I review the Neo 2, a surprising digital typewriter from the year 2007.
Last updated on June 10, 2020. Created on November 18, 2019.
I was drinking coffee in my garage one morning, standing next to my tools and saying "yep" to myself repeatedly, when some obese man chucked a package through the open window of his moving Jeep onto my driveway. He sped off and I began to ponder everyone I ever wronged in my life, assuming that the package was a form of blackmail. Every high-budget action thriller I've ever seen informed my belief that people don't just throw packages onto your driveway when it's not blackmail. Nervously I inched toward the package. Neighbors peered at me through their blinds, judging my every move and the slice of grass I missed while mowing the other day.
Carefully I hunched over the package, reading the delivery information.
"My God," I said aloud.
The sender was Raghu from Texas. The recipient? My wife. And what of the delivery driver? He was apparently a malcontent seasonal worker for a multinational package delivery corporation. It was all coming together: this was some random stuff my wife ordered on eBay without telling me, because she knew I would have dissuaded her from making the purchase had I known about it beforehand. And if that sounds controlling, just consider the fact that she recently bought henna-based hair dye online, staining the counters and floors of our rented home in the name of Fabulous.
To me, the package had may as well been a literal Pandora's box. I figured there were locusts, glitter bombs, a SWAT team and a poorly sealed canister of motor oil in there. When my wife arrived home, I would know the truth.
When my wife lifted the Neo 2 out of the package, I asked her what it was for. She told me she would prefer to write on it, since her laptop is too distracting. I mean, since she found the Neo 2 for only $25, I couldn't complain, especially since I got my Darter Pro. That is, of course, how joint finances work: a series of purchases perpetually justified by what one's partner bought last.
Anyway, I thought the Neo 2 was kind of interesting. Unlike every other semi-modern reinvention of the typewriter I've ever seen, this one, for some reason, didn't instantly anger me. I can appreciate that it's not a fashion statement. It aims to do one thing and do it well, a generally pleasing mantra. And what does the Neo 2 do, exactly? It enables one to focus on writing; however, to write with it, you need to turn it on, and to turn it on, you need batteries. Three AA batteries, to be exact.
For a few hours my wife and I threatened to divorce each other over batteries. I claimed that they were somewhere in the house; she said she'd run to the store and buy a whole new pack if they didn't turn up. But I already stocked us up on all the batteries we'd ever need, God damn it. After tearing the the entire house apart, we found a cache of batteries hidden in a kitchen drawer, next to the pizza cutter. Then I flipped the Neo 2 over to observe that the previous owner(s) scratched the fuck out of it. Good job, morons. Learn to take care of your things.
Inserting the batteries was mostly simple, aside from needing a Phillips head to remove the battery cover. Why? Oh. Never mind, I'm dumb. I'll bet the Neo 2 was marketed to children and schools for typing practice, wasn't it? That would explain why a company called Renaissance Learning acquired the line of products. Still, let them lick batteries, I've always said, my choice variation on let them eat cake.
The Neo 2 starts up in about a second. And if you're wondering what AlphaWord is, well, the marketing material calls it a SmartApplet, which is no more helpful. I prefer the term software, but that's just me, being a guy who uses and writes software for a living. Regardless, opening different files is easy as pressing a key. Presumably the Neo 2 can store up to a whopping 512KB of text, which is approximately 200 pages of single-spaced writing. Even by today's standards, 200 pages is 200 pages. If you write 200 pages on the Neo 2, you will have periodically transferred the data, backing up your fanfiction erotica. That is, assuming you don't want to lose it forever. Most people write in sections or chapters anyway, so no biggie.
Overall, the typing experience is pleasant. I find the keyboard slightly loud, even as someone who uses an obnoxious mechanical one on the regular, but no doubt the Neo 2 keeps you focused on what you're writing. The screen is not backlit, although, if you're traveling with a Neo 2, I imagine you can find a light to strap to it much like what I used to do with my old Game Boy. Is that old school? Yeah, but it works. After all, there is some danger in traveling around with a fancy laptop: someone will steal it, given the chance. Would somebody steal a Neo 2? Probably not. You could easily lug it around in a small laptop bag, comfortably so in a 13" or 15" one.
Earlier I mentioned transferring data from the Neo 2 to another device. One option is to transfer data with a USB cable, the way God intended. But how does the communication occur, exactly? On Linux, I wasn't immediately sure, but assumed somebody wrote some open source
SmartApplet software to accomplish that.
Lo and behold, a random person exceeded all expectations on that front, creating recvneo, "which receives text transmitted from an AlphaSmart Neo via the SEND button and saves it to a UTF-8 text file." Apparently the maintainer has actually maintained the GitHub repository for about four years now, last updating it in the summer of this year (2019). It was even upgraded from Python 2 to 3.
Here's a log of my successfully using it:
reese:~$ recvneo <recvneo> Press the 'send' button on the Neo to transmit the text into: neotext--2019-11-18--13-33-15.txt <recvneo> Press the [esc] key on the *computer* to exit *before* initiating the 'send' operation. <recvneo> Press the [esc] key on the *Neo* and wait for time-out to exit *after* initiating the 'send' operation. <recvneo> Receiving text from the Neo. See the Neo's screen for transmission progress.... <recvneo> Appended newline to file. <recvneo> Finished receiving text from the Neo: File: neotext--2019-11-18--13-33-15.txt Characters: 174 Words (actual): 41 Words (6 characters): 29 Transmission time: 0:00:07.779148
Go star recvneo out of appreciation before the guy gives up on maintaining it for us, you fools.
Again, typing on the Neo 2 is a bit loud. Worse, file transfer from the Neo 2 is mindbogglingly slow. If you write much at all, you may as well plan on doing some chores during file transfer. I don't know about Windows, but in order to transfer files with a Unix-based or Unix-like operating system, you need to be somewhat comfortable with the command line. With all that said, I find the Neo 2 to be an outstanding productivity tool, especially for its time and cost. I would venture to say that the Neo 2 is so dated, yet cost-effective, that it makes devices like the Freewrite brand appear ludicrous, which can go over $500.
I recommend the Neo 2 if you're on a steep budget, but if you have some money laying around and are willing to get your hands dirty, you might consider building your own digital typewriter with a Raspberry Pi and E-Ink screen.