This review is being composed on a Dana by AlphaSmart, the $400 Palm OS-based laptop alternative that is exactly what so many of us need – from students to grandparents and everyone in between.

Dana is about the size of a standard keyboard (but without the numeric keypad off to the side).  It tips the scales at barely two pounds and has a nice screen that measures about 7 1/2” wide by 2 1/4” tall!  That’s 3.5 times wider than a typical handheld screen.  The included Microsoft Word-compatible word processor called AlphaWord, an Excel-compatible spread sheet program called Quicksheet, and some of the other software have been ingeniously configured for that big display area to do what can’t be done on any other Palm OS device. Users can actually SEE what they are doing and not have to scroll like mad all the time.  These applications occupy the entire screen.  It’s just great.

Here, we have a useful tool with a proven and familiar OS that is less than half the cost of an inexpensive laptop computer yet with power to perform most utilitarian tasks of any other laptop. There are more than 10,000 applications including Palm-based games to play on Dana and other Palm-based devices. What is not to like?

The benefits do not stop there.  Dana also includes two little SD memory slots for additional data or application storage.  Connectivity to any modern PC or Mac is as simple as connecting any other Palm device using the free Palm Desktop software and the included USB cable.  This means that all the other Palm functionality is also built-in.  Synchronize appointments, contacts, notes, and all the rest.  The IR port allows for popular beaming of info from Dana to any other IR-equipped Palm OS device.

Enter information using Palm’s Graffiti handwriting recognition with the supplied stylus (except when applications optimized to take advantage of Dana’s wide screen) or through the keyboard.

As with other Palm devices, the screen backlighting toggles On and Off on demand by pressing and holding the On/Off key.  Built-in software allows direct printing to many popular Epson, Canon, HP and Lexmark printers via USB or without wires through the industry standard infrared (IR) port (called IrDa) to IrDa enabled printers.

Dana is the coolest, most useful and versatile Palm-based device, with a built-in keyboard and the widest screen NOT on any other Palm device.  It has proven to be an indispensable tool in my repertoire.  I tried the impossible.  While on a recent business trip, I left my laptop home.  Writing duties were easily done on Dana.  I did not miss the bulk associated with taking a laptop.  Email and instant messaging duties were handled, with a high degree of fun, I might add, by a T-Mobile Sidekick, otherwise known as the Danger hiptop.  This is one of the coolest mobile communication products around right now.

Dana can operate for days and days on three standard AA batteries (not supplied) or on its own optional proprietary rechargeable cells, recharging automatically when connected via USB to the computer or using its supplied charger/AC adapter (provided with the rechargeable battery option).

Transferring documents to the Mac or PC is as simple as with any Palm-type device.  First, install the Dana software on the computer, with its special version of Palm Desktop.  Then, plug it in, press the Sync button and let the magic happen.  Fetch any transferred document or spreadsheet from the computer.  As indicated, AlphaWord (with spell-checker!) is fully compatible with Microsoft Word.  As if that were not enough, the connected computer sees Dana as another keyboard.  In this automatic mode, documents can be transferred to any word processing program.  With Dana connected, open the application on the computer, start a new document and press the Send key on Dana to transfer each character from each stored keystroke to that new document.  There are eight separate file areas, accessible with labeled buttons at the top of the keyboard, so, to transfer contents of File 1, connect, open a new document in your word processing application, open File 1 on Dana and hit Dana’s Send button.

I take advantage of the other customary Palm software that is included with Dana, such as Datebook, Address, To-Do, and Memo – each of which have been optimized for the wide screen on Dana.

Sure, there are drawbacks and limitations, but these are few.  Dana is NOT a complete computer replacement; so don’t think of it as more than it is.  What it is, though, is substantial, and its functionality is extensive.  Operating on Palm OS version 4.5 and not the newer version 5, Dana also does not operate with the new, faster processors available for the newest Palm and compatibles.  The screen is the standard gray scale as on other non-color Palm devices.  No matter.  For what Dana is designed to do, the performance is just fine.  I have no complaints about performance.  Operationally, for those who know and use conventional keyboard shortcuts, Dana follows most of the conventional copy, paste, and Command+X ways to navigate through a document.  It is as easy to use as, well, as easy a Macintosh.

Saving is also automatic, so there is no worry about having to remember to do something beyond simply entering data.  To save word processing files with a name, I use the keyboard shortcut, Command+S, and then fill in whatever I want.

Super lightweight and rugged, Dana is perfect for students and everyone who may need a powerful portable that does not itself connect to the Internet.  Dana is inexpensive enough that it is almost disposable.  If broken or lost, the trauma associated with the loss of a $400 device is a lot less than watching a $1,000 (or more) device go poof!

Dana is the most portable, full-function device of its type. Since I am a fan of AvantGo, I sync Dana every morning to get the latest news and information subscribed to through my AvantGo preferences, and then, whenever I want, throughout the day, I can launch AvantGo on Dana and read all the news and information, just as with any other Palm (or PocketPC, for that matter).

On a personal note, I have been a fan of the AlphaSmart products since their beginning, more than 10 years ago. I admire the dedication and professionalism experienced from each and every contact, whether speaking with their amiable executives or dealing with tech support (rarely needed, I might add).

Dana is such a different concept; many of you may be reluctant to investigate.  That would be a mistake.  Dana is an innovative, dependable, thoughtful, just-right-for-today product for students and non-students alike.  I urge you to take a long look and, take it from Mr. Gadget, you will be impressed.  It’s just the right product for your hi-tech home.  I also want to encourage you to strongly encourage your local schools to consider equipping classrooms with carts full of Danas or to provide students with their own Dana for use at home and at school. It’s a great way to improve keyboarding skills and to do real work without the expense of more delicate, more tech support intensive conventional laptop computers.

Dana comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee and a one year parts and labor warranty.

For more information or for direct purchase, please visit www.alphasmart.com or call 1-888-274-0680.  Dana is also available at J&R Music in New York or on the Web at www.jandr.com (a terrific retailer!).

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