Monday, July 1, 2002

New AlphaSmart Dana to mobilize students

FIRST LOOK

By Steve Niles

When David Nagel, chief executive officer of PalmSource, Inc., told educators at the National Education Computing Conference to expect broader choices in mobile products for education, one of the new choices he was speaking of is a fascinating new device called Dana. Dana was created by AlphaSmart (at http://www.alphasmart.com), and it's designed to be a Palm OS-based alternative to the laptop. As you can see in Figure A, it clearly has the ergonomic design of a notebook computer with its full-size keyboard and a screen that's 3.5 times wider than the typical handheld screen, measuring approximately 2 1/4 inches high and 7 1/2 inches wide.

FIGURE A

Dana from AlphaSmart is the first Palm OS device to emulate the look and feel of a notebook computer. (click for larger image)

You can type or enter data using the keyboard or by writing with the Dana stylus directly on the screen. All Palm OS applications are said to be compatible with Dana, but it will be interesting to see how they adapt themselves to the wider screen. Dana will synchronize with a PC just like any other Palm OS handheld, and it will allow you to print directly to a USB or IrDA-enabled printer. The device also has two Secure Digital and MultiMediaCard compatible slots. Out of the box you get a rechargeable battery pack, an AC adapter, a CD-ROM with Palm Desktop software, additional applications, fonts, a USB cable, a Getting Started Guide, and a stylus.

Software

The two-pound device was designed specifically with students in mind. It comes with the standard Palm OS applications (Address Book, Date Book, To Do List, and Memo Pad) optimized for Dana's wide screen. It also features AlphaWord, a full-featured word processor with spell-checker and thesaurus, compatible with Microsoft Word file format. PrintBoy from Bachmann Software (at http://www.bachmannsoftware.com) is also provided to allow for direct printing from AlphaWord to IR or USB printers.

Palm Digital Media announced that AlphaSmart licensed the Palm Reader ebook application to include with Dana. Mike Segroves, director of business development at Palm Digital Media, noted "AlphaSmart joins Palm as the second Palm OS licensee to bundle Palm Reader with its computing solutions." He added, "It's exciting to have a well-respected education technology company embrace ebook technology. Education is a market where we expect to see significant growth over the next few years as textbook publishers begin to make eTextbooks available."

The newly modified version of Palm Reader takes advantage of Dana's wide-screen format, allowing more content to be displayed at one time. This may make it easier for educators to provide electronic literary and scholastic content to students and teachers. You can also create and distribute your own Palm Reader ebooks using the Palm eBook Studio authoring tool. Palm eBook Studio lets you either create ebooks from scratch or cut and paste information into the Palm eBook Studio from existing documents that support Rich Text Format.