All I need in this life of sin is my AlphaSmart 3000.

Drew Millard

AlphaSmart3000, in its Bondi-blue glory

When I decided to develop a daily writing habit, I bought a toy keyboard.

It did not go well.

To begin with, I knew I wanted two things:

  1. To avoid my computer – The urge to check email, sleep-destroying blue light, the siren song of Reddit: all reasons to avoid computers when possible.
  2. To type instead of write – I can tap out my thoughts on a keyboard much faster than I can scribble them in a notebook.

Enter the AlphaSmart3000—a pleasingly luddite word processor from the early aughts.

Everyone from writers at the New Yorker to the hardware tinkerers at Hackaday gushed praise for the AlphaSmart.

So, when I found one for ~$30 on eBay, I snatched it up.

I thought I was going to love it. But I’ve never used it like I’d dreamed.

🌈✨The Dream✨🌈

Magic hold laptop stand + AlphaSmart3000 set up for writing on my screened-in porch (Bowie dog sold separately)

Everything I like about this device harkens back to the bygone era when manufacturers designed new tech to last, not become e-waste.

Replaceable batteries with a long battery life

The AlphaSmart3000 boasts 700 hours of battery life on three AAs.

Replacable batteries in 2023: 🤯

Instead of AAs, my AlphaSmart3000 came with a rechargeable NiMH battery pack. But I’ve never had to recharge it. The little battery bar insists it’s fully charged, even after nearly a year of typing on it (albeit intermittently).

Future-proof upload interface

"Uploading" text with the AlphaSmart3000

The Alphasmart3000 can double as a keyboard—you can plug it in (via USB-A) and type on it.

This is also how it transfers files—it types them out on your computer.

It’s slow, but I’m impressed with the elegance of the solution. The AlphaSmart will continue to work as long as there are USB keyboards.

🤬The reality

It’s a feature; not a bug

Almost everything I could complain about is arguably a feature.

No virtual writing assistant prodding you about adverb use. No way to sync to the cloud. No ChatGPT.

Even the four-line screen is a feature—it keeps you focused on the few sentences you’re currently wrestling with.

But I have some legitimate gripes.

The keyboard is terrible

Despite appearances, the keyboard is a trying experience. The feeling of little rubber domes popping down, stuck keys: it’s brutal.

LazyDog—a member and AlphaSmart enthusiast—created a mechanical keyboard mod kit for the AlphaSmart3000. But I’m hesitant to put in that kind of time.

I miss Vim 😩

Why are you not Vim

The shortcuts and macros for the AlphaSmart would be familiar to anyone who remembers Microsoft Word. But, as a Vim user, my brain is totally broken.

I’ll be the first one to admit: this one is petty.

😭Why I never use it

Whenever I fantasize about how to improve this device, I realize I’m building an eink laptop.

When I’m writing: I want to use Vim. I want to render Markdown and see how it looks in a browser. I want to look up bookmarked references.

I thought I wanted distraction-free writing, but what I actually want is for computers to be better.

In 2012, I was among the first in line to buy a Raspberry Pi. In 2016, I shelled out for the PocketC.H.I.P. And now I’m gearing up for my MNT Pocket Reform. It’d be easy to say: I’m a sucker for open hardware (and that’s true). But I’d also say: I hate the existing hardware hegemony.

I’m ready for what’s next: where is my eink laptop already?