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ATPM 8.12
December 2002





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Review: AlphaSmart Dana

by Paul Fatula,


Developer: AlphaSmart, Inc.

Price: $399.99

Requirements: USB port or USB PC Card for synchronizing with a Mac

Trial: 30-day trial available only to educational institutions

A little over two years ago, I reviewed the AlphaSmart 3000IR. AlphaSmart’s latest revision, the Dana, looks similar but actually goes far beyond the capabilities of the 3000IR, serving as a sort of cross between it and a laptop computer. In the month that I’ve been using it, I’ve become completely hooked. The Dana is light and sturdy enough to take anywhere, and is also convenient and versatile to use, offering a great deal of functionality in an easily accessible way.


The AlphaSmart Dana is a two-pound all-in-one keyboard and screen device, made of sturdy feeling dark blue plastic. I like my Dana too much to test this, but AlphaSmart designed the Dana to withstand a drop from four feet. Suffice to say, you do not need to buy a special padded laptop bag for your Dana. Toss it in your backpack loose with papers, pens, and books, and it’ll be fine. (A case that doesn’t scratch or smudge? You paying attention, Apple?) The Dana looks far more professional than either the 3000IR or a similar product I’ve reviewed, the CalcuScribe. You can take the Dana into a meeting and not look like you’re using a toy.


Tucked securely into the right side of the Dana is a stylus. (There are stylus holders to either side of the screen for use while the Dana isn’t being used.) The presence of a stylus hints at the huge difference between the Dana and the 3000IR. The power of a stylus (your finger will work fine if you don’t require precision) with a touch-sensitive screen makes editing documents much easier, and allows a great deal of functionality that you really can’t get with a keyboard alone.

The screen is a comfortable size. Its 560x160 pixels can display up to ten lines of working text (in addition to a header bar) in a comfortably readable font. Better yet, the screen can be backlit if you’re working in low light.

The Dana’s battery can be recharged either by plugging the unit into the wall or by connecting it to your computer’s USB port. AlphaSmart claims the Dana can be used for 25 hours on one charge, though using the backlight will naturally drain the battery faster. It’s comforting to not have to constantly worry about recharging, but what if the rechargeable battery runs out and you can’t recharge? Pop in three AA-sized batteries and keep working. Simple enough.

The keyboard on the 3000IR was, for me, a big con: it felt cheap and was uncomfortable for me to use over extended periods of time. This is hardly scientific, since I don’t have a 3000IR in front of me to compare directly, but I find the Dana’s keyboard to be much more comfortable than I remember the 3000IR’s being. Of course it doesn’t approach the comfort level I experience with my PowerBook’s keyboard, but it’s good enough. The top row of keys on the Dana’s keyboard includes eight function keys, as well as application keys, which take you directly to many of the applications included on the Dana. This offers easy one-button access to whatever you want to do.


There is one more button in that top row however, and it is the only fault in the hardware design: the power button. This was a problem with the 3000IR, and I really wish AlphaSmart had rectified this problem when they made the Dana. Since the power button is just another key, it’s too easy for something to press against it while you’re carrying the Dana in your backpack. (Curiously enough, the Dana offers an option to allow some or all of the application keys to act as additional On buttons, which only increases the risk of an accidental power-on.) Once the Dana is on, any future accidental key presses will end up in the last document you were working on, so the next time you use the Dana you may find a bunch of gibberish on the screen or, worse, that some of your document has been deleted.

A good, firm switch on the side of the Dana could easily prevent this problem and would not at all detract from the product’s ease of use or aesthetics, and the cost would surely be minimal.


There are a number of ports on the back of the Dana: an IR port (I love IR printing, which works flawlessly), power jack, two USB ports (one for connecting to a computer, one for printing), and two expansion slots that can hold MultiMediaCards or Secure Digital cards. The Dana comes with a power cord for non-battery use or battery charging, and a USB cable for connecting to a computer. It doesn’t come with any MultiMediaCards or Smart Digital cards, so I was unable to test that functionality, but they can act as additional storage space or as compatible expansion devices.

Operating System

Here’s another huge difference between the Dana and its predecessor: It runs PalmOS 4.1. I had never used a Palm device before I got the Dana, so if you have, this section will probably be skim-worthy at best. I am told that since the Dana uses the Dragonball VZ chipset, it cannot run PalmOS 5.0, but that PalmOS upgrades that are compatible with its chipset are possible with collaboration between Palm and AlphaSmart.

If you’re used to a two-minute startup on your Mac, you’re going to love PalmOS: there is no booting process. Turn the Dana on, and it’s on. It starts up exactly where you left it when it shut off: in the middle of a document, or displaying your calendar, etc. In other words, when you want to use the Dana, it won’t slow you down. Turn it on and get to work.

PalmOS took me a little time to get used to, but not much. The key is realizing that it’s designed to be efficient. In some ways, it’s really a treat to use, especially combined with the Dana’s hardware. For example, it’s much easier to switch programs on the Dana than on a Mac: it’s as though every program on the Dana is always running in the background. Press its button, and there it is. (If it doesn’t have a button, it can be assigned to one of the eight function keys, or opened from the Apps screen.)

I still haven’t quite gotten used to the fact that you never quit anything. When you’re done with a program, you just leave it there, or switch to something else. Scrolling is intuitive, and command keys like Command-S and Command-O do exactly what you expect them to. In short, five-star ease of use.


I suppose Graffiti is pretty well known: it’s the handwriting recognition element of PalmOS. Frankly, it works rather differently than I expected, and I never use it: with a keyboard, there’s no need. Graffiti lets you enter one letter at a time, using a slightly altered version of the alphabet…but you can only enter it into a special handwriting recognition box, not just anywhere on the screen. I ended up mostly using the stylus for navigation, selecting text, and, yes, playing games.

The biggest advantage to using PalmOS, though, is availability of programs. Only a relatively small subset of PalmOS applications (of which there are over ten thousand, according to AlphaSmart) are “wide screen enabled,” to take advantage of the Dana’s much-larger-than-a-Palm screen. Those applications that aren’t will still run in the middle of the Dana’s screen, with the handwriting recognition window to either the left- or right-hand side depending on your preference.

Alternately, the Dana’s display can be rotated 90 degrees in either direction, giving you a tall skinny screen rather than a wide short one. Of course, that leaves the keyboard sideways, so I rarely do that; but when for example reading an eBook, a tall thin column can be more comfortable to work with. Other applications, such as AtomSmash, a Breakout-type game, require the screen be turned on its side.


The other biggest advantage to using the PalmOS is that synching the Dana with your Mac is simple. Install the Palm Desktop software on your computer, and with the press of a key combination on the Dana all your data are saved to your Mac. Under OS X, insanely, my AlphaWord documents are saved to /Users/[username]/Documents/Palm/Users/[Palm username]/AlphaWord/ by default, which, well, is just not fun to navigate to. Eventually, I found a well-hidden way to set where I want documents saved.

Palm Desktop also lets you send files from your Mac to the Dana. That lets me work on this review from either my Mac or my Dana, meaning the Dana can be used for doing some serious long-term work. In addition, the Dana’s small size makes it far more comfortable to use on, say, a public train, than a notebook computer could ever be.


Synching AlphaWord documents is done in collaboration with a program called AlphaSync, whose purpose is to let you select documents on your Mac that you’d like transferred to the Dana. The UI in the OS X version is buggy: in the above picture, the middle of the list disappeared after I added a new file to be synched. A file cannot be removed from the list by hitting the Delete key; you have to use the button. There are also some tremendous issues with just what files can be imported, but I’ll get to that in the AlphaWord section.

PalmOS programs can be downloaded to your Mac and installed via HotSync, and presumably upgrades to programs like AlphaWord can be applied the same way, which is great.

This can’t be considered synching, but it is a neat trick if you’re in front of an unfamiliar computer that doesn’t have Palm Desktop installed and you want to send a file from the Dana to the computer. Plug the Dana into the computer’s USB port, open the AlphaWord file you want, open a blank document in a word processor on the computer, and hit “Send” on the Dana. This makes the Dana type the document to your computer, very rapidly and without any of the problems I encountered doing this with the 3000IR. Keep in mind that if you “sync” this way, formatting such as font size and italics will not show up on the receiving computer. For me at least, that’s not an issue.


I’ve mentioned AlphaWord a few times now, so what is it? AlphaWord is the Dana’s word processor, written by AlphaSmart especially for use with the device. Having AlphaWord up on the Dana is a lot like using a 3000IR, in that it’s mind-numbingly simple to use. That’s part of the beauty of the Dana; it packs in a tremendous amount of functionality while maintaining the ease of use of a much less powerful product.


Like the 3000IR, AlphaWord can have up to eight different files open at a time, and lets you navigate quickly from one to another by pressing one of the eight function keys on the keyboard. Unlike the 3000IR, AlphaWord lets you save and name your files, so you can keep more than eight easily identifiable files in total on your Dana. The Open… dialog box shows you which function key applies to which opened file, but curiously fails to take advantage of the Dana’s wide screen, forcing you to scroll down to see all your files.

AlphaWord lets you embolden, italicize, and underline text. Text can be justified, and different fonts and sizes can be used. Documents can be password protected if desired, but the file will not be protected on your computer after HotSyncing, so the actual security this option provides is pretty minimal. Find/Replace, Word Count, Spell Checking, and even a Thesaurus are all available within AlphaWord.

The ability to save formatting, at least for me, turns out to be a kind of a minus. Here’s why: AlphaWord saves its files in Rich Text Format (RTF), not plain text. That means synched files are a lot less universal than I’d like. I have to use Microsoft Word or Nisus Writer or some other RTF-capable program to open my documents on my Mac, even if I’ve applied no formatting at all. There needs to be a preference to save documents as text, or at least an option in the Save As.. dialog box.

Even with applications that claim to support RTF documents, things aren’t perfect. When I open an AlphaWord file with Nisus Writer 6.5, all the return keys are doubled. In Microsoft Word 5.1, all of the text is underlined. Microsoft Word v.X displays the file just fine. I’m not sure what’s going on here, really. Nisus Writer opens an RTF made with Word 5.1 as though it were text, displaying all the RTF codes; Word 5.1 opens an RTF made with Nisus Writer flawlessly. Maybe the problem lies in the word processors, or maybe AlphaWord isn’t encoding its RTF files quite right. Wherever the cause lies, there are minor anomalies to be aware of.


The same RTF file opened by two different programs. Top: MS Word 5.1. Bottom: Nisus Writer 6.5.

Unfortunately, it gets worse: not only is AlphaWord incapable of saving documents as text, it’s incapable of reading documents saved as text as well! So before I can put a BBEdit document on my Dana, I have to open it with Microsoft Word and do a Save As…. AlphaWord refuses to recognize an RTF file created with Nisus Writer, though Word has no problem with it. RTF files created in either Word 5.1 or Word v.X work fine.

While I’m at it, I’ll mention two other, really minor, changes I’d like to see to a future version of AlphaWord: First, as a left-hander, I’d really like an option to make the scroll bar appear on the left hand side of the screen. As it is, I can’t easily see the text of the document as I scroll, as my hand is in the way. Second, when you’re on the last line of a document and you press the Down Arrow key, you should be taken to the end of that last line. That’s how it works in all of the Mac apps I use, and I’m accustomed to just Down-Arrowing to the end of a document to start typing.

Other Applications

The Dana, thanks to PalmOS, is not just a word processor. It has a datebook, an address book, a to do list, and a memo pad, all built in and all viewable with the Palm Desktop program once you’ve synched with your computer. Somewhat to my surprise, I actually use these apps.

When I first heard about the Dana, I wanted to think of it as a sort of 3000IR on steroids, and figured I’d just use it for word processing. But if memory serves, one of the documents I had on the 3000IR was, essentially, a to do list. Now, I have an application for it.

I used to keep track of phone numbers and addresses on random pieces of paper, or in seperate computer files at home and at work, depending on how I knew the person. Now it’s all in one place, and always at hand. Each of these applications is simple and well thought-out.


Usually, I expect to have to complain about poor documentation; it’s just not a priority for most companies these days. AlphaSmart is a welcome exception. The Dana ships with an 82-page Getting Started printed manual which is reasonably well organized and well written, with a two-page index in the back. AlphaSmart gives its contact information, including e-mail address and phone number, for use if you have problems.

The Dana also comes with a CD containing a 220-page PDF User’s Guide. In all honesty, I only skimmed it, reading at random a few sections; I felt the Getting Started manual was more than enough to get me comfortable with using the Dana and answer questions I had.


I very much enjoy using the Dana; its simplicity and convenience encourage me to use it, and its sturdiness, light weight, and long battery life encourage me to keep it with me even if I don’t anticipate having to use it.

The PalmOS and its applications are designed to let me do what I need to without getting in my way or slowing me down. At the end of the day, AlphaSmart’s Dana only has two real flaws, both of which can be overcome. Not bad at all for something as complex as a portable computer system. If you’re a writer, either for fun or professionally, the Dana could well become your favorite portable.

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (54)

Paul Fatula (ATPM Staff) · December 12, 2002 - 10:46 EST #1
Just a quick update on the keyboard: I'm informed that it is "the newest keyboard technology" and is made by Samsung. So it probably is a bit higher quality than was used in the 3000IR.
ASilver · December 23, 2002 - 02:13 EST #2
So, tell me exactly is this device different then the Newton eMate released five years ago? You know--besides running the Palm OS, having a smaller screen, and imperfect document porting capabilities.


I'm all for positive-bordering-on-gushing reviews, but how can one provide an objective account of a product without first researching other alternitives that alreay exist, and provide the same functionality?

And no, I'm not a the standard Mac Zealot who's trying to pimp a product he particularly likes. In fact, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool PC user and wouldn't change that--right now at least--for anything. But I'm also a writer and, as such, need just the type of tool you describe to do business--something that's instant-on, has a long battery life, is portable without being excessively bulky, and can both import and export documents to Mac and PC platforms. Of course, the need for a good wordprocessor is also de facto. Yet, if I was to read your review, the only alternative I would be able to consider to the Dana is its older, less-competent brother. That's not exactly a comprehensive choice list, is it? Especially when one considers that, given the tone of your article, these are the "first" and "only" products ever to have these capabilites present in this form (i.e. PDA with a touch screen and keyboard). In fact, that's far from the case. The eMate I mentioned is only one option--yet, for less then $150, a person can get a product with exactly the same feature set/capabilities (indeed, some may argue more) without any difficulty. The problem is, of course, that Joe Average won't know this reading your review, thanks to a few misleading/unresearched statements.

Now, I realize that I'm coming off as a blowhard, at best, and a crank troll at worst, but the fact remains: I prefer my reviews--or any product--to be comprehensive. Basic research should be done before sweeping generalizations and specific claims are made. And, if a comparison is to be made regarding the given feature set of a product, other options should be noted, if they exist, and a notation of how the options compare should be present. Otherwise, all that is left is, effectively, an endorsement for a product that has no real substance to back it up. Naturally, I realize that many of the reviewers on this site are amatuers, and still others might disagree with me regarding the nature of appropriate content. However, given that the writer of this article is on the ATPM staff, one would think it safe to assume that a higher standard of journalistic proness should be expected.
Paul Fatula (ATPM Staff) · December 23, 2002 - 05:23 EST #3
ASilver - To the best of my knowledge, the eMate is no longer being made and, in fact, hasn't been for quite some time. It did indeed offer a feature set simular to the Dana, though it cost more than the Dana does and did not support nearly as many applications as the Dana does. At any rate, the fact that the eMate is no longer on the market means it is not in any way a viable alternative to a Dana.

Alternatives to the Dana include not only the 3000IR but also the CalcuScribe, which I did make reference to in the review. The only other simular product I know of that is currently in manufacture is the QuickPad, which I have unfortunately been unable to receive a review unit of. If you know of others, please post links to the manufacturers' web pages so that other readers can consider them.
WFC · December 27, 2002 - 20:47 EST #4
For the past two days, I have been reviewing the specs, written reviews, and the AlphaSmart user forum discussions on the Dana product. I suggest ASilver should do the same. It is the first version of the product and it is not perfect, but the company's lengthy experience with the other AlphaSmart products and the needs of writers and students have advantaged them in the design of this new Palm OS based product. Nearly every reviewer has commented about the product in a similar manner--it is not "gushing" if it is true. I have reviewed each of the product specs mentioned in the article--haven't got to the eMate just yet--I own(ed) the original TRS Model 100 (no backlighting but, program-wise, more than a word processor—though not any good on a train ride at night), the Toshiba T1000 (no backlight, no hard drive, but a good, configurable, fast RAM drive), and several other laptops--even the original Compaq "luggable" portable suitcase. I hesitate to go with the handhelds because I want the full-size keyboard and a larger screen--ergo the Palm devices are still not for me for writing. However, I am a high school science teacher and I will use Palm devices for data collection and lab work. I work with lots of special needs kids and I am looking for a device just like this. It is slick. Read the specs. It is not a toy by any means. It runs lots of different programs written for the Palm OS--including lots of science programs--public domain and otherwise. It is relatively inexpensive, it can be used anyplace in the school building or on the way to and from school, it’s lightweight, and it can do more than word processing. I suggest anyone seriously reviewing the product or the reviews should take a look at the user forums at You will get an excellent idea of the history, the users' issues, and the unbelievably polite responses to questions, frustrations and concerns. There is something special in the works here. I think they are listening and responding to user comments. I plan on purchasing one for myself before recommending it for the school. I suspect it will end up in my shoulder bag for airline and train trips and in my car trunk when I am heading to work or to play. I think it is what we are looking for instead of buying a bunch of laptops or handhelds. Since we use both Macs and PCs in the school, the intercompatibility is essential. They are not ready for prime time when it comes to internet and e-mail, so there are gaps in the product. I plan on posting comments on a regular basis to their user forums. Maybe I will pass along my experiences here as well.
Stefan Thiesen · January 11, 2003 - 10:13 EST #5
Hi Paul,

Just a quick thank you from Germany for your reviews of the Dana and Alphasmart. I currently am using an Alphasmart 3000 from the loan program and that one already begins to influence my working style - you really can carry it everywhere and it just doesn't feel like a burden at all. Since I got it a week ago, I did not use my PowerBook as single time. Instead, I type my texts and directly load them up into my eMac for further processing. I certainly like the super-long battery life span as well as the fact that not the slightest sound - other than the keystrokes - disturbs the writing process. The weaknesses (especially low memory) and the various strengths of the Dana currently tempt me to wait the extra three months for the release of the German version, although that also is a bit of a cost question (here, the Dana will sell at 450 Euro, which is roughly US $470). It is a pity that there never was a German version of the eMate - instead I had to carry around a heavy laptop with low battery stamina for years.

I do not, by the way, share your view of the Alphasmart keyboard. It is a very solid keyboard which, indeed, seems to be not so different from the old IBM keyboards. Perhaps the German version is different or the new versions of the Alphasmart have improved keyboards. Certainly the keyboard is far better than that of my old Apple PowerBook. Unfortunately, I heard that the Dana has a "notebook type" keyboard and most contemporary notebook keyboards I've tested so far for my taste are not overly satisfactory. As a professional science writer, I am somewhat picky when it comes to keyboards. I guess all I can do is test it.

What about other functions of the Dana? Is it possible, for example, to send and receive e-mail?
Chet Chin · January 15, 2003 - 20:11 EST #6
Stefan Please visit the AlphaSmart Community Centre for answers to your questions, including the one about e-mail. Regards
Chet Chin
Moderator, AlphaSmart Community Centre
Richard · January 17, 2003 - 08:33 EST #7

The Dana keypad is fantastic and much better than the AlphaSmart's. I'm talking about the hardware--the keypad itself. How it feels, etc. Dana wins by a mile here and it has one of the best keypads in the industry.

And, just to show you how objective I am; I'm not a big fan of Dana otherwise and prefer the AlphaSmart 3000, but for keypad ergonomics, Dana wins.
Chantal · January 20, 2003 - 06:57 EST #8
Hi Stefan. The UK Dana will be available within the next couple of months and the next version to be released will be the German Dana! We haven?t got a date yet, but we will keep you posted. Since you are a science teacher, I thought you may be interested to know that the following wide-screen-enabled software will be available shortly: PowerOne Graph graphing calculator from Infinity Softworks and ImagiMath and ImagiProbe from ImagiWorks; scientific probes for data collection, graphing and analysis. We will be at the Bildungsmesse in Nuernberg at the end of March. Come and see us! We?ll be delighted to show you the Dana. Chantal Savignon
AlphaSmart Europe Ltd.
Carl · January 31, 2003 - 16:55 EST #9
I just got a Dana for a bit of a discount ($389) from a reseller, So far, I am really enjoying it.

I have used an AlphaSmart 3000 for 3 years and I must admit that, while I love some of the new features of the Dana, if I just want to write, I find the simplicity of the AlphaSmart 3000 cannot be beat, even by the Dana.
Jose van der Steen · March 11, 2003 - 05:38 EST #10
When will there be a Dutch version of the Dana? The english one is to difficult for 11-year-old children. The price here is €523 and so much more expensive than in the US. I find it a great alternative for handicapped children. I work with them.


Jose van der Steen from Holland / Nijmegen
Stefan Thiesen · March 13, 2003 - 08:38 EST #11
Thanks to everyone for the information. I just got myself an Alphasmart 3000 since I already have a Mac PowerBook and was really just looking for a tool that I can take outside to a café or the library to work, and work mostly means writing for me. I get along nicely with the keyboard and I like the fact that there is really nothing that diverts my attention from writing. For me, it is a good--albeit expensive, compared to its abilities--tool. But, I was willing to pay for a little peace of mind. :)

All the best,

Stefan Thiesen (science writer, Germany)
Chantal · April 10, 2003 - 09:59 EST #12
Jose, The German Dana should be available in the autumn. I'm sorry we don't know when the Dutch version will be available. The price is cheaper in the US because there are no added costs such as shipping or VAT. You are right, like the AS3000, Dana is a great tool for people with special needs. Both are very light, robust, and ergonomic. They also have great functions and specific keyboard layouts. I think that everyone who has tested the two keyboards is very enthusiastic about them. Chantal
AlphaSmart Europe
Monika · April 10, 2003 - 10:09 EST #13

The AlphaSmart Community Center has now a Dutch forum. This is a good place to exchange experiences and questions with other teachers who uses or plan to use Dana or the AlphaSmart 3000 in their lessons.

Nederlandse AlphaSmart Forum
Tim Nevits · April 12, 2003 - 02:44 EST #14
Hey to all of you.

I had been considering purchasing an Alphasmart Dana, but I decided to purchase an alternative.

Softmaker has released a full-featured word processor called Textmaker that runs on Linux, Windows, HandheldPC, and PocketPC devices.

The reviews on this product have been OUTSTANDING [do a quick google search for Textmaker and see for yourself], going far beyond any PDA word processor, with full graphics, fonts, headers, footers, tables, styles, support, etc. In fact, there isn't much of of a difference between the Windows/Linux/WinCE versions.

So, what I did was pick up a used Handheld PC (Microsoft WindowsCE device) on eBay for $250 and bought this word processor. If you HATE Microsoft and WinCE and are a Palm loyalist, then this isn't for you. But I now have an MSWord-like word processor with a color screen for less than what a new Dana costs.

Anyway, if you haven't made up your mind yet, this alternative is worth considering.

Adrian · May 1, 2003 - 12:28 EST #15
I love the idea of the Dana and took advantage of the trial. However, when typing on the lap, it is unstable.

Why? Turn the Dana over and run your hands over the curved underside. You'll feel the weight at the back making it top-heavy.

Not suprisingly, it rocks when you type, like a seesaw. A consequence of simple physics.

Fact: It's just not balanced on the lap like the 3000.

I'm waiting for the Dana 2 with a center of gravity in the right position.

Can anyone think of an advantage in having all the weight at the back of the Dana? Please, Alphasmart designers, correct this problem!
Chet Chin · June 1, 2003 - 10:00 EST #16
Adrian The back of the Dana is where the various connections are - the two expansion slots, USB ports, etc. - hence, it's heavier there. I use the Dana on my lap and, while it tilts a bit towards the back which makes the keyboard a little higher than the screen, but not much, it doesn't rock like a see-saw, as you've described it. Mainly, it's a matter of finding the balance. I hope you find yours. Chet Chin
AlphaSmart Community Centre
Chet Chin · June 1, 2003 - 10:10 EST #17
Hey Tim Nevits The review here, and subsequent discussion, has been about a piece of hardware, the AlphaSmart Dana, as opposed to your suggestion of a software, TextMaker. You're right - TextMaker is not for Palm loyalists. While I don't consider myself a Palm loyalist, I have been using AlphaSmart products since 1998 and have been very satisfied with the full-sized keyboard. AlphaSmart products have been a real help to me with my rheumatoid arthritis. I was overjoyed when I learned that AlphaSmart had licensed the Palm OS which resulted in the Dana, a Palm-powered laptop alternative. Now, I have the best of both worlds - the full sized keyboard and access to all the Palm OS apps available today - in a machine that is really, as its tagline says, a laptop alternative. The Dana also comes with its own word processor, AlphaWord, which is based on WordSmith, one of the most popular Palm word processors. With the Dana, you have the best of all possible worlds - Palm OS, full-sized keyboard, and excellent word processor. And you don't have to be a Palm loyalist to use it. Chet Chin
AlphaSmart Community Centre
Adrian · June 2, 2003 - 08:11 EST #18
Thanks for your comment Chet Chin.

What I'm trying to draw attention to is the fact that the Dana remains unbalanced, unecessarily. It doesn't have to be this way. Tilting is not a built-in feature but a bad side effect of having the connectors conveniently on the back.

Clearly it rocks on my knees, otherwise I wouldn't be saying it. I would love a Dana 2 that resolves this problem.

I can assure you the feeling of not just the keys but the base of the unit deflecting by a few millimeters is most unsatisfactory when typing is the heart of Alphasmarts. Have you ever steered a car with poor steering? You never feel in control because your steering movements act through a piece of sponge and are not really direct.

On my knees, the Dana rocks unnecessarily. On your knees, maybe not.

So 50% of us have this problem.

So, Alphasmart, why not have 100% of us happy with the easiest correction in the world. Just shift the Dana's balance point ... please.
TK Tim · June 28, 2003 - 14:15 EST #19
Regarding Palm RTF to .txt conversions--there must be a small program to do what you want out in the Palm world. Have you tried Quickoffice which is now available for the Mac, also? You can sync with Quickoffice. Cutting Edge Software's excellent Quickoffice is also bundled with the Dana. It offers a word processor, spreadsheet, and charting--excellent features for most business travelers. These applications have also been tweaked to work on a wide screen. Naturally, you can map the Memo key to launch Quickword instead of AlphaWord. Both offer conduits to sync either Word or Excel documents to and from the Dana.
Daniel Dunn · July 23, 2003 - 18:43 EST #20
I have just purchased an AlphaSmart Dana for the upcoming year at the university as I commute there every day. The Dana is perfect for note-taking and is much cheaper and durable than my brother's iBook. The keyboard is great to use and I am a big fan of graffiti. And, for £299 and the cost of the cables, I would strongly recommend this item for anyone on a limited budget who needs a functional word processor and spreadsheet.
Eric Merz · September 27, 2003 - 19:18 EST #21
I recently purchased a Dana and have found it to be a lot better than the 3000USB my school provided me last year. My favorite part is being able to save documents, therefore having more than the original 8 files. I also love the backlit screen. My only concern is that the precision of my touch sensor doesn't seem very good. It's either overly or underly sensitive on either side of the center third of the screen. In other words, if I move the stylus to the left of the center screen, it gets increasingly inaccurate, but only horizontally. When I try the digitizer, it fails to rectify this problem. Any suggestions?
Chet Chin · October 23, 2003 - 01:59 EST #22
Eric - you can re-calibrate the screen. Go to Preferences and, from the drop down menu on the top right hand corner, select Digitizer and the screen will go to the original screen as when you first switched on the Dana after taking it out of the box. Re-calibrate by following the instructions on the screen.
Eric Merz · October 31, 2003 - 06:50 EST #23
I've tried this over and over. Any other suggestions?
martin taylor · January 21, 2004 - 13:00 EST #24
I found something interesting, or 'buggy'. If you tap 'find' and type in "Dana", it tends to lock the system up (I had to reset, more than once doing this).
To my surprise, I actually like this machine,
paul fatula (ATPM Staff) · January 21, 2004 - 15:20 EST #25

Bizarre... i'm curious but afraid to try it... have you reported the bug to AlphaSmart?

Glad you like the machine, though..
martin · January 22, 2004 - 16:24 EST #26
Ok, I think I have it. When that happened I had loaded several Excel spreadsheets containing charts and macros. I have since taken them off, and now I cannot get the machine to reproduce the occurrence. ‘whew’, maybe that caused it. But I will report this to Alphasmart.
Next week I will travel with the Dana for my first time (replacing my laptop for the trip). I hope to get some writing accomplished, and see how airport security handles ‘something different’.
paul fatula (ATPM Staff) · January 22, 2004 - 17:58 EST #27

i've taken my Dana through airport security several times without incident. Treat it just as you would a laptop.
Eric · January 30, 2004 - 06:59 EST #28
I got my alphasmart to work right after sending it back in for repairs. Evidently something had gone wrong, ut they managed to fix it. Now they just need to allow for wifi upgrades, as no SD cards yet support palm 4.0
Judy · January 24, 2005 - 17:15 EST #29
I had my Alphasmart stolen a month or two ago and really need to replace it, either with the 3000, the new NEO or a Dana. Can't decide. I don't like the sound of the "rocking" problem, but that may have been corrected by now. Also, doesn't heat up on the bottom like a laptop? If so, not for me. The biggest disadvantage I found of the Alphie was the click-click of the keys, nothing like a computer, but for a *hard* typist like me, annoying, given the lack of other sound (beautiful!).

No one talks about saving. Since I've already had one stolen, I'm nervous about this. I'm going to Italy in February, hope to just take the Alph. product, and don't want to have all my eggs in one basket in case of theft. Suggestions?

Paul Fatula (ATPM Staff) · January 24, 2005 - 21:56 EST #30

I'd definitely suggest a Neo over a 3000; a review of the Neo is forthcoming. But if you have the money, get a Dana. I use it when I travel; not just for writing, but the address book for storing addresses to send postcards to, and even for checking email (w/the proper add'l equipment). If you have to edit anything you wrote, Dana's larger screen and stylus make it far superior to the Neo.

None of the Alphasmart product line has a heat problem; they run on very little power.

i don't find the Dana or Neo keyboards to be too noisy, though they aren't silent. My Dana is very slightly quieter, but my guess is that that's from use rather than by design.

If you're worried about losing your data in theft, find an internet cafe and email yourself your documents. Dana and Neo both allow you to transfer data to a computer via USB cable (with no special software on the computer).
E.G. Gammon · January 25, 2005 - 03:01 EST #31
I recently sent a money order away for the Dana and I am anxiously awaiting its arrival (tracking info says the 27th). I have been really excited and have heard good things about it. The only bad thing I heard that makes me worry is the screen. I have heard that it is hard to read sometimes, or it lacks contrast. Has anyone had any problems with seeing what's on the screen? Or is it that people are just used to seeing the contrast on regular moniters and when they compare, the dana is lacking?
Paul Fatula (ATPM Staff) · January 25, 2005 - 11:06 EST #32

I'm quite happy with the Dana's screen, no contrast or other problems. It's difficult to read text on the screen from extremely wide angles, but the screen is quite clear at lap or desk level, and someone sitting next to you on a plane or train could easily read what you're typing. (The viewing angles are more or less like those of my pocket calculator.)
John · April 10, 2005 - 21:43 EST #33
Hi--I'm getting ready to go to south america and do some fieldwork for 8 months and will only have occasional internet access in the field and have to leave my laptop in the capital. Considering the field situation, I am either considering getting manual typewriters (advantages--hardly theft-worthy and I can leave the typewriter in the house for the time I'm away). I'm also down with the romantic manual typewriter idea and having hard copies of my notes to work from but they are also prone to various problems. I would normally be more Dana-prone but if I lost it, I would be more upset than I would be with the Neo. Anyone else have experience with either one in field situations? Also I need to know how fast the neo uploads text into documents
Nathan C. · May 2, 2005 - 15:24 EST #34
I now use the DANA after using a AS2000 and a AS3000 this is realy a step up from the older systems
Becca · June 18, 2005 - 18:53 EST #35
Has anyone else had problems with keys popping off? At one point, the right arrow key snapped off. We put it back on and everything was fine for a while, then it kept falling off. That's also happened with a few other keys, and at the moment, the command key is currently missing, and has been for several months. Is there any way to either find a way to attach keys permently, or find a way to stop them from falling off?
David · June 27, 2005 - 05:30 EST #36
Contrary to what most here seem to think, AlphaSmart does NOT have good customer service. I've been blown off several times by their tech support staff, who tried blaming software bugs in the Neo product on me. Finally they admitted that the issue I was reporting was valid, that others had reported it, and that they would try to work on a fix. Their estimate for a fix: after the end of this year. This will be getting close to a year and a half from the time the Neo was released. The error--a funky text flow glitch--is enough to drive you batty if you revise work on the Neo. Yet no warning from the company when you buy the Neo. What a freakin' joke

Because of their niche market, they can get also away with lots of very low behaviour that would get a larger company in a lot of hot water. Case in point: there has been a bug in the Dana's word processor that causes frequent fatal errors when revising text using keyboard shortcuts. AlphaSmart has known about it for close to two years, yet has not released a fix yet because not enough people have complained about it. Worse, there is no warning bundled with the Dana to alert users to the issue. Users just get fatal errors and think it's part of the fun AlphaSmart experience. Finally--close to two years after the fix has been available in the source code (Wordsmith) AlphaSmart is releasing the fix. (Interestingly, the German version has been fixed for quite some time. They must have made more noise.)

It's a good think AlphaSmart has been acquired by another company. Maybe they'll get some decent programmers and tech support people. They just plain suck right now. Such a shame for a company that builds such great hardware.

David White
Paul Fatula (ATPM Staff) · June 27, 2005 - 10:58 EST #37
David-- Would you mind posting a more detailed description of the problems you encountered, so that other users can be on the look-out for them?

Incidentally, AlphaSmart did fix the power button problem in its newest product, the Neo. Neo offers an option to require the return key (or the return key and one other key) to be held down when the power button is pressed for the Neo to be turned on. It's a great solution because it doesn't require any hardware redesign; I really wish they'd offer a firmware (or maybe it's just software?) update for the Dana to provide that functionality.
Eileen West · November 10, 2005 - 22:28 EST #38
I work for a school system and am looking for an alternative for using desktop models and/or laptops. Is it easy to transfer or store word documents or not? I'm kinda confused after reading some of the posts. Have you heard if Dana is going to offer a windows version instead of palm or a colored screen? Just curious.

Maria Varelas · December 23, 2005 - 13:10 EST #39
I recently purchased a Dana Wireless. I am a journalists and for months had searched for a computer that I could comfortably carry around. I also own a Mac G4 but at around 5 lbs. it is too heavy for me.

My first experience using the Dana is that it is almost everything that I was looking for in a computer. I love it for its light weight, it is fantastic for taking notes and then transferring them to my computer.

I love the way the files and the computer turns right on.

I have yet to use the address book facility, but am looking forward to doing so.

What I haven't been able to get working, though, is the wireless aspect, but hope this will be soon.

Rob Cook · December 27, 2005 - 00:25 EST #40
I recently received a Neo as a gift and wss thrilled. As a writer, it has so many features I've been looking for. However I'm very frustrated at the lack of a backlit screen.

I tried buying a goosneck light that plugs into the USB port. It would have been a perfect solution except the Neo's USP port doesn't seem to provide power for the light.

Is my only solution to pay more and exchance it for a Dana?
Eric Merz · January 16, 2006 - 22:21 EST #41
Callibration errors strike again! This time it seems incorrectable. Even a hard-reset doesn't fix it. And I can't recalibrate using Digitizer, it just won't leave the digitizer. I have to soft-reset to use it again. But it's over an inch innacurate in some parts in one direction, and a centimeter innaccurate in a different direction in other parts.

Also, the LED on the side of my Dana is dead, apparently.
Finston · February 10, 2006 - 04:22 EST #42
Overall the Dana is pretty awesome, light weight, easy to use. However can't figure out whether there is a way to also get email on the dana wireless... -- The dana detects the wireless network. But after that, what -- Is the Wireless capable of connecting to any available network wirelessly...
Jane Groves · February 10, 2006 - 12:17 EST #43
Hi - a very cosmetic question, but is the Alphasmart Dana dark blue or black??

And is transferring text from it, to a microsoft word document really as simple as the product website makes out - am not technically minded. My pc is networked and would want to be able to select my own rather than the network drive.

Any thoughts?
E.G. · February 10, 2006 - 18:12 EST #44

The picture on the Alphasmart website and even the box the Dana comes in shows the Dana as dark blue, but the Dana itself (at least the one I got) is black - which actually looks better, in my opinion.

And, Yes it is easy to transfer documents from the Dana to a Word document on your PC. I don't know about the method the website talks about, but what I do is (and this is of course after you install the software and sync your Dana with your PC), I open a blank Word file, open the document I want to transfer onto my PC on my Dana, plug the Dana into my PC via its USB cord and a little pop up appears on my Dana screen that tells me the Dana is acting as a keyboard for my PC. Then I use the "Send" button, press it twice and I just sit back and watch as the Dana literally types the entire document into the Word document opened on my computer allowing me to either save it or print it.

There probably are simpler ways of transferring a document, but this one works best for me (and it's always fun to see your document literally type itself into your computer).
Chet · February 11, 2006 - 21:11 EST #45

The AlphaSmart Community Centre no longer exists, altho the discussions have been archived and left at the site:

You can go there and search for topics relevant to any problems you may have.

If you still cannot get info on the old site, there's a new user group at

A lot of the users from the old Community Centre are at the new Flickr group.
RobertOlivieri · September 6, 2006 - 16:09 EST #46
When Is the fix for the fatal alert being released
Kate · July 20, 2007 - 19:25 EST #47
I've just ordered a Dana Wireless after comprehensive research and am looking forward to its arrival. I simply want portable, light and convenient note taking functions. The diary and contacts lists are icing on the cake. I also have a little Palm Zire but this will replace that.
Robert JA Basilio Jr. · November 8, 2007 - 12:31 EST #48
The review and the ensuing discussions stimulated by it indicates an enthusiastic user base for the Dana. Thanks, Paul and ATPM for providing this forum. I'm looking forward to getting my used Dana from eBay.

Although I am an Apple user and own an Apple eMate, I remain burdened by the additional software and hardware tweaks of connecting the Newton OS-enabled gadget to a USB-enabled Mac, which thanks to experts at is possible. I'm still keeping my eMate but I'm looking forward to the Dana.

Robert in Manila

N. B. ASilver who early on commented about the eMate's capabilities failed to indicate that the eMate--lovable gadget that it is--needs a separate software app installed in a Mac to allow data synchronization. With Dana, a user can choose not to install the Palm Desktop software without depriving him of the benefit of sending text to the PC/Mac from the Dana.
Dave Garratt · February 3, 2008 - 18:46 EST #49
Do I understand this correctly? The Dana is still basically the same machine that was released over five years ago? It looks the same, and seems to be using the same Palm OS. Does the company still exist?
Jesse the K · June 1, 2008 - 16:51 EST #50
I've been using since the day they were available. The AlphaSmart product line and name were purchased by Renaissance Learning an international educational software publisher. Yes, they are happy to sell you a new Dana, running the totally trailing-edge but still functional Palm OS 4.1, for approximately US$360 shipped.

I encountered the data-losing "fatal exception" bug within the first ten hours of ownership, and was part of the dedicated user-team that figured what triggered it. And we reported it and waited more than a year for AlphaSmart to acknowledge and fix it in firmware. Unfortunately, the early adopters couldn't get chip upgrades.

Even given all that, I bought a second one -- it's my auxiliary brain.

I'm hoping I can continue to sync data with my MacBook Pro until one of those nifty lower-cost Linux devices is available with a keyboard I can actually use.
Mark Chmiel · June 22, 2008 - 04:24 EST #51
I purchased a Dana in January in lieu of a laptop. I am completely satisfied with it; in fact, I absolutely love it. I use it for writing purposes, and to that end it's a wonderful tool.

1. Keyboard- I love the keyboard. The key resistance is perfect (for me, anyway) and the size is right.

2. Weight- The Dana is so light that it is easy to carry anywhere. I carry it with me no matter where I go because it doesn't get in the way.

3. Ease of data transfer- I type my stories in Dana, but I do my editing on my home computer. I plug my Dana into my computer, hit two keys and 30 seconds later everything in Dana is in my computer. Yes, it's that easy. I don't have to click anything.

4. Ease of use- Turn it on and it's on. No bootup time, and it opens right where I left off. The keys F1 - F8 are the files, and I just have to push whichever button I need and the file opens right up to where I left off on that file. Very convienent and easy to use.

5. Long battery life- I use my Dana nearly everyday, and I have charged it four times in 5 months. I haven't actually timed how long the batteries last, because I turn it on and off a lot, but it's a long time. The backlight uses a lot of juice, though.

1. I wouldn't have minded the screen being slightly lighter, but it's not a significant drawback, just a preference.

I haven't used the other features a great deal, such as the calendar or the To Do list or anything like that, although I like that they're there if I decide to use them. This unit just begs to be used. My writing was pretty much non-existent before I got the Dana; now I can't stop. I'm a very satisfied customer.
steve corry · May 19, 2009 - 11:47 EST #52
I'm a teacher and a student. I have a crippled right hand and can't take notes. The Dana sounds wonderful. However, I have to hand in class assignments within 10 minutes after they are assigned. If I type them on the Dana, how would I turn them in? The professor has a computer at his desk. Will this unit ever have email?
Paul Fatula (ATPM Staff) · May 19, 2009 - 12:48 EST #53

There's a version of the Dana that has built-in wireless; I haven't tried it, but if your school is equipped with WiFi, I imagine you could email from that kind of Dana.

Or you could get a regular Dana and print a hard copy for your professor as needed. (If there's a printer in the classroom you could use? Or you could buy a portable printer.) Dana's Printer Compatability page looks pretty out-of-date though; you might want to check with AlphaSmart to make sure the printer's compatable with the Dana before making a purchase.
Kevin Vincent · February 22, 2010 - 21:32 EST #54

I am an international educator at International School Manila. I have student who wishes to purchase a Dana, but is having difficulty finding the address to purchase. My student's parents have tried several contacts in the US, but it is not working out. Are you able to help?

Thank you
Kevin Vincent
International School Manila

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