AlphaSmart Neo: Further Considerations

As with everything else new, there’s a learning curve. Fortunately, with the AlphaSmart Neo, it’s not very steep.

At first I was concerned about being able to add special characters and symbols, such as é, î, or even ™ or ©.

Already taken care of! The Neo was, after all, designed to be used in educational settings, so it was part of the original design. Pressing CTRL-H brings up a help screen, including both International and Greek/Symbols key combinations.

For example, typing OPTION E then E results in “é.” For me, this is more than a mere option: without this feature, I wouldn’t be able to type my middle name, “Sinéad” (Irish for “Jane.”

Another blessing is the lack of both auto-complete and auto-check abilities: on both my iPad and iPhone I was constantly having to go back and correct “myself” to “my” because both devices thought they knew better than me.

Still, I will admit that at times I miss the onscreen suggestions of words I can pick to insert. But it’s definitely not a deal-breaker.

Things I Miss

Being able to insert pictures and images. Then again, being able to go on the Internet and searching for anything would defeat the goal of distraction-free writing, so I simply wait until I’ve transferred the files to my laptop to do that.

The ability to use italics, bold-face, or otherwise format my text. Again, I leave that up to the laptop.

I’d like to be able to set the auto-off time to something other than 4 minutes (the default) but that’s the lowest it can go (the maximum is 59 minutes). I’m obsessed with saving battery power—but since 3 AA batteries will last for 700 minutes of use—I can get used to it. And if I’m going to the kitchen to brew a cup of tea, I can simply shut the Neo off. It’s an acceptable trade-off,since sometimes I’ll stare out the window for a minute or two whilst I gather my thoughts. After all, we writers are always writing, even when we’re staring off into space.

Besides, one simply cannot write without a decent cup of tea to hand.

My Workflow

Even though I’ve only had my Neo since last Wednesday, I’ve already figured out a workflow that suits me: Once I’ve transferred a file from the Neo to my laptop (and backed it up as well), I open the file on the Neo and select the Clear File function. When prompted, I select Y (for yes), and it’s gone, freeing up that space for a new file.

That’s pretty much it for now. As always, as I learn or discover more I’ll share it with you right here. Oh, yeah: I’m already doing most of my writing on the Neo. I really do like it that much!

Yet Another New Tool!

Neo

As a writer, I find the biggest problem with modern technology is all of the potential distractions. I love writing on my iPhone, iPad, or laptop, but it’s too easy to get distracted by email, IMs, Google searches, etc.

For example, I’ll need to check Wikipedia for information. I find it, but there are so many interesting links in the article, and 30 minutes later I’m down the rabbit hole with Alice only to discover when I surface that I’ve lost my original thought.

Enter the AlphaSmart Neo. Originally designed as a basic word processor for schools, it’s found a new following among writers. It originally cost $200 per unit, and it’s no longer being manufactured. But you can find them on eBay–which is where I bought mine (brand new) for $20.

So what’s the big deal? it’s really quite simple: it’s a word processor. It doesn’t connect to the Internet, so it affords me hours of distraction-free writing. Once I’m done, I can connect it via USB cable to my laptop, open a Word or Libre Writer or Scrivener document, and send the file over from my Neo.

It powers up almost instantaneously, relying as it does on 3 AA batteries which folks I’ve talked with say will give me about a year’s worth of power, or roughly 700 hours.

Mine arrived today, and so I’m still getting used to it. I’ll be giving a more thorough review in a week or so, after I’ve had the opportunity to put it through its paces.

Oh, yes: I wrote this article on my new toy! It’s more like writing on a typewriter than on a computer. And another thing: it only displays 4 lines at a time, so there’s no temptation to go back and edit as I write.

It has a spell-checker, with the option to add new words to the built-in dictionary, as well as a (very primitive) thesaurus.

When I turn it on, it returns to my last position in the last file I was working on, which is handy.

I also like being able to add to a file without caring about where it fits best: I just write without editing, and then edit the document once I’ve sent it to the laptop.

The display is bright enough to use the Neo out of doors–at least in the shade.

Indeed, as I’m writing this I’m sitting outside in an Adirondack chair, enjoying the fresh air.

I thought about buying a protective case for it, but I’m not about to shell out a hundred bucks for a case for a $20 item!

I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a new tech item since 1981, when I bought my first computer–a Kaypro CP/M computer.

A Few New Toys

Well, I finally did it. I took the plunge and upgraded my old iPad Mini! It’s summer, and the idea of remaining in my Lonely Writer’s Garett™ just doesn’t appeal to me. What makes it the best room in the house during the winter (the fact that it’s the warmest room in the house) is the very thing that makes it almost unbearable when the temperatures reach 90°F/32°C.

But that’s not really why I bought the new one. I simply needed a larger format (I got the 9.7” model) and a lot more RAM. The new one has 128 Gb, which I consider the absolute minimum for a Serious Budding Writer™ like me.

iPad 97

Anyway, the stars (and my bank balance) aligned and I decided to go for it. Besides the memory, it’s also cell-enabled, so I can make and receive calls on it if I so desire—which I don’t.

Next, I took the old iPad Mini to the Apple Store where they gave me a $95 Apple gift card in exchange for it! I had wanted a keyboard and case combination, but they didn’t stock them. Instead, I went with the new Apple Pen.

apple pen 2

Don’t bother searching for the pen online; as near as I can tell, it’s just the Apple Pencil renamed and relabeled. In fact, the metal band around the top of the device says “Apple Pencil.”

But never mind: it works, and that’s all that matters.

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

I’m going to have to adopt an entirely new workflow for my blogs. Since I won’t be using my laptop as often, choosing instead to sit in a cool breeze on the porch, I’m going to have to invest in some new software.

I spent several days reading reviews of note-taking apps for the iPad/Pencil combination before finally deciding on GoodNotes. $7.99 made it the most expensive app I’ve ever bought; on the other hand, if a comparable program existed for my laptop (it doesn’t), it would probably cost at least $50, so I’m not complaining.

Apple Pen(cil) Specifications

It’s a USB device that requires pairing with your iPad before you can use it. Sorry, it doesn’t work with iPhones. Simply remove the cap and plug it into the charging port on your iPad and click on “Pair.” Once you’re connected, you will remain paired until the next time you power off your iPad.

Once paired, you can also use the plugged-in connection to charge the Pen, although my own Pen came fully charged. If you’d prefer, you can use the enclosed adapter to charge the Pen via a Lightning cable.

According to Apple, a 15 second charge will give enough juice for 30 minutes of constant use. A full charge takes 10 minutes, and provides 8-12 hours of use.

More About GoodNotes

For a (relatively) quick look at GoodNotes and it’s capabilities, here’s a video on YouTube. So far, I’m impressed with it. I’m going to spend the next few days learning how to use it and putting it through its paces.

I’ll get back to you about it.

apple pen

 

A New iPad

My iPad Mini was starting to show its age. It was slow, and I made the mistake of buying one with the minimum amount of memory. You can’t do a whole lot with 32Gb, and I wanted one with more.

The problem? I couldn’t afford to buy one outright, so I took me off to the Verizon store, where I picked up a new iPad with 1128Gb of memory. It came with a phone line, and I only had to pay the sales tax. THAT I could handle. 49 bucks and some change.

When I got home, it took me about an hour to backup the iPad Mini and wipe it clean, and then restore that backup to the new unit. Finally, I updated all of the apps on the new one and loaded the latest system update.

Best of all is discovering that if I take the old iPad into the Apple Store, they’ll give me a $95 gift card, which I’ll use to buy a screen protector and a new case, since the old ones don’t fit the new device.

I’m running a backup on the new iPad right now, and once that’s done, I should be good to go.

It’s nice to have something good happen for a change.

ipad

It’s Getting Brighter Every Day!

Especially since this week was when the days officially started getting longer. But when I said they’re getting brighter, I meant it in a figurative and not a literal sense. You DO know what “literal” means, yes? It’s one of those words that far too many people sprinkle their speech with, never realizing that they’re using it incorrectly. It also gets confused with “virtual,” which is the word they should use.

ANYWAY, after nearly 10 days without my iPhone, I was finally able to get a ride to the Verizon store, where I was informed that there was nothing they could do, and that I needed to take it to the Apple Store.

When I explained this to my driver (my landlord), he asked where the Apple Store was. “Eastview Mall,” I answered.

This will tell you what kind of a guy my landlord, Ed, is: Eastview Mall is about 15 miles from our house. Ed’s reaction? “Well, we might as well go there now.”

At the Apple Store, since I didn’t have an appointment, they told me there would be about a 10 minute wait—which turned out to be about 3 minutes. I explained my problem, and that I was unable to resolve it on my own, since none of the troubleshooting steps list on the Apple web site worked.

Dave (the technician) was able to resolve my problem in about 10 minutes. I was a Happy Camper!

Of course, once I got home, it took about 30 minutes to restore my files.

What I Learned

1. Always, always, always BACK UP YOUR PHONE! Of course, since I was already obeying Robyn’s First Rule of Computing it was no big deal. What’s that? Oh, right: Robyn’s First Rule of Computing states BE PARANOID AND COMPULSIVE when it comes to backing up your data.

2. When attempting to recover from iPhone problems, it’s always best to do so via iTunes on a Macintosh computer. I have a PC and iTunes, but that combination just didn’t work.

3. You can save yourself a lot of heartache and stress if you get it fixed immediately!

And thus endeth the lesson for today.