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The Advantages of Portable Word Processors

AlphaSmart, Palm Pilot, Word Processors

Writers on the go can always take a pen and pad when they need to write. However, if you’re like me, writing by hand is awkward after so many years of using only a keyboard. Most of us are just too conditioned to keyboards to do much writing by hand. In addition, then there’s the problem of reading your own handwriting.

Yet, laptops can be bulky and when a battery needs replacing it can be expensive. Laptops aren’t the only answer for writers on the go. Thanks to portable writing machines (keyboards with word processors), writers, as well as students, can jot down their thoughts anywhere.

I first became intrigued with portable word processors working a substitute teacher. Now that I’m retired from subbing, I’m freelance writing, and have recently purchased a Neo (made by Alpha Smart) portable word processor.

Advantages of Portable Word Processors

Lightweight – Because a portable word keyboard is light, it’s easy to throw one in a bag. Most weigh only two pounds or less. They’re easier to carry when you go through airport security as you can put them in a carry-on bag. They’re about the size of a piece of standard 8″ x 11″ notebook paper.

Durable – Designed for children, portable word processors can take more wear and tear than laptops.

Cost effective – The average portable word processors costs a little less than half of what you’d pay for a typical laptop. They can range anywhere from around $200 to a little more than $400 for one that includes internet functions.

Easy – Much simpler to write on than a palm pilot that uses a stylus.

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Should You Invest in a Portable Keyboard?

Determine task – First, decide on how you plan to use your portable keyboard. Do you want to just take notes only? If you travel a lot or if you’re on the road frequently, a portable word processor would be ideal. When you return home, you can easily transfer your files to a computer or laptop. However, if you want to do major editing, then a portable keyboard may not be the answer.


DreamWriter offers an eight-line screen and saves your work as you go. Although it doesn’t have a backlight, it’s still readable. It has 80 pages of memory, but can be upgraded to 500 with a PCMCIA memory card. After three minutes of un-use, it shuts off automatically to save on batteries. The price is reasonable at around $265. It weighs about 2.2 pounds (including battery pack.)

AlphaSmart’s Dana

Somewhat pricer, starting at $315, the Alpha Smart’s Dana, which debuted in 2003, has ten lines (more than other processors.) Dana uses Alpha Word, a full-featured word processor. If you’re looking for a writing devise with Palm Pilot features, then this multifunctional writing machine is a good choice.

The Dana Wireless ($429) has a built-in Wi-Fi for internet access where you can check email, instant messags and do other tasks.

The Alpha Dana runs on three AA batteries. On the other hand, you can use the charger and chargeable batteries. On a down side, it only has 24 hours of battery time. That’s probably why the price includes an AC Adapter, as you don’t want to waste your battery life every time you use it.

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AlphaSmart’ Neo

If you just want a processor for writing (and not internet), the AlphaSmart’s Neo is a better choice. The Neo is cheaper ($219) and its thin base, as well as its streamlined design makes it easy for a writer to carry it wherever he (or she) travels. However, it only has up to six lines so you can get as much text on a screen. It, also, runs on three AA batteries. However, what’s advantageous about the Neo is its long battery life which is up to 700 hours (300 hours with rechargeable batteries). For an additional charge, you can buy rechargeable batteries and battery pack but it really isn’t worth it as the 700 hours can last up to a year. It has eight separate files and 2 MB of memory (200 pages).

What’s more, it’s compatible to the latest Windows Vista models whereas the Dana is only partially compatible. Neo also comes with a spell checker, thesaurus, and a Spanish-English word lookup. It even has a calculator and typing tutor.

On the other hand, some writers contend they still do much better writing the old-fashioned way, penning their rough drafts on yellow pads. Just ask Christian author, Jan Ackerson, a first place winner (on several occasions) of the FaithWriters.com weekly Writing Challenge. Besides placing at the top numerous times, she’s also received many Editors’ Choice awards for her writing. You just have to know what method works best for you.