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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Alphasmart in the car

My friend Carl celebrated his 30th anniversary in ministry Sunday. Carl’s been at St. Luke’s Lutheran (ELCA) for about 15 years; he’s one of the most grounded and compassionate people I know. I met Carl, wife Triss, and daughter Holly when Carl answered the call for pastoring at Trinity Lutheran in Porterville, CA where I lived back in the 1980’s.

As Mary and I drove down to south Sacramento on Sunday we read aloud an excerpt of Lexi Revellian’s Trav Zander on the way. Trav Zander has one of the best opening lines I’ve read on YouWriteOn.com: “I wish to acquire a dragon.” Lexi admits that line wasn’t her first choice. Writers work alone, in a non-collaborative, non-committeefied way. Yet we get feedback and consider the worth of the advice. Alan (aka Plumboz) had recommended taking that line from further in the story and making it the starting point. I like it. Trav, the protagonist, is a doer of deeds and a seeker of fortune. He has a good heart, an honest streak, and no ability to price out jobs. Pretty much anything for a buck, an entrepreneur. Let’s face it, he’s a whore.

What do these two disparate themes (Carl’s fete and a YWO review) have in common? I drafted my review of Trav Zander on the way to Sacramento using the AlphaSmart. It’s an amazing little device. The LCD screen is plainly visible in bright sunlight; try using a laptop outdoors or in a car. And it doesn’t get hot even if it stays on for awhile. And it is lighter weight than a laptop. And it automatically saves everything I type. Shall I continue?

I like the longevity of the batteries. I’m already thinking of upgrading to an AlphaSmart 3000 or Neo. I looked at the AlphaSmart Dana which uses Palm OS 4.1 software but it has a rechargeable battery and it lasts ‘only’ 25. The Neo lasts 700 on three AA batteries. Neo only does the one thing—wordprocessing—but that’s 80% of what I’d use it for anyway.

After we attended Carl’s Lutheran service at St. Lukes’s, we had an outstanding lunch at BJ’s brewery in Elk Grove, and stopped by Carl’s house to say hello, then we hopped and stopped our way to the SF Bay Area to see Lee and show Mary’s Haluzak recumbent bike to a potential buyer. SOLD! We hope the new owner enjoys it even more than Mary did.

The visit with Lee was fun and included the bonus of meeting his new hamster.

And the reason for the upgrade from the AlphaSmart to a Neo or Dana? Only the one computer of the five that we own will accept the text that is written on the AlphaSmart 2000. It seems that the 2000 must be too old of technology for the newer PCs. Who knew?

Oh, the name of the antagonist in Trav Zander is also named Carl. I’m sure there’s no connection…

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