An AlphaSmart is not a Newton. It is a portable word processor. A full-sized keyboard combined with a reflective LCD that can display six lines of text, save eight 25 page long files, and work off of three AA batteries for up to 700 hours. During hurricane Irene my AlphaSmart Neo was all I had to type on after the power went out. It allowed me to write two whole articles distraction free, long after both my MacBook Pro and Newton had run out of battery power. Due to its portability, durability, clever keyboard shortcuts, and writing tools the AlphaSmart may be my next great writing companion.
The AlphaSmart like the Newton makes a valuable writing partner not only because of the features it includes, but because of the distractions it leaves behind. The AlphaSmart turns on instantly. It not only remembers which file you were working in last, but the position of your last edit as well. Everything you type into the AlphaSmart is saved instantly and preserved by its battery backed memory. Like a Newton an AlphaSmart never forgets, and like a Newton an AlphaSmart puts your content first without files, applications, or icons.
Navigating the content you put into an AlphaSmart is easy. Across the top of the keyboard there are eight dedicated buttons for the AlphaSmart’s eight word processing files. The home and end keys bring you quickly to the start and end of your document, while the four way arrow keys bring you anywhere in between. With the control key held down the left and right arrow keys bring you forward and back one sentence at a time. With the control key held down the up and down arrow keys allow you to transverse your document by paragraph. The option key is best used for navigating your document one word at a time, while a depressed command key takes you through your prose one screen at a time. Selecting text is accomplished with a depressed shift key, and all of the navigational aids listed above work for selecting text by word, line, sentence, paragraph or screen. The AlphaSmart understands common keyboard shortcuts like copy and paste from both its control and command keys. It does not matter if you come from a Mac or a PC, the AlphaSmart works with your muscle memory, not against it. If at any time you lose your place the find key is there to help. Search for a string of text within a document or within all of the AlphaSmart’s eight individual files. Command G can be used to find again. There is even a section selector for navigating your document by paragraph. No matter the size of your document AlphaSmart can help you navigate your prose without the need of a pointing device, touchscreen, or mouse.
AlphaSmart includes all the basic tools for writing on the road. AlphaSmart’s thesaurus can be activated from a keyboard shortcut instead of launching a separate application. This keeps your mind on your prose while you find the proper word. Spell-check can be initiated for a specific word, file, or selection. It can be run automatically, or reserved for when the writing process is complete. Either way AlphaSmart gives you reliable spell-check with no distracting squiggly red underlines. Finally for the space constrained journalist in us all AlphaSmart offers character, word, paragraph, and page count at the push of a button. The count is not live like some word processors, but it is always a quick key combination away.
AlphaSmart sends and receives data using wireless infrared, and conventional USB. Unlike a Newton, or conventional PDA the AlphaSmart can transmit text without the need of proprietary cables of special software. Simply attach the AlphaSmart to your computer the same way you would connect a USB keyboard. Once connected the AlphaSmart can transmit the contents of any of its eight word processing files the same way a keyboard transmits text. Just place your computer cursor where you want the text to appear, press the send key, and AlphaSmart will type out your selected file in record time. The AlphaSmart’s second USB port can also be used to print to most laser printers, while its infrared capabilities makes wireless printing and file sharing possible. Between USB, print, and infrared, there is no excuse for not getting your documents out of an AlphaSmart.
An AlphaSmart is durable. Designed for K-12 classrooms an AlphaSmart is a take anywhere device. Its three AA batteries ensure you have replaceable power wherever you go, 700 hours at a time. It’s reflective LCD means you can type in low light as well as direct sunlight. Its sturdy full-sized keyboard means you can type at a desk, in your lap, on a plane, or anywhere in between. AlphaSmart weighs less than two pounds. More durable than a laptop, more convenient than a Newton. The AlphaSmart is my new write anywhere computer with the comfortable keyboard I require, and none of the distractions I don’t.