Above is pictured the Alphasmart 3000. It is a strange little device with a fanatical following.
I bought mine a couple of years before the emergence of the netbook and before the bargain era of $400 laptops. I wanted to write on the go, and as far as first drafts go, it fulfills that purpose amazingly well. So let me describe it to you:
It's a usb keyboard with battery power and a 4-line calculator-type screen. It can hold about 100 pages of text. It starts up from where you left off in something like 1 second. It weighs somewhere under 2 pounds. It was built for gradeschool kids to pound on in the absence of computers, so it's incredibly tough. If you type on it for a few hours every day, its 3 AA batteries will last you a year. A year. A year.
The most fun thing about it is transferring files. You plug it in with a usb cable and put your cursor in a word processing program of some sort, then hit "send." It types the text really fast into your program, because it's basically a keyboard with some memory. Yeah, you can install a managing program that let's you drag out a .txt file, but that's no fun.
There are people who complain about getting online and being distracted by twitter, facebook, email and whatnot. The Alphasmart certainly solves that problem. You can't even get distracted by formatting.
I don't really find the internet that distracting. I've definitely sat down to write and decided to just "check my stuff" real quick and then found the hours to have disappeared, but I wouldn't say that's a frequent problem for me.
Sometimes, though, the blank page can intimidate me. My mind gets into "serious writing mode" when I open up openoffice or Word. When my anxiety is high, that can really put me off of writing.
Aaron Polson tweeted this article about freewriting, and it struck a chord with me. I've dusted off my Alphasmart because I find it very unintimidating. I can let go much easier and just write. I don't know if it's just because my mind isn't conditioned the same way towards it, or the fact that I can't research on it, or the fact that I can only see the last 40 words I've written, but it works. So I keep it by my bed and write as soon as I wake up, and sit it by my chair so blah blah blah.
The Alphasmart people kind of got cut off at the knees by the cheap laptop. Already being in a low-volume niche, I guess they couldn't cut their prices proportionately. They've gotten a bit closer recently. Their newest, the NEO 2, is $169. I doubt I would have bought my alphasmart 3000 if, at the time, laptops had been as cheap as they are now. But I'm actually glad I have it, and am thinking about upgrading at some point when I'm able. The NEOs are supposed to have fantastic keyboards.
I got my first audio review! Give this review of Burden Kansas a listen at Alchemy of Scrawl. "The suspense makes this a page turner, but the details will live on in your head long after you put the tale down."