The AlphaSmart 3000 - with Mechanical Keyboard Upgrades?

The AlphaSmart 3000 is an incredibly unique piece of machinery, which has enjoyed a renewed interest amongst authors looking to simplify their life. I am no stranger to using outdated equipment to reduce distractions, as I have the attention span of a hyperactive 13 year old. I delight in carrying my old, boring phone and still listen to music on an iPod. That’s why I was shocked to find out that this product and others like it exists and I never even knew about it. So what is the AlphaSmart 3000? [Click images below to visit]

The AlphaSmart is a stand-alone word processor, with a full sized keyboard and a small display screen. This unit is old, with the first AlphaSmarts being released in 1993. There were quite a few versions, Pro, 2000, 3000, then the NEO 1 and NEO 2. I did some research on every unit available, and for my personal preferences the 3000 version was the best. It had a long battery life, simple features, was the one that seemed the most reliable based on reviews, and was generally just the one best for actually writing. The only limit was the keyboard, but a creative group from GeekHack (links above images) is modding out their AlphaSmarts with mechanical keyboard. If you’re like many authors and would love a stand alone unit to write, this is actually a perfect solution. I was so inspired by this brilliance I knew I had to tell people about it, so I put my money where my mouth is and did this comparison. The keyboard it comes with is subpar, so this upgrade will make it worthy of even a picky professional author.

AlphaSmart is cheap, around $20usd. This seems perfectly reasonable to me, considering it’s essentially a keyboard with an LCD. Don’t take this price for granted, though, since modern electronic word processors like the Freewrite are running around $550, and selling out. The modern ones, ranging on average from 300-600, tend to have features like cloud synch, more advanced spell check, and e-ink. Personally, I don’t get why you need any of that, and cloud synch to me is an anti-feature. Here’s a quick comparison of the most popular by far modern electronic typewriter, and the AlphaSmart 3000.

I bought one, although admittedly have only been using it for a few days now. This is my honest opinion about it, and you know that because AlphaSmart stopped producing these years ago and presumably wouldn’t be trying to market them.

I really, really like it. At $25 plus shipping, it’s a no-brainer. I write incredibly often, and the only complaint I have is that it can only hold 100 pages, so you can’t write a full novel on it, but at the same time with technology this old you would never leave an entire novel on it because if it fails, that’s all folks. So I consider it a reminder to back up. I use it at home, because I use a desktop computer for work and at 1.6 pounds it weighs about as much as a small paperback book. Since it’s $25 I also don’t need to worry about damaging it, like I would if I typed on a laptop. It’s very freeing, and the keyboard is full size so it’s exactly the same as typing on a computer. I thought I would be annoyed by the very small display screen, but surprising it’s no big deal and it can really let you focus on the section you’re writing, I believe my sentence structure has improved slightly due to only having 4 lines displayed at a time. For someone like me who is a habitual re-reader and obsessive scanner, it can also prevent me from scanning my work over and over – basically, it’s perfect for writing a rough draft, although you would never do editing on it unless you didn’t have another device handy. The Amazon link is here but it’s also available on E-Bay. I also hope that one day an enterprising individual will sell the modded units already created, but that’s beyond my skillset.

Not only does the AlphaSmart punch above it’s weight on features, it also has better specs, as you can see in it’s three year battery life. The AlphaSmart does around 700 hours of active use, and uses no battery when not in use. That’s about two years of an hour per day usage, less frequent use will make it last longer. It’s also supported by normal batteries, not rechargeable, which is great for people who travel frequently. As a cheap, durable password protected unit that needs no internet or recharging, it’s essentially perfect for a digital nomad or traveling author. So why would anyone buy any different electronic typewriter? Well for one, the AlphaSmart looks a bit clunky. It’s old, and that shows. Personally I think all the new e-typewriters are quite ugly as well, so this wasn’t a factor in my decision making. There are some downsides – it can only be bought used, so when purchasing one, you run the risk of sticky keys or defects you can’t notice until it’s actually in your hands. The file transfer is imperfect – in fact, when connecting it to your computer and importing, it actually re-types out the entire document into the receiving document. This takes only 30 seconds as it is not typing as a human does but populating as fast as the receiving program will let it, however it’s still a surprising and odd mechanism. There’s no direct support, although the manual and hundreds of posts online about it can solve most troubleshooting issues. Since it’s used, I suggest you manually reset it when you receive the unit.

To reset the AlphaSmart 3000 to factory defaults:

1)   Start with the device turned off.

2)   Press and hold the and keys.

3)   While holding the and keys, turn the unit on by pressing the <on/off> key.

4)   When the dialog “Are you sure you want to reset the AlphaSmart to factory defaults?” appears on the screen, press Y (for yes).

5)   Enter the factory reset password: tommy

Note: Sometimes multiple keystrokes can be registered while typing the reset password.  Make sure only one asterisk appears per letter typed.

6)   Press .

Note: If you performed the factory defaults reset correctly, you should see “Initializing AlphaSmart System…”.  If it was not done correctly, it will take you right back to the last file you were in and you will need to try it again.

It is also a good idea to enter [alt+cmd+K] and then disable sticky keys and slow marks, as they can interfere with other commands from the manual. By the way, if you did purchase this unit and want a copy of the manual, it’s here.


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