02 September 2007

My new weird little machine, the NEO

It's not really a laptop and its not really a typewriter (remember those?). What is it good for? I have just read two articles that help explain my thinking after the fact - at the time my thinking was more intuitive than rational.

Rob Pegoraro in the technology section of the Washington Post makes the point that "Laptop design has advanced a great deal over the past decade, but a few things still generally hold true: Batteries won't last through a cross-country flight, and affordable laptops weigh too much." This is certainly true - and it's the "affordable" part that hurts the most.

Jon Miller in an odd little blog I found this morning called Gemba Panta Rei makes a slightly different point.

As much as I love the bells and whistles of modern day word processing, there are built-in interruptions and flow-stoppers on my laptop that make me wonder if we wouldn’t be better off going back to our manual typewriters, telephones, and other examples of pre-21st century office productivity tools.

In other words, the laptop has so much stuff crammed into it that it is a distraction all by itself. While you are typing, you can also check your e-mail, play solitaire, cruise the web, get instant messages, and watch a cartoon on You Tube. He concludes

Economist use statistics to tell us that information technology has vastly improved productivity. Perhaps. There are times like this week when I wonder if a single-function machine wouldn’t serve me better.

My solution to this was to buy a Neo by Alpha Smart. This is what it looks like. It only does one thing - type. It has a full featured word processor in its little brain and can produce text files that are then transferred to your computer in whatever application you wish.

I've just gotten it and will keep you posted on how useful it is, but it sure solves the problems listed above. It is cheap (not even $225). It is as light and as small as a notebook. I mean a real notebook, not a computer. It is rugged, since it was originally designed for children. Also very simple to use. And you won't be distracted by anything else emanating from your own machine. It doesn't do anything except produce text. And perhaps best of all, its three AA batteries will keep it going for about 700 hours.

It will be perfect for on the bus, in a bar or coffee shop, and above all, in a library doing research. I can type up my notes, take the little machine home and dump the files into my WordPerfect files on my computer.

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