Writers often travel a lot, and hauling the hardware of our profession along for the trip can be a pain. A laptop is often heavy, expensive to replace if lost or stolen, and not really necessary if all you want to do is a little work on the WIP. At the same time, it's nice to have the convenience of a keyboard and memory storage when your muse kicks in while you're away from the home system. Really, who wants to write all that stuff out in longhand on the hotel stationery?
A portable word processor, aka a notetaker or smart keyboard, is a great tool for the writer on the go. Most are basically full-sized keyboards with small display screens that store your writing until you can beam it or download it to your home computer. All are designed to be lightweight (most weigh no more than 2.5 lbs.) and built to take the kind of abuse that can majorly wreck a laptop. From the prices I've seen the average cost of a portable word processor runs around $200.00-$300.00, a nice alternative if you can't yet afford a laptop.
The major disadvantage of a portable word processor is that it's basically a suped-up typewriter. You can't expect it to do all the neat things your home computer or laptop do for you. However, this can be an advantage when you want to focus on just the writing. Sometimes all the neat things our other tech does are very distracting, and often tempt us away from the work.
If you're in the market for a portable word processor, here are some products to check out:
AlphaSmart Neo -- lightweight but full size portable word processor/keyboard that can store up to 200 pages and run 700 hours on three AA batteries. Also offers a rechargeable battery pack you can purchase for working up to 300 hours on a single charge. I've heard the old AlphaSmart models are virtually indestructible, and the brand is highly recommended by every romance writer I know who owns one.
CalcuScribe is a simple word processor and interactive calculator; sends your files to a PC or a Mac, into any application.
Fusion -- a portable word processor with a text-to-speech function; good if you like to have your work read back to you.
HP iPAQ -- handheld PDA, has mobile version of Microsoft Word in addition to all the cool PDA features.
Laser PC6 -- another portable word processor with a text-to-speech function, uploads to PC or a Mac.
Palm Tungsten E2 -- in addition to all the bells and whistles of a PDA, you can use Documents To Go gives you access to your Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, and (with a simple conversion step) you can read Acrobat PDFs. I own one and use a wireless keyboard with it just to take notes when I'm away from the computer; works nicely but battery frequently needs recharging.
QuickPad -- a portable, low-frills word processor/notetaker with additional organizer features.
Before you buy any portable writing device, ask around and get opinions from other writers on the different types and models available. Check office equipment and supply stores in your area to see if they sell them and if they have a display model you can try out. Or, if you're attending a writing or biz conference and see a friendly-looking colleague using one, go over and ask if you can give it a spin.
Do any of you guys already use a portable, or know of one I haven't mentioned? Let us know in comments.
Related links: Venice Kichura's article, The Advantages of Portable Word Processors