Several months ago I saw an ad in Writer’s Digest and bought a little thing called NEO from Alpha Smart. I kept meaning to review it, but, well, life’s been pretty busy. But today I have a few minutes.

The NEO is basically a text-only word processor. It has a few other functions, but it’s a very simple system. Its purpose is to be portable. Actually, the vast bulk of their instructions are aimed at teachers, who can send assignments and prompts to their students’ NEOs for homework. A very inexpensive (less than $250) alternative to a laptop.

Its screen is tiny—6 lines at a time—and its formatting capability is virtually nil. However, it is very lightweight (about 2 pounds). In the last two months, I’ve used it to draft blog entries and even start a book chapter, sitting at coffee shops, play places, and in other homes than my own. Not to mention, it allows me to word process when Christian needs the home computer. When spring comes, my NEO will be dragged out to blufftops and creekbeds remote. Along with a baby. Hmmm. Well, anyway.

It interfaces by USB. I can take something in process on the hard drive, send it to the NEO, and work on it while I’m out, then bring it home and feed it back into Word. Their instructions don’t make this clear. The manual explains how to send text that can’t be touched—a “linked file”—and then word process below it. What they neglected to mention was that if you just skip the linking codes, all you send is text that can be monkeyed with to your heart’s content.

What I don’t like: “…” in Word automatically reformats, and the NEO picks up on the incoming side, but when I send a file back to the computer, it just skips the character and goes on, which I sometimes miss. It’s also hard, with 6 lines, to get any sense of context or mapping of the narrative.

However, it has been exactly what I was looking for. At one time, I went nowhere without a small black carrying case containing a flute. These days, I go nowhere without a small black carrying case containing my NEO. I highly recommend it.