Comparing the Astrohaus Freewrite to the Alphasmart Neo, Neo2 and Dana

As many of my frequent readers know, I have been using the Freewrite, designed by Astrohaus, for about a week now and, I must admit, I am in love with what I have come to term my new Best Friend.

Since using it, I have seen my productivity go up quite a lot and, with that, my creativity has increased, as well. You know how it it, I am sure.

Anyhow, the reason I am writing this today (besides just another excuse to fire up the Freewrite) is because I wanted to give you guys a comparison between the Freewrite and another set of writing tools which are very popular with the “Distraction-Free Devotees” out there, the Neo, Neo2 and Dana by Alphasmart.

I feel qualified to give you my take on these things because I am a frequent user of them all, and can give an honest comparison between them.

Let me start things off by giving a comparison between the devices.


Alphasmart Neo and Neo2

I will categorize these two together, since there are only a few very minor differences between them.

Back in the early 2000s, when the technology for laptops was not cheap, a company called Renaissance Learning put out a series of devices, designed with education, specifically special education needs, in mind.

They released a number of different iterations of these devices, from the Alphasmart 2000, 3000, Neo and Neo2 *as well as the Dana, which we will talk about in a few moments).

These devices essentially use a laptop style keyboard, with the flatter keys and “Tappy” feel to the key presses, in a small, compact frame.

The devices run on AA batteries or through a USB connection to your computer or USB charge box.

The screen installed on the machines is a large-format LCD, reminiscent of an older calculator style, with black lettering hovering on a green tinted background.

There is no back light on these, so when you use them, you must have sufficient lighting to gain enough contrast to see properly.

There are eight keys on a top row on the keyboard, corresponding to Files, which is where each of the “Documents” you are working on can be stored.

In other words, if you press File 1, you;re working on the first document, and so on.

Each File can store about 10,000 words or so, giving you the ability to save around 80,000 words total before having to dump the memory.

To remove data from the device, you can connect it via the USB slot to a PC or Mac. Once connected, it acts as an external keyboard for the computer. On the device is a “Send” key, which, when pressed, will have the device type out whatever document it currently has selected into a text file or word processing file you have open on your screen.

This can take a few minutes of time, but works very well.

It’s all a very efficient and simple process of working and, though it was originally intended to suit special needs students with their tasks f writing homework or notes while in school, these devices have also picked up in popularity due to the lack of features, and cheap price, making it a no-brainer choice if you want distraction free writing on a budget.

One nice bonus: the batteries will last about 700 hours worth of time before having to be refreshed.

That’s outrageously cool.

Alphasmart Dana

I categorize the Dana in a different way, because, though it has some of the same basic ideas as the Neo and Neo2, there are some drastic differences that must be noted.

First, the machine has a base in PalmOS, like the old PDAs had. The Neo and Neo2 have a proprietary operating system that is stripped down and designed just to put words on the device.

Unlike the Neo’s, as well, the Dana has the ability to save your data externally, via SD cards you can plug into the back of the device.

The SD cards are the older types, with a max size of about 128 MB. While this may not sound like much, that is enough space to store about 100,000 pages at a minimum. Plenty of room to spare.

It does have an internal memory, as well, like the Neo types do. HOWEVER, I would HIGHLY recommend you do not use it.

The big drawback to the Dana, in regards to the internal memory, is it is volatile RAM> This means if the power is lost, the memory is lost.

This could be devastating if you are working on a novel and are nearing the end. The battery charge runs out? There goes your story.

In other words, make use of that SD card storage, folks.  It’s safe there.

The Dana does have a back light, unlike the Neo and the other iterations.

The machine I purchased, however, had a very crappy one, and it may have just been the luck of the draw. While my wife could see things with the back light mostly well, I could not make use of it. The lack of contrast when the light was on made it impossible for me to use.

This was disappointing for me, since it was THE reason I purchased the Dana.

All that being said, the Dana really is a nice device and I do not want to steer anyone away from it. I will say, however, if you’re looking for something that you can just sit down and write with, without much fiddling involved, and you do not need a back light to your device, go with one of the Neo versions.

They’re a little cheaper, and will probably suit you in the long run better.

Oh, by the way, the battery life on the Dana is much less than the one on the Neo’s. I would get about 40 hours of use out of the Dana before it was drained, as opposed to the 700+ hours with the Neo2.

The Freewrite by Astrohaus

A few days ago, I did an extensive write-up about the Freewrite, so I will not belabor all of the qualities of the machine here. You can read that article on my website.

The “Too Long Didn’t Read” of it is that it is an expensive piece of machinery that does exactly what it claims to do and does it exceptionally well.

I am, personally, in love with it and will be using it extensively in the future.

Comparing all of the Devices

Much of the decision regarding which of these devices you want to use will come down to your own personal preferences and needs, of course, but let me give my take on them.

I started things out with the Neo2, after I realized I really did need something separate from my PC to write with. A laptop was not really a viable option for me, since it would, first, defeat the purpose of going distraction-free, and, second, made little sense to me in the long run, since I already have a powerhouse PC, which I would be sitting in front of when writing. Why have 2 PCs there, essentially?

I actually discovered the Freewrite first, but purchased the Neo2, since the Freewrite was, at the time, out of my price range.

I was able to find it on Ebay for about $25.00 and, once I got it, used it to write the majority of Voices Carry, my second novel in the Takiq series.

The compact nature of the device made it really easy to work with and it let me get the words out quite quickly. I saw my productivity raise to levels I had not experienced before, allowing me to write, sometimes, three times as much as I had on previous daily records.

However, due to my vision and the way I had to use it, I would grow pretty weary, especially in the eyes, each time I ended a writing session. I had to try to do something different.

Enter the Dana.

I tried to work with the Dana for a couple of weeks, but, due to the way the screen back light was, I simply could not get it to work as well as I needed it to and eventually abandoned it and went back to the Neo2.

I ended up purchasing a second one, as well, as a backup, but when it arrived I realized I had made a mistake and purchased the Neo, instead. Again, as said above, the differences between the Neo and Neo2 are as small as they come, with the main points being the Neo has slightly less memory capacity.

Beyond that, they are essentially the same device, and, if push came to shove, I would say get the Neo2, since it is a newer piece of tech than the Neo, and will probably last a little longer in the long run.

Compared tot he other devices, the Freewrite has been a godsend.

It is comfortable to use, has a wonderful back light that works exceptionally well for my needs, and is built to last. To be fair, the Neo and Neo2 are, as well, and those devices will probably outlive all of us.

To break it all down for you guys, if you want a device that is just a straightforward writing tool, allowing you to draft words without distractions, any of these would serve you well.

The Freewrite does not allow you to edit, beyond using the backspace key. If you have an error on the page, it will remain there until you edit the file on your computer or other devices. There are no arrow keys, so there is no going back.

This is intended, since the machine was built to draft words, just like an old style typewriter. Write now, and edit later. Just get the words out.

For me, it works fine, since that is how I write anyway, but your own mileage may vary. Some people just have to edit as they go.

The Alphasmart devices have arrow keys and will allow you to edit as you go. If that is what you think you will need, then I would say skip the Freewrite and go with one of those.

Otherwise, the differences between all of these devices are cosmetic, or involve how you get the data from the machines and into a final editing environment.

For the Alphasmart Neo and Neo2, this is done by a cable connection through USB. The Dana has the same option, with the addition of being able to use an SD Card reader to get the files.

The Freewrite uses a WiFi connection to upload the data to external sources, such as Postbox (the Astrohaus website), Evernote, Google Drive or Dropbox, as well as email a PDF or TXT file to your email address.

You can also use a cable connection between the Freewrite and the computer, if you wish.

I hope this brief comparison between all of these devices helps you decide which one to go with and, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

While here, be sure to check out my books, and if you want to connect to me via social media, all of my links are on this page.


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