The Neo-Direct website is very straightforward and no-frills. I think this was a plus. Sometimes you just want to order your damn item and move on with life. Myriad graphics and links are not necessary. The NEO model is $169 (or $192 for the rechargeable model, which I think is unnecessary, but more on that later) and shipping is $10.95. I think this is very fair. I received an order receipt about 30 minutes after I ordered the device and a shipping confirmation a day or two later. The package arrived on my doorstep about a week after I ordered it, as advertised, and it was packaged very well. The box contained the unit, 2 CDs, a USB cord, and a very easy to read instruction manual.
2. How light and/or thin is the NEO?
The NEO weighs about a pound and a half. It is a little heavier where the screen is, but it is lighter than my computer keyboard. It is also about a half-inch at its thinnest, and about an two inches at the screen. The NEO is about as portable as a notebook…of paper.
3. How durable is the NEO?
Granted, I have not dropped it yet and I really don’t intend to test it out, but other reviews state that the NEO can survive a 4-foot drop. Just from a standard usage standpoint, the device is incredibly sturdy. I am not the most gentle typist, but the keyboard can take the beatings I give it with no trouble at all. There is no reason to think that with regular use, the NEO couldn’t last several years. There is no complicated software to bog it down, and you can order replacement keyboards for them.
4. I’m concerned about the small screen on the NEO. I’m so used to typing on a big monitor at home. Does that get in your way at all?
This was also my main concern about purchasing one of these devices. I have a 19-inch monitor, and I am used to being able to see an entire page of words before me as I type. Let me explain why, ultimately, the screen size became a non-issue for me.
First, it’s not nearly as inhibiting as you might think. The NEO screen displays 4 lines. AlphaSmart has a DANA line that displays 6-8. It is easy enough to scroll up through the document or use the “Find” function to skip around your document. I have not missed being able to see more lines of my document at a time, and in fact find it to be less of a distraction, which brings me to my second point:
The reason I bought the NEO was to write first drafts. I didn’t buy it to revise or read my work. I bought it to get from Point A to Point Z. All the rest will happen on my regular computer. On a first draft, the only thing that should really and truly matter is what you can see on those 4 lines in front of you.
5. But what about the display brightness? Is it an issue in low-light?
If I could ask for one thing on this unit, it would be a backlight. However, the lack of light has only been an issue while trying to use it in my living room in the evening with only one lamp on across the room. Even with a backlight, the lighting conditions would have been less than ideal. Otherwise, the brightness of the screen is not an issue. The contrast is good (and adjustable) and the default font is big (and also adjustable). I use it at the office and in my house, and at no point have my eyes felt the strain.
6. Is the lack of a pointing device a problem? I can’t do anything without drop-down menus, icons, and a clicker!
Pish-posh! A mouse is unnecessary on the NEO. Standard keyboard shortcuts for highlighting (shift + arrows), copying (ctrl + C), cutting (ctrl + X), and pasting (ctrl + V) apply. The bottom of the device has additional shortcut commands written on it for a thesaurus, word count, find/replace, and changing the font size. Buttons exist separately for printing and spell check.
7. How many files can you store on the NEO?
The NEO has 8 file slots. When you turn it on, it goes immediately to where you were last typing, which is something that not even the latest version of MS Word can do for you without a macro (lame!). Each file slot holds a maximum 51,200 characters or about 25 pages. Most novel writers designate each file slot to a chapter and then upload it into one big document when they are done. I have not yet tested the memory capacity of this device on my own writing, having only written short stories on it up to date.*
8. Speaking of uploading, how easy is it?
When you want to transfer a file on your NEO to your computer, you connect the device with your USB cord and press “Send.” BUT (and this is important, because I learned this lesson the hard way the first time I tried it), you have to have your preferred word processing program open first. Because the NEO aims to be truly universal, it uploads files not as a storage device, but as a virtual keyboard. This means that it will simply “type” each line into the Word (or OpenOffice or whatever) document you have open. If you DON’T have Word open when you press Send, it will type the words in any field you have available, whether it’s your internet address bar, Blogger/Wordpress window, or whatever. So, when you’re uploading files, you really can’t do anything else with your computer that involves typing. It also can take awhile. I estimate that the device probably “types” at about 200wpm, so you do the math on about how long it will take for your whole book to upload. Some people may be annoyed by this, but it’s not a huge deal. If it didn’t do it this way, it would cause a whole lot more software conflicts. So just be thankful and go make a pot of coffee or cook dinner while it does its thing.
By the way, the document will upload in your program’s default font, but you will need to edit the tabs out (very important for those looking to properly format a manuscript) and reset your margins and line spacing. In other words, the NEO is not a formatting device.
9. But I want to transfer something I started on my computer and finish it on the NEO. Can I do this?
Absolutely. The unit comes with a CD containing the AlphaSmart Manager software. Run the exe file and it will do a very quick install. Under the “Alpha Files to Send” tab, you can cut and paste your work to the proper field. Then click on the “Send List” tab and click the “Send” button. A word of caution. Make sure you check the box on the screen that designates which file slot the Manager will send the work to on the NEO, otherwise it will default to File 1 and overwrite whatever you might have there. I learned that the hard way too. Thankfully it wasn’t too heartbreaking. I noticed the first time I tried transferring it that it didn’t show up on the device, but after the second shot, it worked great. I don’t know if this is a fluke or not, but further use should bear this out.
The NEO also supports infrared transfers back and forth between devices or between your computer and the NEO, or from the NEO to your printer, provided of course that your computer and/or printer has an infrared receiver. I have yet to play with this particular feature, but will let you know when I do.
10. Does the NEO have any other features besides just the word processor?
Yes. Because these devices were originally designed for the classroom setting, there are a few different applets preinstalled, such as one for making quizzes. There is also calculator and the ability to set passwords. In the Control Panel, there are options for adjusting screen brightness and keyboard layout. There are QWERTY, Dvorak, and One-Hand (right or left) settings. You can also set a delay before it accepts characters, etc. The NEO is built for users of every age and ability level and can even be connected to a Text2Speech device.
11. How’s battery life?
That is, I think, the best selling point of the NEO (and its sister devices). The NEO runs on three AA batteries, and reportedly they can last more than 700 hours at one go, which is roughly 698 hours longer than a laptop can last on a single charge. And when the batteries die, they are cheap to replace. Or better yet, invest in some NiMH batteries with a recharger and you will always have a fresh set ready to go. In my opinion, I wouldn’t spend extra money on the “rechargeable” version of the NEO. Spend that money on a separate set of rechargeable batteries that you can also use for other things.
12. What are some gripes you have about the device?
Some have complained that the “On” button is too easy to press and that there is no locking mechanism for the keyboard. However, this is not true. While there is a One-Button On option, you can also go in through the Applets menu and into the Control Panel and choose an option that will allow you to turn on the device by first holding down “Enter” and then pressing “On.” This is just as good as a Lock button. Still, you should get a carrying case and not stack things on top of your NEO. This will not only preserve the condition of the device, but also prevent it from turning on unexpectedly.
13. Would you truly recommend this device for writers?
In a heartbeat. I am so happy I purchased the NEO. As I discussed before, when I was pricing new laptops, I had a sinking feeling in my gut that I wasn’t so much buying a writing machine as I was buying a $600+ distraction FROM writing. Others might not have this problem, but given what I have learned about myself as a writer and as someone with a weaker-than-average attention span, this is the best electronic investment I have ever made for myself as an author. The NEO is ultra portable, durable, and attractive (I have gotten a lot of compliments on it already). Netbooks and laptops are great for email and internet usage, but I can now do most of those things on my cell phone. The NEO has all I need to write anything from a blog to a short story to an epic novel without any shiny doodads to get in my way. $169 well spent.