The Neo wins by keeping it simple

11 Jun

The Neo is what happens when a computer marries a calculator. (Photo by Kees van Leijenhorst, used with permission.)

June 11, 2007

By Geoff Meeker

Technology isn’t always about bells and whistles. Nor should it be complicated.

Simply defined, technology is something that makes your life easier.

This week, I introduce you to a piece of technology that is almost retro in its simplicity. Which is why many people swear by the Neo Alphasmart (and its big brother, Dana).

On first glance, the Neo resembles a laptop, though it has more in common with a calculator than a computer. The Neo is a word processor in its simplest form, and is ideal for anyone who wants to create text files but doesn’t want to spend big bucks on a computer.

In a nutshell, the Neo is durable, cheap, easy to use and doesn’t suck batteries. It is solid state (like a calculator), so it can take a bit of punishment. It is cheap – just $399 – and it gets 700 hours on three AAA batteries. It is smaller than a laptop and weighs just two pounds. It is so simple to use, instructions really aren’t necessary (until, perhaps, you download text files to a computer with a USB cable).

Priced at $599, the Dana is a higher end version of the Neo. It has more features, including a larger text display, Palm Operating System software and wireless capability, so that you can sync with your home computer. Essentially, it is a large PDA (personal data assistant) with a word processing program. Don’t try talking to it though – it doesn’t include a phone.

Believe it or not, the Neo and Dana are also popular for what they don’t have – the Internet. For the kind of writing that I do, the web is an essential and immediate source of information. However, it can also be a major distraction, a point upon which many writers will agree. If you’re writing something that doesn’t require continuous fact checks, then the Neo can be a godsend. No facebook or email to flirt with your attentions!

The Neo and Dana are available at only one location that I know of –  Compusult in Mount Pearl – though they can also be ordered online. Paul Mitten, Vice President of Compusult, said the devices were created with schools in mind, hence the low cost and ease of use.

“All of the items that we’ve sold have been bought by students or by the Department of Education for use in schools,” Mitten said. “They are cost-effective enough, particularly the Neo, that schools can buy them in large quantities and let children take them home, whereas it would be too costly to do that with a laptop. These things, you turn them on and they are ready to use. You don’t wait for it to boot up. It’s meant to be simple. Even very young children can practice their writing skills on it, but it’s also very direct and straightforward to use for an adult as well.”

I truly wish I had an excuse to rush out and buy a Neo. I love the simplicity of it. However, I already have a laptop, and don’t plan an extended writing retreat into the wilderness (where a Neo would be perfect) so I have to take a pass for now.

For more on the Neo and Dana, check


Speaking of gadgets with bells and whistles, I wrote recently about the launch of the iPhone from Apple. Actually, it was a pre-launch – the phone still isn’t available (it will debut June 29 in the U.S. but no word on a Canadian release yet). However, I am reasonably certain that I am going to get an iPhone when it is available. I still haven’t invested in a Blackberry or other such device, and I’m glad I waited – because the iPhone is truly a dazzling little machine. It includes wireless Internet, a camera, an iPod and, oh yes, a phone.

Yes, those features are available on other handhelds. But no one other device has even come close to being as fun and user friendly as this. There isn’t space here to go into detail, and I’ve said it all before.

Besides, Apple has produced three brilliant TV ads that make it all crystal clear. Just go to and see for yourself why all the other cellular and handheld manufacturers will be scrambling to copy iPhone, before they get left in the dust.

Geoff Meeker is public relations consultant who has always had a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about local media, which is hosted at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: