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After having many laptops and being distracted enough that I still was relatively near the starting point of the novel I have been wanting to write- I decided to change tactics. I participate in NaNoWriMo every year, and every year there are several people touting the wonderfulness of the Aphasmarts. So I decided to get one. I was actually looking for the Alphasmart 3000, but ended up getting the Alphasmart Dana. That turns out to be the better choice for me. And if you are thinking about getting an Alphasmart- I’m going to give you the features – well, the features that I think are necessary in order to make an informed decision on which one you should get.

1. The original Alphasmart. Released in 1993, the company Alphasmart wanted to combat the high costs of laptops and computers, and make something affordable that students could use. So they released something that looked like a cross between an oversized calculator, and a clunky Mac desktop computer. Which seems to be an apt description, as the original Alphasmart had a serial port that was ONLY Mac compatible. It had a 4-line LCD screen, and held about 32,000 bytes of memory. Translated-that’s about 31 kb of memory, or about 2 pages of writing. This probably was fine, then, as it was used for short assignments, and then you hooked it up to your teacher’s computer and downloaded your assignment onto their Mac. It used 2 AA batteries, or a NiCad battery pack. They say you could write for days on the same battery charge, but I cannot find any official stats on how many hours that battery could last. It was a beige color, and for me, about the only truly redeeming feature of it, is that the programmers had a sense of humor, adding a couple of jokes that you could run across depending on the function.

2. In 1995, Alphasmart released the Alphasmart Pro. This one also had a PS/2 port, so you could now hook it up to a Windows computer. It had 128,000 bytes of memory, or about 31 kb, or about 40 pages. It also used the 2 AA batteries or the NiCad battery pack.

3. In 1997, Alphasmart released the Alphasmart 2000. This one was more curvy and was a blue color. It included a serial port, so you could now connect directly to a printer, without having to use a computer as a middle man. It had the same amount of memory as the Alphasmart Pro, but now used 3 AA batteries (or the NiCad battery pack).

4. In 2000, Alphasmart released the Alphasmart 3000. This one had a weird almost see-through green-blue color. It had a USB port, and now used a NiMh battery (or 3 AA batteries), which apparently solved issues people were having with the NiCad battery. It had improved memory- now being able to store about 200 kb of data or 100 pages. Using the new batteries greatly improved battery life, and users say you only have to change batteries about once a year.

5. In 2002, Alphasmart released the Alphasmart Dana. Now- compared to the Alphasmart 3000- this one positively sucks on battery power. You can only get about 25 hours off of the rechargeable battery pack, or off of 3 AA batteries. However- what the Dana lacks in battery longevity, it makes up for in other features. The Dana has a bigger LCD screen, which moved away from the bright LCD screen the previous ones had, and instead opted for backlighting. Some people do not like this feature. I say- if you have ever owned a Nintendo Gameboy- you’re used to it. You know you cannot use it in the dark. (Just grab one of those little reading lamps that clip on to the book so you can read in the dark, and that solves that problem.) The bigger LCD screen allows for up to 8 lines of text, compared to the usual four lines of text the original used. You can also change your font size and style.

The Dana has a regular and a wireless version. The regular version has 8 mb of memory, and the wireless has 16 mb of memory. The Dana ALSO has the Palm operating system. This means if you had a Palm Pilot (or other Palm device) you could synch your Dana with that device and have your information on both. So… appointments… business cards… nifty little software that you wanted your Dana to have-you could put it on your Dana (It is compatible with nearly every Palm OS application.). It also had an eReader, so you could read eBooks. People say you have to sync with your computer, but I have not, and my Dana still seems content, so I’ll leave it unsynced for a while.

BOTH versions have an SD card slot, which will take an SD card up to 1 Gb in size. In addition –both have infrared capabilities (which was all the rage back in 2002), so if you had a computer or laptop that could receive infrared signals- you could beam your writing to your computer. And the wireless capabilities meant that you could send emails or download new software to your Dana directly. And I would be remiss, if I didn’t mention that the Dana is made from dark-blue plastic, instead of that weird green that the Alphasmart thought was awesome for the 3000.

6. In 2004, Alphasmart released the Neo. It has about 400 kb of memory, or 200 pages. It’s LCD screen is about 50% larger than the 3000 model. It also had a new operating system that allowed applets and a newer version of AlphaWord (the word processing applet). It still uses the Infrared technology. It is also a darker green, but still opaque, as it was more based on the Dana model.

7. In 2009, Alphasmart released the Neo2. It has a whole bunch of quizzes and classroom tools (including software for text-to-speech). (Remember- it was started for students.) I think one of the notable features is that it has the ability to upload directly to Google Docs. It boasts 700+ hours of battery life (so probably safe to say a year or so of normal use), and has 512 kb of memory.

For me- the Dana was the best choice (and a choice I lucked into). Most every Alphasmart owner that I have encountered love the portability, the durability (it was made for kids, so dropping it will not kill it), and the minimum of distractions. See- with a laptop, or a tablet-you have games and internet access, and you end up talking to people or surfing the web MORE than you end up writing. Since most of the Alphasmarts do not have these capabilities-you are free to just write. I am waiting on an adaptor from Amazon, so I can start writing directly to my smartphone (and post entries easier), but with the capabilities of the Dana- I do not think I will need a computer much thoughout my whole writing experience. Yes I will need to edit, and of course formatting my novel will go easier on the computer, but that is an experience that I don’t have to deal with until I’m done with my rough draft.

Now- those who own the Neos or the 3000 love the battery life. I own the Dana, and the shorter battery life doesn’t bother me. I’ve had various laptops, and you just plug it in every now and then, like you do a laptop. I don’t plan on ever going online except for apps that backup my files, or maybe a spreadsheet that I can keep track of my word count. Thus most of the memory on my Dana is free for just writing. And as I plan to write more than 300 pages of stuff (maybe on the same novel, probably on different ones)- being able to see my rough drafts all in the same place is a good thing for me. Also I love the SD card slots. Being able to move my work around (even though finding SD cards less than 1 Gb in size is a bit of a challenge), makes me feel like the Dana can truly keep up with a laptop. The only thing is the Alphaword program (that all the Alphasmarts write in) has a different extension than your normal word processing programs. You will need a conversion program for your computer or laptop. These are easy to find, and they are usually small in size, so there’s nothing to worry about there.

So, when you are looking at Alphasmarts on Amazon or eBay, you need to ask yourself what is important to you. Do you need a lot of space, or can you survive on a smaller amount? Do you need a lot of battery longevity, or can you survive on charging your unit every few days? Do you need varied options when it comes to file transfer? How about direct printing capabilities? Also, you need to know that the older products do not have language support. So if English is not your first language, and you want to type on say… a German keyboard layout- you will actually need a German Dana or German Neo. And I hear those are hard to find. But hopefully this post will help you narrow down what you want.