My Dana by AlphaSmart, One Year In

I got my Dana wireless by AlphaSmart about thirteen months ago so it feels like a good time to comment on how well I like the electronic critter. I do this partly because last week I attended the Willamette (rhymes with dammit) Writers’ Conference a week ago. People saw me using my Dana to take notes and would ask what the little widget was and how I liked it. “I’ve seen those in The Writer magazine and Writer’s Digest but I didn’t know if they were good or not.”

I love it.

On the Plus Side I’ve found:
  • It’s light and, at about two pounds, it’s quite portable.
  • It’s cool, literally. The battery does not get hot, not even warm, ever.
  • The battery’s charge lasts for a long time (continuously for about 24+ hours for a Dana and around 300+ hours for the AlphaSmart Neo).
  • If the battery dies, it can be replaced with three AA batteries and it’s up and running again. (Try that with a Laptop/Notebook)
  • No boot-up needed. It comes on instantly.
  • I can use it in lowlight conditions and in full outdoor sunlight.
  • It’s darn near indestructible. It’s made from durable polycarbonate ABS plastic and can operate in temperatures from freezing to desert hot.
  • Both the AlphaSmart Dana and it’s little brother, the Neo, run AlphaWord which synchronizes with either a PC or a Mac. I run an Apple Powerbook G4 and haven’t had any problems with connectivity. My only admonition would be to backup any important files before syncing.
  • AlphaWord is a decent word processor. Nothing fancy but it can do cut/paste; bold, italics, and underline; indents, different spacing possibilities; plus a few other features. Files are saved on the synced computer in rich text format (rtf).
  • A full sized keyboard that is more comfortable to type on than a notebook computer.
  • It uses flash memory so the moment something is typed it’s pretty much saved.
  • It’s great for taking notes. It’s unobtrusive. The LCD screen holds just enough text to see what I’ve typed but not so much that I want to be editing a page.
  • The AlphaSmart Dana has a few more whistles and bells than the Neo because it runs Palm OS v4.1 so you can keep your address list, memos, calendar, to do lists, and play some games.
  • The Neo and Dana are pretty affordable. But with the decreasing computer prices are close to the same price ranges with the low end of laptops/notebooks ($220 for Neo and $350-430 for Danas).
  • With the memory expansion cards, it can hold lots of text. I have the first draft of my 80K word novel on it plus plenty other files.
Some of the downsides I’ve found:
  • The model I have has wireless capability to check email and access the Internet. It sounds cool, but the WiFi connection is somewhat clunky and I’ve yet to find a decent email program or web browser for it (the ones I’ve seen cost enough to give me pause—do I need it that much?).
  • The small screen works in a pinch for editing document but is not optimal.
  • The flash memory means that you can’t return to a previous version on the Alpha unless you saved it to another name before you started.
  • The on/off button is on the keyboard. The unit can be turned on accidentally and any program files that are open can be changed.
  • Some of my Alpha’s keys are loose and ajar.


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