Trekking and Writing, Neo and Me

Spilled Ink Issue 92 Jul, 2010

Yaks grazing, pony and mule bells jangling, sore knees and writer’s cramp greet me daily on trek. I can deal with the physical exhaustion by a good night’s rest, but for writer’s cramp I turn to my friend Neo for help...

“Who is Neo?” you ask
Meet NEO(™), a type of word processor, but not a computer or conventional clickety-clack typewriter. He’s a light-weight (under 2 pounds), battery-powered Writer with a small screen, variable font size, and conventional keyboard (no cramped fingers). The company webpage ( touts Neo as “simple”, “flexible”, “affordable”, with an “incredible battery life”. All true. Neo is a powerfully convenient device that serves writers superbly well while traveling far from home, and any time you are away from modern conveniences like electricity, ‘off the grid’. And, he can never tempt you to check your e-mail or surf the web. Instead he focuses you on your writing.

I first heard how well Neo performs a few months before I set out on trek. So, I brought one with me – the first in the Himalayas? – to try out under some truly austere conditions, off road, on rough and dusty mountain trails and in humid jungle camps. At the end of each day for almost two months Neo’s simple interface and standard keyboard worked better for me than scribbling illegibly in longhand.

“Take notes, brainstorm ideas, generate reports, keep a journal, compose an article, dash off a poem...” says a Neo advert. Now, add the ultimate: “Write while trekking the Himalayas”. The Neo is so simple, versatile and durable you can take it anywhere in the world with ease, and with the assurance that your writing will be recorded and saved. Neo automatically saves your text, so you’ll never lose it. And, with its eight huge files, you can write for days on end.

While trekking, Neo rode safely in my backpack. At rest stops and evenings I propped it on my knees or bench or rock, then quickly and easily recorded the day’s events and inspiration. Curious onlookers watched in awe as I typed up my notes and crafted early versions of several essays and magazine articles. My friend Neo held up flawlessly (as expected) in the face of wild thunderstorms, two days of blizzard, several treacherous avalanche crossings, and other jostling on the high and wild trails.

It performed marvelously even in the dark (in the glow of my Led headlamp). It runs steadily on three alkaline double-A batteries for 700 hours. That’s nearly a year at two hours per day!

Neo’s built-in software is deceptively simple, but impressively powerful. With a few keystrokes Neo can also: n move within or jump between files n select or find-and-replace a character, word, line or entire file n copy, move, delete or recover n check spelling (there’s also a built-in thesaurus) n count characters, words, pages n link files n switch keyboard options (QWERTY, Dvorak and right or left hand settings) n check the battery, and n easily insert any of over 80 special characters (including linguistic, math and currency symbols).

When you finally return home after traveling, simply connect Neo to your computer by a standard USB cable, open a text file on your computer, press ‘SEND’, and Presto! – your masterpiece-from-the-field transfers in seconds.

When I trek writing by hand is cumbersome and exhausting, my friend Neo saves me from frustration. Afoot in the mountains, in jeeps or busses, or on yaks or ponies, or elephant back in the jungle, Neo is there for me. He’s also the answer for frustrated city-writing on those dark days of load-shedding. The Neo Writer is my constant companion either ‘on the go’, or at home sitting out in the garden...         Good writing

The NEO writer for journalists and educators is made by AlphaSmart and marketed by AlphaSmart Direct and Renaissance Learning. It is inexpensive (US$219 retail), so no need to take out a loan! There’s also a rechargeable version. If you are interested in one, contact the writer at Or, check it out online at Meanwhile, a Nepal dealership is under discussion.