Palm OS laptop

Introduction

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.

Many Media

The image is borrowed from the Flickr… (click on the image for more info). I haven’t made the picture of my Dana, yet.

Features

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:

  1. it has much shorter battery life (~20 hours of use),
  2. 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).

Usage

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…

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Palm OS laptop

Top ten software on Palm OS

Yes, I sometimes use Palm stuff. I have a small collection of Palm III devices and clones (all have Motorola DragonBall CPUs). At the moment I use a Palm IIIx. Its one of the high-end models (good CPU, good screen, 4 MB of RAM, OS 4.1…).

I used to use a Palm device on daily basis – the Palm Vx was actually my very first PDA (I seld it in 2006, I think). Recently I have found that I am still quite good in writting of the Grafitti, thus I decided to start to use the Palms a bit more.

The Palm can be easily synchronised with my desktop (with pilot-xfer and/or JPilot) an it can easily exchange data with the Zaurus machines via IR. And its default PIM apps are simple but effective.

I use these programs frequently:

  1. Plucker
  2. SmallBASIC
  3. Keyring
  4. ToDo
  5. Memo
  6. CSpotRUN
  7. DopeWars
  8. FileZ
  9. MetrO
  10. EasyCalc

And do not tell me that capacitive screens are better!

Top ten software on Palm OS

Psion with PS/2 keyboard

I recently have found an interface for the Psion Series 3a (it’s declared as designed for 3a and I don’t know if it supports 3c or 3mc). It’s a nice little box that allow to connect the PS/2 keyboard and a printer.

I saw only the keyboard working (there was no printer around to try the printer interface).

Psion PS/2 keyboard interface

The thing can be operated with a normal Series 3 power adapter but it can also run on a 9V battery. So it is portable. It’s a funny stuff.

There can be found also other goodies: a floppy and a parallel printer adapter cable. Unfortunately I’m not aware about these thinks in working state.

Psion with PS/2 keyboard

Off-line at vacation (well, almost)

I spent last two weeks in Low Tatras (Slovakia). They are a very nice mountains (the highest point is slightly over 2000 meters) and I like them. It wasn’t my first visit here. This time we were in the Liptovsky Jan village.

Chopok from Poludnica

The main advantage of that place is a low availability of an Internet connection. There was a low-speed WiFi signal in our hotel (it even wasn’t advertised). So no work e-mails and mostly no other internet access. I only accessed a geocaching.com site to download few caches and several times searched for weather forecast and for some local info.

I must say that it was great. No disturbing emails, no phone calls (I turned my phone into airplane mode).

Thus I we used just a few devices: my phone (bq Aquaris with Ubuntu), a camera (HP PhotoSmart 730), a nVidia Shield Tablet (as a backup device for photos taken by the digital camera) and the Garmin eTrex 30 GPS device (for navigation and geocaching tasks, of course.

The most used device was the Ubuntu phone: it was used for internet access (mentioned above), for notetaking (touch-based device is terrible for longer texts, but it’s OK for short notes), as a camera (when the HP was unavailable) and for storing and reading of some off-line maps and guides. I even find one geocache with it. But I prefer to use a more durable device for the geocaching (the eTrex is almost ideal for me).

Perl interpreter on Phone

I have to say that the bq Aquaris with Ubuntu is quite nice for most of tasks and it worked very well. Of course, it lacks a hardware keyboard and it has well-known problems with night photos (the flash makes them overlighted). If there will be a USB-host feature, then I will be able to leave the Android tablet at home (and thus I will able to take something more usefull with me).

Off-line at vacation (well, almost)

News on Ubuntu Touch (phone) front

The OS of the Ubuntu phones is continuously developing. Lot of things have been improved during the last few weeks and at the moment I use my BQ Aquaris 4.5 as a main phone. Not everything is excellent, though:

  • the main scope with summary stuff (weather, tasks, calls…) behaves randomly and it often updetes without results – it even refuses to show some parts (it doesn’ depend on the fact if the phone has access to a WiFi or not)
  • some scopes (Calls, Messages) don’t update automatically – it’s a bit confusing
  • some functionality is still missing, there is still no way to see “office documents” (but there are rumours that LibreOFfice viewer is in works)
  • it is not possible to certain types of protected WiFi networks (an EDUROAM, for example)
  • it’s great that the Calendar and the Notes/Reminders (among others) got new icons but I would be much more gratefull if it will be possible to correctly add new reminders to the Calendar and if there will be a cut-and-paste functionality in the Notes…
  • a Bluetooth should be improved (I can’t connect my Bluetooth 3.0 keyboard nor the mouse)

Actually, I disabled most of scopes (jsut have a Messages, a Calls, a My Images and few other).

Czech Railways on-board page

To be a bit more positive – I have to confirm that many other thing work and they work very well. There is even a new simple off-line navigation (still haven’t tried it in a real use, though) and many other interesting pieces of software. The WWW browser has soma limitations but usually works well (see the picture taken during in the train my travel from Prague). The battery can survive more than 3 days of my typical use (but I don’t made many call and I use WiFi only one-two hours per day in average).

News on Ubuntu Touch (phone) front

Firts touch with Ubuntu Phone

Recently I find an opportunity to acquire a second-hand Aquaris bq 4.5 Ubuntu Edition. So below is a first batch of my experiences.

Ubuntu Touch lockscreen

The phone is nice and simple and really well done (for such class of things, of course). A great “Reminders” application comes pre-installed (and it has Evernote sync). It’s not (only) for reminders but it’s a very good notetaking application like the Evernote.

Ubutnu Touch: launcher

The basic OS is quite nice (easy to use). The problem is lack of applications and there also other glitches:

  1. Many things assume than one is always connected (even Today scope every time searches for someting on the net – that’s anoying).
  2. No off-line navigation or map application.
  3. No integrated CalDAV/WebDAV/CartDAV sync (there is syncevolution which can be used but only form the command line – and it’s pretty uncomfortable on a touch-based computer).
  4. Most applications are just polished web pages (so they don’t work off-line), even the GMail app.
  5. The WWW browser does not remember passwords or other entered texts.
  6. There is a quite nice ebook reader and a pair o PDF viewers but no way to view DJVu, dox/docx/odt or other office file formats.

Beskydy from Klimovice (Koenigsberg)

That’s all for the moment. Still playing with it…

Firts touch with Ubuntu Phone