One of my kids was issued an Alphasmart today. His handwriting is almost as deplorable as mine and he has a tendency to crush netbooks in his bag or locker or wherever. Spelling and editing don't come easily for him either, so he got an Alphasmart.
Now sold as Neo Computers by Renaissance Learning, the Alphasmart is a very basic word processing tool designed as an assistive technology. They do the trick, certainly, for kids who need a rugged keyboard in class, but at first blush, they seem remarkably "unmodern", particularly when netbooks can be had for $200 that allow far greater capabilities than essentially glorified typewriters.
Keep in mind, though, that my first impressions were based on a 5-year old model that our schools kept around to accommodate IEPs, not the Neo2. The Neo2 still doesn't make a very good impression when you look at it. However, it incorporates state-of-the-art RTI software from Renaissance, integrates with smart boards, acts as an interactive response system, allows wireless printing, and can wirelessly interact with a student's Google Docs account. Much of this functionality comes for the low price of only $149 per device.
Suffice to say, I'll be looking to get a hold of a review unit and I'll also see how my son does with the basic unit he received. One advantage to a system like this? No distractions. No web, no firewalls to try to get around, just in-class learning. Of course, that is probably a major disadvantage as well, but the distraction of the Internet in many classroom settings can certainly be an issue.
Have any of you used Neos recently? Share your experiences and talk back below.