How A $25 Kids Toy Can Help You Write A 64,000-Word Book (But Not A Word Longer)
One of the challenges of writing a book is just finding the time to write it. Another challenge is getting away from distractions—like the Internet. You’d have more time and less distractions if you could write practically anywhere and didn’t have to use your computer—but that would mean handwriting your book or using some other method which would require wasting time copying your book into your computer for editing and publication.
Well, maybe not. A specialized device sold to thousands of elementary schools across the United States for over a decade could be the answer.
The Alphasmart: A Digital Typewriter
Children need to learn how to type and compose using computers, but until recently, laptops were too fragile and cost too much to give to grade-school age children. So over a decade ago, a company created a solution: the Alphasmart.
The Alphasmart is a very basic computer. There have been a few different models over the years, but must models have had only two visible parts: a keyboard and a four to six line monochrome LCD screen.
Unlike a laptop, the keyboard and the screen are held together with a solid (non-hinged) piece of thick plastic, making the Alphasmart extremely robust. It will certainly survive a fall to the ground from any typical drop height.
Text Processing Only
As a basic computer, the Alphasmart only really does one thing: text processing. I say text processing because it does not even do what you probably think of as word processing—you can’t format text with bold or italics, create headings, or type anything besides letters, numbers, spaces, and punctuation.
There’s also no Internet, no apps (except a calculator), no wavy red spell check lines, and nothing else to distract you from writing.
There’s not even a regular operating system. You press the on button and it displays your document within two seconds. You don’t have to save anything either; you just press the off button and your document is automatically saved (or you can wait 5 minutes and it will save your document and turn off automatically).
But perhaps the most interesting feature of the Alphasmart is how it’s powered. Your laptop might give you 5 hours of life on its specialized battery. Your mobile phone and tablet might let you use them for 10 or 15 hours. But the latest version of the Alphasmart gets an incredible 300 hours of working time on a single set of batteries—and months in standby (powered off) mode.
Better yet, keeping spare batteries for the Alphasmart is easy—all it takes is three standard AA batteries, so you can write your manuscript on a deserted island with nothing but your Alphasmart and a few spare batteries.
Getting Your Data To Your Computer
The Alphasmart is compatible with practically any computer—Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and more. The trick is how it transfers data. Instead of requiring that you install fancy data transfer software, it simply pretends to be an extra keyboard.
You connect it to your computer by USB, open up a new document or text editor, and press the Send key on the Alphasmart. At roughly 1,000 words per minute, the Alphasmart retypes your file into the document on your computer. Although this can take several minutes if you have a long document, you can walk away and do something else while it transfers.
Limitations And How To Get One
Although the Alphasmart is great for writing, its tiny screen and lack of formatting makes editing difficult and typesetting practically impossible. It also has a memory limit (varying by model) of about 64,000 words. If you want to write more than that, you’ll have to transfer data to your computer and clear the Alphasmart’s memory.
Renaissance Learning, the company which currently makes the Alphasmart, sells them directly to writers for about $120, but this isn’t the best deal. Because Renaissance Learning also sells them to schools in bulk and the schools occasionally get rid of them in bulk, it’s very easy to buy a used current-model Alphasmart for about $35 plus shipping or a used older-model Alphasmart for less than $20 plus shipping, making it an excellent investment in actually getting around to writing your next book.