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AlphaSmart Neo2 Review | Meet Mavis

Whether it's software or a website, a new gadget, or a different method of doing things, I am always on the lookout for ways to make my writing process smoother.

Portability has become a focal point for me. Between my full-time day job and limited hours to work on my various projects, being able to take my writing on the go makes me feel more efficient even when I'm only able to do thirty-minute sprints on my lunch breaks. Finding the best method has been more of an undertaking than I expected.


Ever since I began writing seriously in high school, I've favored writing in notebooks and binders. Apart from all of the reasons I love writing by hand in general, it made it easier to take my writing wherever. The problem is, it's not the most efficient way of going about things. Typing everything up after getting it written down is time-consuming.


A while ago, I bought a tablet and a Bluetooth keyboard that I would often have with me in the breakrooms at the various retail jobs I've had over the years. Typing directly into MS Word or a Google Doc or Wix helped speed things up, but it wasn't reliable. Shoddy WiFi resulted in things not saving, and some places imposed restrictions on what could be accessed when connected so I couldn't log into my writing apps.


Thus began the hunt for a gadget designed specifically for writing on the go, without reliance on the internet. And that's when I learned about the AlphaSmart Neo2.


This blast from the not-so-distant past was mostly used in schools during the early 2000s as a tool to teach kids how to type (though some office employees and field reporters used them, too).


The device itself is a keyboard with a screen measuring about 2" x 6" that fits four lines of text. And that's it. No bells, no whistles, no frills, and most importantly, no distractions.


It's what I've described to folks as being like an acoustic laptop, a flash drive you can type on, or a 3D-printed Mavis Beacon Teaches Typingwhich is precisely why I've nicknamed my NEO2 Mavis.


The NEO2 connects to computers via a standard printer cable, and text can be ported to any word-processing software or web browser. This is what I have been doing with my blog posts for the past few weeks and so far I've found success with it.


That all said, the NEO2 does have a handful of drawbacks and things to keep in mind.


Real quick note: I am not affiliated with AlphaSmart or any other company referenced throughout this post.


Where To Find It

The NEO2, as is the case with the majority of AlphaSmart products, it is no longer manufactured, so it's highly probable that any available are used or pre-owned. As a result, it's difficult to list a concrete price.


Mavis was a birthday gift from my mother, who asked me to send her a link to the NEO2 I wanted on eBay. After shipping, it was around $90 for the device itself and the printer cable. The average on eBay at the time of writing this post seems to be from $50-$150 depending on the condition and what comes with it.


Despite the variances in cost, the NEO2 and other AlphaSmart products are still a reasonable alternative to other popular devices like the Freewrite Traveler which retails at $499; I don't have any personal experience with these and cannot rightfully give my opinion on them.


I can however share my thoughts on the NEO2.


Pros

I'll just say it right off the bat: I am loving my NEO2. While there is a slight learning curve to it (which I'll touch more on in a bit), Mavis and I are getting on splendidly.


Productivity And Portability

I get distracted easily, so having a device that doesn't have the ability to connect to the internet has cut down on distractions tremendously. Not being able to look things up at the risk of falling into a rabbit hole or getting sucked into social media has been helpful. And to my surprise, I've found that I feel more focused when I'm just staring off into space or have my eyes closed! That's harder to do when you're working with a notebook or screen.

While I haven't done any tests to see how many words I'm typing on Mavis in however many minutes as opposed to using my laptop, I can say I feel more productive using the NEO2. That's got to count for something!


Part of that might have to do with how tactile the keyboard is. Hearing the ol' clickity-clack of the keys as I type is honestly satisfying makes it seem like the writing is going a lot faster, which makes me more motivated to keep writing. You don't get that sensation on a touchscreen, and with a lot of keyboards and computers designed to be quiet, the noise of the NEO2 feels like a novelty.


Storing And Transfering Text

The NEO2 has eight available files that can hold about 10,000 words each. It's like having multiple documents to jump between on a computer, and that's especially helpful where the blog is concerned. Sometimes one post will unexpectedly become the first in a series, and having the ability to tap a button and make notes for a subsequent post is far more efficient than my previous alternatives of either skipping a few pages ahead in a composition book or pulling out my phone to use its notetaking app.


As mentioned above, the NEO2 connects to computers via a standard printer cable. Once you link it up, you just hit the SEND button and the text in whichever file you have up will be typed into the program you have open. It takes a bit of time, as it's going keystroke by keystroke rather than a copy/paste, but it goes relatively fastand certainly faster than I would be typing up something from a notebook!


Additionally, when the NEO2 is plugged in, it acts as a keyboard for the device it's hooked up to. It makes the desk a little less cluttered.


Longevity And Durability

One of the perks I saw referenced quite a bit in my research prior to getting my NEO2 is the battery life. The thing runs on three AAs and at the time of writing this post, I haven't had to replace them yet. It beats having only a few hours on a laptop before needing to plug it in to charge. Not having to carry a power cord adds to the portability of the device, too. One less thing to keep track of is certainly helpful when you're a writer on the move.


The NEO2 also shuts itself off after about four minutes of inactivity, conserving its energy.


It's also wicked sturdy. I've dropped Mavis once or twice and panicked, but this girl took it like a champ. But that makes sense when you consider the origins of the NEO2 and its predecessors. With its being intended for classroom use as a tool to teach kids how to type, it needed to withstand calamity.


via Etsy

Growing up, I had a Fisher-Price cassette player. This poor thing went through the wringer. Carted around on backyard adventures. Left out in the rain. Once had some earwigs living in it. And yet, in spite of everything it went through, it still worked. The only thing that would happen would be the music getting gradually slower as the batteries wore out, frankly demonic enough to turn "Who Let The Dogs Out" into "Who Let The Hellhounds Out" but I digress.


The only reason I bring this up is because ever since then, every phone, iPod, MP3 player, laptop, or any other electronic gadget would be compared to that Fisher-Price cassette player.


I'm accident-prone to say the least. Many electronics have suffered at length because of it. Having a device that can survive the brunt of my mishaps makes me less afraid of taking it with me—especially when compared to fragile laptops and phones that somehow always land screen-down.


Cons

The NEO2 has plenty of perks, but it's not a perfect device. While not necessarily cons, they are worth keeping in mind.


A Bulky Boi

It seems that every electronic gadget in the 2020s is vying to be slimmer than the next. Nearly every advertisement hypes up how it's the thinnest product yet.


The NEO2 is 12.5" x 9.5" x 1.5" and the keyboard feels about the same size as one you'd find on a laptop, maybe a little more narrow, but bigger than your average tablet. That said, there are times it feels awkward to carry around because of its trapezoid shape.


Unlike similar word processing gizmos, the FreeWrite Traveller for example, the NEO2 does not fold up for more convenient storage. I may not be able to slide it into my everyday purse, but it wasn't hard to find a good size tote to accommodate Mavis when I need to write on the go.


Drafting Made Easier. Editing, Not So Much.

While I have had plenty of success using Mavis to do most of my prep work for the blog, I haven't had the same experience when it comes to editing my WIPs.

This may be in part related to my usual method of editing, which involves marking up a printed copy of the document. In order to transfer the changes to the NEO2, I attempted to type everything out again which, as you would expect, tripled the time needed to accomplish any edits.


While the size of the NEO2's screen is great for staying focused in the drafting stages, only having four lines of text visible at a time makes it hard to find specific passages. And if you're like me and find it helpful to view the ratio between narration and dialogue present on the page, that's something this device doesn't allow for.


Are there editing routines that would be aided by the NEO2? Surely. However, it doesn't fit as easily into my methods at this time.


Importing

While the NEO2 has made my writing process more efficient overall, there are some things to note about the upload process.


The text is not entered instantly as would be the case with the copy/paste command. Instead, it's rapidly entered one keystroke at a time directly into whichever text box you have open.


I quickly learned that if I had Wix open in Tab A and opened up a second tab, the text from the NEO2 is transferred into the search bar of that second tab. Knowing this, I'll usually just let it run and come back after a few minutes.

Additionally of note, the NEO2 doesn't have formatting capabilities. While you are able to break the text into paragraphs with the ENTER key as you would with any keyboard, you aren't able to indent the text or change the spacing or justification.


I've gotten in the habit of using asterisks whenever I need to italicize something as a reminder to do so later on.


Again, this isn't a major deal when you're drafting and just concentrating on getting the words down, but it can be a bit tedious to adjust later.


The Ol' Clickety Clack

I know this was something I listed as a pro, but the sound of the NEO2 keyboard can also be a downside depending on the situation.


When I'm writing in a public place, I find myself worried I'm creating a disturbance with the clacking of the keys so I end up typing a little slower to lessen the noise. It's just something to note depending on the circumstances and where you use the NEO2.


Late Night Writing

This one's for the night owls out there.


The NEO2's portability makes it possible to write anywhere, even in bed. And that's where I do a fair amount of drafting. Kind of like telling yourself a bedtime story in a way, I guess?


For those of us who prefer to write under darkened skies, it's worth knowing that the NEO2 has a drawback in that it's not backlit and requires an external light source to be seen. This won't be a problem if you're using overhead lighting or a lamp. I've seen people use clip-on booklights. I have a headlamp I use for reading in bed that gets the job done. Some more tech-savvy folks have modded their NEO2s to be backlit or power a worm light like you would attach to a Gameboy Advance back in the day, and can occasionally find them on eBay and other sites.


There are workarounds to the dim green screen if it isn't your thing or prompts hesitation when considering the NEO2 as a purchase. And again, it's not a big deal but something to know about.





Writing is an art of finding the approaches and tools that work best for you. As you have likely gathered, I have but a few qualms with my NEO2. It suits my needs as a writer with a day job, letting me get the words down when I'm away from my computer and stuck with shoddy WiFi while eliminating the middleman of typing up everything scribbled in a notebook. The device has a handful of shortcomings, most of which aren't major downfalls and are easy to adapt to.


It may not be sleek in design and may not have all the bells and whistles, but this no-frills gadget gets the job done.


Because it's not always about having the shiny new toys that matters but having something that lets you chase all of your shiny new ideas.



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