This text has been written on the AlphaSmart Dana laptop computer. It’s not a typical laptop but rather a computer keyboard with attached screen. The AplhaSmart devices are an intelligent keyboards: one can type text on the go and view it on a small screen. When the device is attached to the computer then the text can be transferred from the AlphaSmart unit to a real computer. It simply emulates computer keyboard (you can even use it as an ordinary keyboard if you wish to). There are several devices – the first ones have just an ADB port and they were compatible with Apple machines (IIGS computers and Mac ones) then they got a PS/2 port for a PC compatibility. Later devices have an USB port so they are compatible even with current computers.
The image is borrowed from the Flickr… (click on the image for more info). I haven’t made the picture of my Dana, yet.
The Dana is a bit special: it can work exactly as every other AlphaSmart but it is actually a large PDA with a Palm OS 4.x. There is even a stylus. It means that:
- it has much shorter battery life (~20 hours of use),
- it is expandable – it can run most of Palm OS applications.
It has also some connection options: an infra-red port, an USB port (actually two) and a pair of SDIO slots. There is also a WiFi (actually two versions of the Dana exist: a basic one and the Dana Wireless one).
It has extermelly wide screen – it’s like three ordinary palmtop screens combined. That’s nice for text editor but not so great for other applications: the screen size is non-standard for the Palm OS and thuw only a few applications can use it. The wast majority of programs uses only a central one third of the screen. The Dana’s screen height is slightly smaller than a Palm III screen so the applications are even less comfortable to view than on the PDA. But this difference is relatively unimportant. The excellent (full-sized) keyboard is much more important.
Some people complain about the speed of the device. It is possible that I’m quite patient person but I din’t think that Dana is slow. It is true that a comparable PDA (the Palm IIIx in my case) is noticeably snappier but the Dana is still faster than many modern PDAs (my Ubuntu phon does not react faster than the Dana). The main source of the speed issueas is probably the (relatively) large screen of the device (there is no dedicated graphical coprocessor or card and the main processor is an old Motorola DragonBall one).
The device is designed to be used mainly as a smart keyboard: one can write text on it and then connect it to a desktop computer and send the text to it. It’s really easy: if the device is connected to a PC the it behaves as an USB keyboard. The file form the Dana can be send by single press of the Send button (it sends the text to the PC as a normal keyboard does). But it has also possibilities: it support normal hotsync of the Palm OS and it also supports IRDA (to other portable devices, too).
Aside from that it is still a (rather) normal Palm OS device an it can run most of applications that are compatible with the Palm OS 4.x or older. No big surprises can be found here. But it means that the Dana can be used (less or more) as a simple laptop: one can have here games, calculators, spreadsheets, text editors, PIM stuff, programming environments and more (of course, Palm applications are limited in size and features). There is no multi-tasking, of course and speed of more complicated stuff can be low but for many cases it can be more than enough. The device has 16 MB of RAM (the Palm IIIx has just 8 MB) so lot of applications can be installed here (do not forget that Palm applications are very small – usually they are in tens of kBs). It’s also good to mention that almost anything can be controlled from keyboard (there is a stylus, of course) – there are shortcuts for most used functions and more. The battery life is not bad (20+ hours), it is light and there is no noticeable heat from the device (of course, because is is powered by 3 AA batteries and they cannot produce much heat…). There is one caveat: as any older Palm, the loss of power means that all data AND user-installed applications can be lost. Fortunately, at least the AlphaWord can save files on SD cards.
This text was written on the AlphaSmart Dana, of course…