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Word Processors and the modern age

·5 mins

Note: This post has been in my drafts since June 2021.

I first saw the Tandy WP-2 Word-Processor on YouTube when a video about it was suggested to me. It was the Tech Tangents video and I was intrigued by the device and its simplicity. I do have a slight fascination of older technology that has been superseded by another all encompassing device. I still rock a flash modded iPod, even though I have my phone and access to every song via some kind of streaming service. It reminds me of a simpler times where, in this case, the user was not distracted by everything else a computer can do now of days. Now is this more apparent when it comes to writing. I personally will not write a blog post continuously, I will get distracted and go look at Reddit or my email. I have had several posts in drafts for months and I can normally get a paragraph out before something dings and I am gone.

The Tandy WP-2 (referred to as the Tandy going forward) is a simple device based around the Z80 processor. It’s not the first device of it’s kind but it has features that allow it to be usable now without much faffing about. I used it to write all the above on it and I have been able transfer it off onto a modern computer.

Since getting the Tandy, I have been looking at other devices and have acquired two new devices from AlphaSmart, the 3000 and the Neo2, the latter of which this paragraph and the rest of the blog will be written on. The AlphaSmart 3000 I got had some issues with it; the keyboard is not working correctly, but I think it just needs a dip in some isopropyl alcohol to get it working. On the other hand the Neo2 is a near perfect device. I was able to get the Windows software, that still works in Windows 10, and some custom fonts to add more text on the screen. I am not much of a writer outside the twice yearly blog post but these devices make me happy, but I do have some friends that would have more use out of them as a real writing tool and not just to fuel their perverse interest in weird outdated hardware.

The AlphaSmart Dana at first glance would look to be the newer device, with it real OS and applications, its rechargeable battery installed by default, and its bigger and “backlit” screen. The Dana pre dates the Neo2 by a couple of years but since it’s running PalmOS, it seems and feels a bit newer. After using it for a while it does seem to lack that simple energy that the Neo2, the 3000 and the Tandy have.

As I said above, the Neo2 is the best out of the three but I think it could do with some improvements. I know other devices do have some of these features and a laptop would do the same thing and more. The first improvement I would make is the screen, it is nice and crisp when you have it in the right light but a backlight or a light of some sort. I have seen people have modded the USB port with power so you can use a USB light with it. The other would be the battery situation. The Neo2 runs on bog standard AA batteries. How long they last really depends on use, I have no numbers to share but some charging circuit and li-ion batteries might bring this device more into 2021.

I have seen some Neo2 owners have swapped the “laptop” style keyboard, which I don’t mind too much, with a mechanical one. I think as how nice as it would be the type on it, it would detract from the sleek and slim design of the Neo2. I have had the Neo2 in my bag for the last few weeks and been able to pull it out when I could get a few lines in this post as well as others.

Writing the first draft of a blog post and some light editing on the Neo2 makes sense but I don’t think I would be up to doing all of the editing on this small screen. I can attached the device to any machine and output the text to complete the final edits before posting. As a writing tool I could see using a “file” as a chapter with maybe one being notes or something like that. The included spell checker as primitive as it is has worked well enough to help my awful spelling but some modern words are missing but it allows you to add your own words to the dictionary. The only down-side is that it returns you to the bottom of the document on completion which can be annoying at times.

The Neo2 will be a tool I carry for doing some writing for the time being but if I ever get more serious I might upgrade to something like a M1 MacBook Air as it’s light and has insane (but not as insane as the Neo2, from my experience) battery life and I get all the added benefits of a computer. Which defeats the purpose of the above really when I think about it.

This final paragraph was written after watching the Neo2 type all the above into Notepad++ and it was just so fascinating. Today is the day the Neo2 leaves my bag for the first time but I think it will return soon. It’s a very interesting piece of tech that straddles the line of “old and useless” and “unique and cool”.

— Michael