AlphaSmart Dana
It could be everything you need, for a whole lot less
Operates using PalmOS v4.1
Laptops can be a big help for an overworked university student. Not only are they handy for keeping class notes, they're good for keeping copies of reference material, organizing your life around your class schedule (or vice versa), writing your essays, and more—all in a package that weighs less than many textbooks. But if you're a student on a budget, a laptop's four-figure price tag can be a huge obstacle.

The budget-conscious student who values usefulness over flashy features will find a lot to like in AlphaSmart's Dana ($625 at; $645 for a wireless version). It's not so much a portable computer as an oversized Palm with a comfortable, full-size keyboard—and that's a good thing.

All of the standard Palm applications are built-in, which means you can have all your phone numbers in easy reach, as well as that all-important to-do list and schedule. Also included is AlphaWord, a word processor compatible with Microsoft Word so you can easily shift your work between the Dana and your desktop. QuickOffice, which is also included, handles Word and Excel documents. Don't use Office? No worries: plug the Dana's USB cable into a PC or Macintosh and it can enter your text file into any word-processing application as if you were typing it yourself. In a pinch, you can even print directly to a USB printer without a computer.

The important thing is that by sticking to the lean and mean Palm operating system, AlphaSmart doesn't need to use the latest and greatest hardware. This keeps the weight down to a featherweight 2 pounds and reduces power needs to the point where its rechargeable battery is good for 25 hours of use—or you can use 3 AA batteries for over 30 hours of power.

Originally appeared in Montreal Entertainment (September 2003)