AlphaSmart Word Processor

The AlphaSmart is a very lightweight word processor with a four-line screen that runs for over 700 hours on a couple of AA batteries. It holds about 100 pages of text in 8 different files. Text can be easily uploaded to any word processing file. It turns on instantly and is extremely durable. I have used a previous incarnation (the AlphaSmart 3000) for years, and truly appreciate its ruggedness, ease of use, and non-distractibility. When I really just need to write and NOT be fooling around on the Internet, it turns on instantly, runs coolly and silently, and does not tempt me to edit when I should be writing (a computer is much easier for editing, since you can see a larger screen). Still, these have enough editing features to allow me to make important changes on the fly. These were originally designed as inexpensive word processors for schools. Since each of the eight files can be assigned to a different student with his own password, a number of different classes can use the same machines (there’s a bunch of software available for teachers).

I wrote most of my last novel on mine, uploading to the computer every couple of days. I find it much more portable than my laptop, much less distracting, always ready. I wanted something cheap, lightweight, super-sturdy, entirely intuitive, and non-distracting. I didn’t want something hot on my lap, didn’t want to wait for it to boot up, didn’t want to have to recharge batteries. My AlphaSmart 3000 weighs 2 pounds and I’ve dropped it more than twice with no problems. It’s perfect for me. If I try to rough-draft on the computer, I’m daunted by the big blank “page” of the screen and fatally tempted to edit and format as I go. Or, when the going gets rough, tempted to play games or balance my checkbook or get online. My own character defects, of course, but I dare say not all my own. When I’m ready to upload to the computer, I attach a cable between the AlphaSmart and a USB port on my PC (it’s Mac compatible, too) open an MS Word file (or, more usually, a MS Write file, which seems faster for some reason), and hit the “send” key. Then I can sit back and watch what’s in the AlphaSmart file scroll onto the screen in a few minutes. Then I can edit my text, and I don’t usually get distracted when I’m editing. You do have to upload each file separately, but that’s not really a problem. I also bought a piece of software that I can use to download from a text file on the computer to the AlphaSmart, which is useful sometimes.

The version I use is the one that came out just before the Neo, their latest word processor. If I wanted another one, personally, I’d likely buy an older model on eBay rather than get a Neo, only because I can see they’re adding more bells and whistles and I just don’t want them. I should add that I do have a good laptop, but rarely use it; for one thing, I find it a nuisance and a worry to travel with, but it also has an annoying buzz. Writing is hard enough without having to be aware of the medium. When I start working on it, my AlphaSmart just sort of disappears. Without it, I’d draft in longhand. Lots of writers still do, you know.

-- Polly Robertus  

AlphaSmart Word Processor
$170
Available from and manufactured by Renaissance Learning, Inc.