Let me explain what an Alphasmart is before we continue: an Alphasmart is a simple portable word processor primarily aimed at grade schools looking for a nice typing tool. However, once these get on the used market, writers and note-takers are wise to clamor for one as its portability and battery capacity (three AA batteries last you 700 hours of usability) can't be beat. Perfect for college note-taking, too.
I selected this Alphasmart model after carefully weighing the product range from the company. The AS3000 is about 10 years old, but I found that newer models added no new features beyond what I was looking for. In short, my reasoning: The AlphaSmart 3000 is the first model that can connect to a computer using a USB cable, and the last model that sips on AA batteries compared to its successors, the Dana and NEO.
You won't get the internet, or anything beyond something to type on, but it is this simplicity that can let you get writing without distraction. Its light weight and ability to be stuffed into a backpack would be perfect for a college student. It also seems to be pretty hardy.
I've found myself taking it along with me to places more often than I do a notebook. I express myself best when typing at 60 WPM, not writing things down on pen and paper.
The Alphasmart 3000 comes with a full sized keyboard -- no chiclets, but real keys -- and four visible lines of text. You may be surprised how easy it is to get wrapped up into typing your thoughts on this lightweight machine without distraction or hesitation.
Price-wise, the 3000 is no longer sold new, but the market price on eBay tends to be between $50 to $120. It's a product in demand, so eBay auctions are constantly re-upping in price, from observation and many attempts to win one of these things.
Take note: If you want to do anything useful with the Alphasmart 3000 after typing out your material, you will need to make sure you have a USB cable or you won't be able to connect to a computer and electronically transfer what you've typed. Without a cable, you may as well be buying a paper weight.
The AS3000 can connect to Macs and PCs and is a wonderful thing to have.
Update On Jun 11, 2010: There is one single problem with "sending" files from the AlphaSmart to a PC. If you hit the send button without a Notepad file open, it loses the text it attempts to send, and you will. not. get. it. back.
Errr, lesson learned. Be careful with this glitch.