Do they still make hardware-based word processors? I would like a portable, no-frills dedicated machine for writing. The Neo from Alpha Smart looks close but $150 seems excessive for calculator power in a big case. A used laptop might be an option but I'm worried about the additional weight and probable lack of support/warranty.

7 Answers 7


This ebay link might get you started. With ubiquitous cheap computing power, I bet some of the older stuff can be had really cheap, so long as the owners don't have unrealistic expectations about what it's worth.


(Looking through there, I'm getting a little nostalgic... I learned to type on a Brother Word Processor in 6th grade. Wrote my first "real" story (~30 pages) at that time. It was great because there was absolutely no distraction from the writing itself, and it did basic stuff like spell checking before outputting to a piece of typing paper. You could also use it as a typewriter if you wanted to. Of course, it wasn't really portable.)

  • I used to have an Alphasmart. I used it to write articles while backpacking around Europe. It was cheap and indestructible. Not a bad choice at all. Of course, now I would use a bluetooth keyboard with my smartphone or simply a bad of paper. Mar 9, 2011 at 4:46
  • I had that Brother Word Processor too! After writing something, it was satisfying to click PRINT and hear it CLACK CLACK CLACK away for an hour.
    – gmoore
    Mar 10, 2011 at 14:49

If you have an existing smart phone, iPod Touch or similar device, you may be able to hack up a solution using a portable bluetooth keyboard and word processing app.


You could go for a small Mac laptop and try finding one with AppleCare. Apple does sell refurbished laptops with a warranty for less than list price.


If you can find one, a Z88 might be a good choice.

Full size keyboard with a pretty good feel, very reliable and it's nigh on impossible to out type it (though the display might take a second to catch up, I've never had a keystroke lost on mine).


I used a Neo for several years for NaNoWriMo. I loved it for writing first drafts. The features I loved the most:

  • It is (more or less) good only for typing. You can't play World of Warcraft or Angry Birds on it. So the Neo itself doesn't offer swarms of distractions.
  • It is cumbersome for editing. Yes, this is a feature (as I'll describe at the end of this bullet). Its keystroke-based way of selecting, cutting, and pasting is functional, but awkward. Also, the screen shows only four lines (or six at most, and only using a special font that you have to find in the dark corners of the internet), which makes it tricky to see things in context while editing. What makes this a feature: The awkwardness discourages me from editing, which keeps me focused on drafting.
  • It's very small and light, which makes it terrific for writing on airplanes.
  • It turns on instantly.
  • Its full-size keyboard feels terrific. Just the right amount of finger resistance, and a quiet but satisfying clack.

I lost interest in my Neo when I bought my first smartphone. Though the Neo itself wasn't distracting me, its primary benefit—its "good only for typing" feature—was less useful to me now that my phone was a readily available, ultra-portable distraction machine.

Also, by that time I had learned to get myself into a drafting mood. So I could now write without interrupting myself for a few hours at a time, and I'd learned to draft without editing (much).

Finally, I had bought a MacBook Air, which wasn't much heavier, and which allowed me to write with the awesome power of Scrivener.

So I've moved on. Still, every now and then—when I find myself contorted in coach class behind a reclined seats, unable to fully open even my tiny MacBook Air—I find myself pining for my old Neo.


In defense of laptops (specifically netbooks) :

I think a pretty decent choice would be a netbook that is underpowered enough to keep you from using it for anything but word processing, and there are a variety of tools out there to block those kinds of activities if you so choose. I'm sure for typing that'd be a tricky prospect, but some of them have extraordinarily comfortable keyboards, you just have to find the right manufacturer.

My suggestion it to look into ChromeOS or another super-lightweight operating system (I personally prefer Ubuntu Netbook Remix, but Linux isn't for everyone) that will allow your computer to boot up in record time and still let you just write.

I personally ended up getting a used Dell XT2 from a friend for about 10% of what it costs new. I use it for a lot of things but it's a great little writing tool. The battery lasts about five hours if I keep the settings low and it boots up in about 30 seconds, so I like being able to just go straight to work on it and take it with me everywhere.

A quick Google search showed about 50+ sites where you can get netbooks for around a hundred dollars that come with a variety of warranties.


I just purchased an old Dell computer that is now a dedicated word processor. A computer guy in our city modified it for me, and I love it. Can't email, can't get online. (of course I have other computers.) But as an author of 7 novels, working on my 8th, I'm thrilled with this new/old tool. All I needed was a flashdrive to transfer my files and it works perfectly. I highly recommend this route for those who want a truly distraction-free,portable word-processor.

  • The OP mentions laptops and concerns about weight and support. Could you address those issues? You can edit your post to add more information. Thanks. Oct 25, 2015 at 1:10

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