The Sort of Portable Gizmo I Want

So let me tell you what I want out of a portable gizmo. Not Android. Not iWhatever. I want something simpler because I am the kind of guy that gets easily distracted. However I don’t like the Freewrite (formerly known as the Hemingwrite and got a name change because of Ernest Hemingway’s estate.) The Alphasmart is close to what I want, but even if it were still being made It isn’t quite there.

I want this thing I saw on flickr. Possibly with a piano hinge along the middle so it will fold up. Black and white display, possibly e-ink for the sake of readability anywhere, and the back of the display with fold out legs or some other way of adjusting display angle.

I want it to do the following things:
Word Processing. Plug into the usb on something else either to transfer files out, hit a button so it ‘types’ out whatever’s open into the device it’s plugged into (that sees it as a keyboard and storage device,)
Able to read epub docs since ‘why not’.
A SD card slot (full sized SD card mind you.)

Optionally include:
A headphone jack so you can listen to music while you work.
Wifi so you can sync to a central server (include Windows, OSX, and Linux solutions) for document syncing not to a ‘cloud’ but to a local machine that would either be the teacher’s personal box, or for those at home a dedicated backup device so you have your copy on device, copy on SD card, and off site copy. I cannot count how often I have lost work and wished a backup existed, or finding backups I’d forgotten about years later.
The other thing is I want it user serviceable. Something I could go in and replace the battery on, pop the screen out if need be, pop keys off to clean the keyboard. I’m tired of sealed black boxes. The problem is sealed black boxes are easier to make, easier to sell people on sex appeal of, and easier to convince people to trade up in two years when the battery that can’t be replaced gives out for the new shinier model.

Market it as a cheap durable alternative to Chromebooks. There is literally no software to need updating, or get infected, or the like. If you can make them cost $100 or lower they’ll have a market. I’m not sure you can do that, but it’d be nice. Support for MP3/OGG/FLAC would also serve so people can listen to lectures or podcasts, and epub support would be good for distributing texts to students or staff that you want easily read and notes taken on, but not editable on its own.

We can do this. It is doable. It is possible. Also I want proper full travel keys. Not chicklet keys. I don’t care if they’re membrane or not since right now I’m on a twelve dollar logitech keyboard and it feels a lot nicer than chicklette.

I want this. Failing that I want to know how to build this. Why? As a bit of background I have owned the following portable gizmo things over the years:

Game Gear: Sucked batteries dry. Was kinda fun but the battery thing limited it greatly.

Two Game Boys: I ended up losing one, gave the other to my step brother with a copy of Pokemon Yellow. I like this little handheld in spite of my poor vision. The later revisions that aren’t pea soup green and black screens lasted a good long while. There’s even a genuinely good chineese knockoff system. Unbelievable, but true. A genuinely good chinese clone system.

First Generation Nook: The screen ended up delamination or something during a move. Was sorta simi useful for awhile but it just kept getting progressively worse. Til that point it was a nice solid little reader.

Nook Touch: I Liked this thing. Very lightweight, easy to grip, Had tactile buttons but also could swipe. Unfortunately a six inch ding and the screen froze.

Nook HD: I genuinely like this thing. Granted I put Cyanogenmod on it because barns and Noble has moved on and the interface is meeeh. However it is a really nice tablet outside of the fact the battery flaked out really hard on me and even though it probably is good hardware wise, it may as well be dead due to no working battery. That is something I am going to harp about. Who designs a device that will not work when plugged into a wall? Barns & Noble did with this thing, because if you unhook the battery it will not work. I did this by basically pry the case apart, unscrewing sixteen screws, carefully prying it apart, and then unhooking a tiny little clip. User serviceable this thing ain’t, and never was intended to be serviced by the unwashed masses. Unfortunately even if it’s getting power, you can’t use it at all. I thought going in when I got it maybe just maybe it would work off of AC when the battery inevitably goes and support has been dropped. Nope. This thing is dead as a doornail and I’ve gotta search the aftermarket wasteland for new things to plug in that cost as much as a refurbished tablet, which makes me wonder why bother?

So I have experience with handheld gadgetry. I also know me and that I do not do well with focus when trying to get things done, this is why I want something that is task oriented rather than ‘can do everything’, but not so hyperfocused there is no flex and is completely useless. This is why I want basic ebook and audio support. This is partially why I feel the Alphasmarts failed. In the face of ‘sexier’ options they couldn’t stand up in spite of doing the one thing they were designed for really well.

Is such a device going to happen? Not unless I learn a lot of electronics and make it myself, because there literally is no market for it now. Chromebooks have eaten up the education sector, and there are plenty of secondhand alphasmarts for $20 or so on ebay plus Freeright taking up the ‘look at how trendy and awesome I am’ market.

Still. I can’t be totally alone in wanting something that’s somewhere between ‘smart typewriter’ and ‘full blown tablet.’


Can’t help you make one, but I’d sure buy one at the right price point.

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Most likely not what you want:

Well it is Android, and it isn’t e-ink, and while you can replace the battery it is pretty much a sealed black box…
BUT I just bought a $40 android tablet that I pair with a bluetooth keyboard that can do all the functions you desire including all of the optional ones, and it did I mention it was only $40. Something like that might get you through without setting you back too much until you can kickstart your retro wordprocessor idea.


I like your optimism, but for a kickstarter to succeed I would need to know what i’m doing in addition to there being an audience willing to spend money. Neither of these things is in place right now and while I can learn how to do these things to make one, I honestly doubt the audience is there.

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well maybe you can inspire someone else to run with the ball and give you a free lifetime supply? :slight_smile:

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Portable gizmo?


I used to have an Alphasmart. Before I was diagnosed with ADHD, my parents insisted I had dysgraphia, the school librarian suggested the Alphasmart. By the next year they’d figured out I don’t have a hard time writing, I actually have a hard time paying attention long enough to write more than “I am dying of boredom, and there’s a really cool bird out on the play field…”. Then I’d fake going to the bathroom to go outside and chase the bird.


After discussing things with a retro community that seemed at least halfway supportive… Might go with the raspberry pi compute module purely because of how many people work on the stinking thing. It’s probably more processor than I Need, but at the very least if someone other than me wants they can just blow the bare metal code out and dump linux on so they have a terminal to play with.

Edit: Plus until said bare metal can be written so that there is an elegant very tight code package that takes up next to no room and only does the functions I want instead of bloating with a lot of cruft I can load linux on and brute force the problem. At the very least a portable linux terminal machine would be interesting.


That “thing you saw in Flikr”? Sorry, but it was a photoshopped hoax/joke by someone in the Alphasmart fan community some months back.

To date, the Alphasmart NEO2 remains as good as it gets. (Especially with easier-to-read self-designed screen fonts. Google the Interweb for details.)


Well aware it was a joke/photoshop thing. However just because it isn’t real doens’t mean i can’t take inspiration from it. That was as close as I’d seen to what i want to look like, so I used that asa visual conception.


Can’t you just use your phone for that?

  1. I use a dumb phone. I do not trumpet this fact around because I don’t want to come off as a hipster dickbag asshat. I simply find myself getting distracted by smartphones, and I prefer having a phone that I generally rarely use, able to actually last longer than a few hours on a single charge.

  2. I simply listed the features I want without having t oconsider the outside enviroment. This is ‘the gadget I want.’

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Playing music on your anti-distraction specialist keyboard and display only writing device seems to detract from the purity and purpose of said device. So now you have to have components for audio, be able to control music playback, get music on and off, etc.

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Perhaps. However what of audio books? What of listening to lectures? This is also a reaction to the alphasmart tanking in the education sector, where you’d think a narrowly specialized device would be held as King. However Alphasmart did out because it was overspecialized.

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Again, from my point of view, this is a writing device, not an ipod. :slightly_smiling:

I already have a device that plays audio books and lets me listen to lectures. It is my phone.

What I don’t have is a device that lets me write easily with zero distractions.

You’re effectively proposing a new formfactor on a phone or a tablet, really, if you want to write on it and consume media. Why not watch movies or youtube too? :slight_smile:

The problem with the alphasmart from what I can see (and I just ordered a Neo 2 for $30 from ebay this week) is that no one is going to pay $200 for your dedicated word processor when they can buy a brand new so-so Android tablet for $150. It was priced out of existence. An easy writing device needs to be sub-$200 and very good at its unitary function (writing) and not do other things.

Except the alphasmart sat at a $175 pricepoint ($180 with shipping) for yeas during the netbook era and lost out HUGE on tablets… so we would have to aim at sub-$100, which i’m not sure is possible without sacrificing quality. Part of what made alphasmart good was you could literaly drag it everywhere and barring someone sledgehammering the keyboard you were pretty sure you couldn’t hurt it so no need to be gentle.

However I do hve an alt idea that would be well suited to the Pi-Zero or Compute Module.

The unit is a black and white screen with a few on device buttons, a USB pluigin for the keyboard of your choice, and SD card slot(s) for transferring data off of the thing if a computer isn’t handy.

What I want:

  • Unit is a box that has an LED/LCD Display, batteries, micro USB plug to both power if batteries aren’t plugged in and to connect to computer, and some way of clipping it to your keyboard or otherwise standing it up so you can reasonably easily read the display.

  • Some kind of settings menu so you can adjust things like how long the display stays on/auto shutdown. How often you want it to autosave your work, easy way to check your current battery charge level. Things like that.

  • Plug in your keyboard of choice. Would like the unit to recognize custom layouts (Dvorak, foreign layouts, and such) I dunno if that’s a thing that can be baked in.

  • User turns the machine on. If no files are on the attached SD Card or a card does not exist then it opens a blank document. If readable documents exist on SD card (either in root or in a special directory like /documents/ or something) it will attempt to open the last opened file.

  • A way to browse files on attached SD card from just the device itself. The whole point here is to be able to do some sort of bare productivity without having to have a computer, preferably with battery life that is long enough to not need to change more than once a month. The Alphasmart Neo had 700 hours. I don’t think I can get that kind of power off of this thing, but I’d be willing to settle for fifty or a hundred hours of use between swaps.

  • Allow users to assign different files to function keys if it’s not plugged into a computer for quick access (depending on how many the attached keyboard has.) User presses a Function key while document is open and it will ask if user wants to bind file to that key. Bonus points if it warns user if a file is already bound to key. If the file for a key cannot be detected then key is going to be treated as if it is free to re-bind.

  • Would-be-Nice features such as shortcuts for current file’s word count, easy way to check current battery level…

  • You plug unit into computer and the computer sees two things. 1. The keyboard that it’s connected to. 2. The SD Card’s file system. I would like the user to still be able to hit a button and have the unit auto-type out whatever file is currently open so no matter what, if ‘oh this thing is a keyboard’ signal remains the same then you have a way of getting your work off the SD Card. However I’d settle for it being a pass through so you can just plug in, select what you want from the card, copy over or to, and then unplug without having to deal with pulling the card, slotting it in, maybe losing the card.

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A related item popped up on Amazon the other day that I hadn’t run across previously when looking for unfrilled word processing -

Both long and fold-in-half keyboard models, something like 640x480, runs on batteries, supports usb bluetooth and microSD. I might have to buy one just on principle.

edit - many of the features I listed are on the fanciest non-folding model only. Also I believe the menu is entirely in Japanese - though typing with regular english characters is at most a button press away.

Also for the indexers - it’s a King Jim Pomera (Japan import)

What’s kind of synchronicitous is I’ve been thinking for a few months about making a device that would kind of do what you’re talking about. I just think it would fail in the marketplace like the alphasmart and other similar devices which came out recently and likely to fail also. :laughing:

  • Battery powered (preferably with the option to either use AAs or a rechargeable battery)
  • Runs on a low end SOC
  • Built-in low power display
  • USB keyboard support
  • Clamps that can either grab a full-sized keyboard from behind or can be rotated to grip a table top
  • SD card slot
  • Drastically trimmed linux OS designed with a text only front end controlled by either the F# keys or by metas (Ctrl, Shift, OS, Alt, Application)

I call it a spiritbox (haven’t googled to see if anyone else has used this). And I’m not yet qualified to make it. :rabbit2:

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