get it started.  You won’t even need the instruction booklet.  Just turn it on and type.  It’s that simple.  This is not a computer or even a computer wanna be – it’s a keyboard that stores information to be downloaded or deleted or whatever you’d like, whenever convenient.  Much like the typewriters of old, the keyboard comfortably accommodates two hands. As you may have noticed, today’s blackberries and i-phone are impossibly small if one is communicating with anything more than a couple of words.  The AlphaSmart has a large keyboard that is comfortable to use and allows space for typing the old fashioned way, using all ten fingers.  It holds oodles of information allowing up to eight files to be stored at once, the newest version will store up to 200 pages of text.  There’s a screen that holds from two to six lines of type and you get to choose the font and size of the type.  Simple editing is also an option.  The feature that most impressed me was that it’s an LCD screen – this means that it can be used outside.  Often I have wanted to be out in my comfortable chaise lounge or off on a boating weekend doing some note taking or writing and have found that my laptop screen is nearly invisible in the daylight.  The back light on the AlphaSmart changes all of that, clearly showing what’s been typed.   Which brings up another plus feature:  Batteries with a nearly endless life span.  A rechargeable battery pack can be purchased, which will last 200 hours or more per charge. But why, when three standard AA batteries can power the Neo for up to 700 hours – that’s a lot of writing.

After typing in your memoir or the minutes of the meeting you’ve just attended there’s a cord to connect to the computer and everything can be downloaded or it can be connected directly to your printer for a hard copy.

The housing for the AlphaSmart is durable with the claim that it can be dropped with no damage.  A sturdy soft plastic case for easy portability can be purchased and there’s even a backpack available to transport it. And it’s light weight too at something under two pounds.

The price can be as high as $200 depending on which version you choose but there’s more than an adequate selection of used models on eBay starting as low as $30.  For reasons unknown, the AlphaSmart is not readily available in the local office supply stores or electronic mega marts or big box stores but can be found on line at

There are a few different models: the Dana and the Neo are the two latest versions that have a few updates from the older models such as a larger screen and more storage space.  You’ll want to check out the specifications of the different versions to determine what will work best for you.

One of the big pluses is that there’s no checking of email or doing research.  This works well for the distractible, keeping the focus on writing.  With the portability, long term power, low price and ease of computer hook up this is a must have for anyone who either writes or is looking for an easy to use portable electronic note taker.

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