I ran into my friend Nalo Hopkinson
at BookExpo Canada, and she was carrying a backpack with the Alphasmart Dana
logo. I've always been intrigued by these dedicated writing machines, and asked her what she thought of hers. Her answer: she'd sold it, and bought a real laptop (but kept the backback!). Me, I've got my eyes on an Asus Eee PC
right now, but Alphasmart is continuing to sell the Dana -- and at the same price they've sold it at for years. The window of opportunity for such a device at a $400 price point seems to be closing.
Anyway, this evening, I happened to come across a letter I'd sent to Alphasmart about the Dana in February 2004 -- over four years ago. There's been no change to their product since then; the 2004 (and earlier) Dana is still what's on the market -- same hardware, same price ... and that's too bad.
Here's what I had to say in that letter to Alphasmart back in 2004:
As a professional writer, I had been contemplating buying an Alphasmart Dana, and now, after trying one that belongs to a friend, I have decided not to. But because I am intrigued by your product, I thought I would tell you why, in hopes that you might consider these suggestions for future versions.
Ultimately, three things disappointed me. First, was the display. Now, yes, indeed, you do offer a lot more screen real estate in terms of square inches than does a typical Palm. But for a couple of years now, almost no new low-resolution Palm OS PDAs have been sold; modern units use four times the pixel density. Your 560x160 display has 89,600 pixels, and you splay them over 3.5 times as much space as a standard 320x320 palm, which displays 102,400 pixels.
If you were to offer a model that used modern, high-resolution screens, that would be fabulous. But after having used WordSmith
on a high-resolution Clie, I couldn't see myself going to the low-resolution display, with the jagged fonts, available on the Dana.
The second issue, for me, was the backlight, which, again, is reminiscent of the backlights on Palms from a few years ago: fine if you need to write in darkness, but adding no boost to readability in normal lighting conditions. Again, on a modern Palm (say, the Zire 71) or Clie, the backlight is so much more robust. It was clear that I would encounter ambient lighting conditions during my normal workday in which the Dana would be hard to read; I never have trouble reading my Clie under any conditions.
The final issue for me was the lack of handwriting recognition when not in the dedicated opening screen Graffiti area. I applaud you decision to use Graffiti 2 with a Palm OS 4 device, but when trying editing in AlphaWord, I was frustrated at not being able to highlight with the stylus, and then delete the marked passage with a Graffiti backspace gesture, as I would, say, in WordSmith
on my Clie. Ironically, despite the Dana's [wonderful] keyboard, I was finding it slower going doing some kinds of editing on a Dana than performing similar tasks on a keyboardless Clie.
I do think your choice of a monochrome screen is fine (my own favorite of the various PDAs and palmtops that I own is a Sony Clie SJ-20, which was the last monochrome model made by Sony). Color isn't crucial for word processing. And I think your keyboard is excellent. I'll be watching your website as time goes by to see what Dana Next has to offer.
All best wishes!
The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site