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Alphasmart Dana Wireless PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mohd Nazley Mohd Fadhley   
Dec 22, 2003 at 05:34 PM
About a year ago, Alphasmart released a PalmOS notebook alternative ... The Alphasmart Dana. I was lucky enough to have a hands-on review of "Originial" Dana. Just after its one year anniversary, Alphasmart introduced an upgrade to the Dana, The Dana Wireless.

And again through Chet (a Malaysian representative in Alphasmart online community) , I was given the opportunity to "test drive" Alphasmart's new device.

From the outside, the Dana Wireless is no different from the original Dana. The upgrades, if I could say that, lies inside the plastic casing of the device. Here is a short list of new specifications and improvement on the Dana Wireless

  • RAM has been increased from 8 MB to 16 MB
  • Flash ROM is now 8 MB, previously 4 MB
  • SDIO support on both SD card slots.
  • Built in wireless networking (802.11b) i.e. WiFi
You can get the DanaWireless datasheet here.

Wireless connectivity

As the name suggests, the new Alphasmart Dana place strong emphasis on the term Wireless connectivity. By positioning the Dana Wireless (from now on I'll just use DW for short) as a notebook alternative, it is important that the DW is capable of handling "tasks" that a notebook could do. Now, with most new notebook computers, comes with wi-fi connectivity built into them, I think it is just the next logical move for Alphasmart to introduce the DW. I personally don't think this is a "copycat" matter, but wi-fi has become an industry standard for wireless connectivity that ignoring this technology would be a foolish thing to do.


Back to the unit itself .....

One enhancement included in the Dana Wireless is that the two SD slots on the DW are now SDIO compliant. SD add--on devices like the bluetooth SD Card, works on these two SD slots.

Since the Dana Wireless focuses on wireless connectivity, I decided to give Bluetooth a try.. A friend, Wong Choy Leng, let me use her Bluetooth SD card for testing purposes.

Bluetooth connectivity worked very well with the DW paired with my Tungsten T3, Ericsson R520m mobile phone and Ericsson HBH-30 Bluetooth headset. The only problem I got while testing Bluetooth SD card compatibility with the DW was pairing the DW with my R520m mobile phone. (for the uninitiated, "pairing" the devices means setting up the two bluetooth devices to detect each others' presence and set them up for data communication)

Pairing process initiated by the DW always failed but when I tried it the other way around, it managed to pair the two devices and the DW accepts my Tungsten T3 as a "trusted device". I then paired the DW with my Ericsson R520m mobile phone.

Once all the Bluetooth devices were paired, I tested the SMS application and sent a few SMSes to friends via bluetooth connection with my mobile phone ... success!! And this requires very little configuration on both the DW and the Ericsson R520m. I got hooked sending and replying SMS messages that I wasted that whole evening "SMS chatting" with friends. It sure beats graffiti-ing on the small graffiti area or tapping on the phone's keypad.

*Setting up bluetooth connectivity on the Dana Wireless*

*sending SMS via Bluetooth connection*

The very next morning my son and I played Tic-Tac-Toe using BlueBoard application that came with the BT SD card. Great Fun!

A little later I tried initiating a phone call from the DW. Again, this works flawlessly. I even had my Ericsson HBH-30 headset to pick-up the call.

Now that Bluetooth Wireless connectivity works like a charm, my next wireless connectivity was to explore is the Dana Wi-Fi functions. Well, here goes .....

Wi-Fi Infrastructure Mode

This time around, I had some help from our local PalmX resident expert on Wi-Fi, Dr. Azmi Mohd Tamil, to help me set up a temporary wireless network at my home. He even loaned me an Access Point to help me test how the DW performed in wireless "Infrastructure" mode.

Once the wireless networking is set up, it is just a matter of switching on the Dana Wireless and launch DanaWeb. DanaWeb automatically establish a connection to the network and I was able to surf the internet. The connection speed was slow since my desktop PC connects to the internet on a 56K dial-up only. Webpages loads so slowly on the DW. It could be the slow internet connection coupled with the "not very fast" Dragonball processor :-P

My next option to test internet connection speed is to test it at a local HotSpot. I assumed the speed on a high speed wireless connection could perform better. My assumption stays as assumptions since I was unable to connect to a HotSpot nearby my home.

Initially, upon launching DanaWeb, there is a small window indicating the wi-fi service login page requires javascript enabled. I enabled javascript from the preference menu and the login page slowly loads. After filling in the username and password, I eagerly tapped the submit button ..... alas, nothing happened! I noticed there were a change in the URL supposedly logging me into the network but the screen did not change. I tried it a few times and it fails yet again. I relayed my problem to Chet, who tested the Dana Wireless at another location, and she fail to logged into the network as well. Chet even, tried connecting to a different HotSpot service provider a few days before and she said the service login page did not load completely. There were the login name and password boxes to be filled in but there were no submit button.

Well, from my personal experience, failure to login into the HotSpot network could be due to a couple of reasons.

One, the login requires a secured way for the subscriber to log into the network but DanaWeb has no support for the security protocol.. I presume the Hotspot provider requires a browser that supports SSL2 (Secure Socket Layer 2) for the login process to take place. Well, this is my best guess based on experience ...

Two, in the case the "submit" button did not appear, usually it is the inability of the browser to handle certain "scripts". Again, here I am making a guess. My guess is that DanaWeb is unable to handle the embedded scripts or commands in the login webpage. Or the built-in web browser doesn't support pop-ups, which is required by the respective ISPs to log-in.

My conclusion here is that DW needs to improve its ability to handle security protocols and the various scripts used in webpages.

Wi-Fi Ad Hoc (peer to peer)

My next test was a peer-to-peer or Ad-Hoc wireless connection between the DW and my wife's notebook. Her notebook has a built in USB wireless adapter. Setting up the ad-hoc connection was quite easy. I just ran the Windows XP wizard to create a peer-to-peer network and the notebook immediately picks up the DW wireless signal. I went to the networking preference and set up a new profile for the peer-to-peer connection. Once set, the connection between the DW and the notebook was established.

Below is a graphical guide to set up the peer-to-peer connection on the Dana Wireless:-

*Select the LAN profile to use*

*Configure the connection*

*set up the connection as a peer-to-peer*

*getting ready to make a wireless connection*

*connecting to the DHCP server ... that's the notebook*

*connected established*

I managed to surf the internet using DanaWeb, with the notebook being the gateway, connected to the internet using a dial-up line via Internet Connection Sharing (ICS). Like I mentioned earlier when I tested wireless infrastructure mode, surfing this way is so slow ....

Now, that ad-hoc connection and internet connectivity works, I decided to do another test to the DW relating to wireless networking. This time around using a freeware application called SMBmate written by Murad Kakabayev. This application enables a PalmOS device connected to network to browse the network folders as well as transfer files between the devices.

While the ad-hoc connection between the DW and notebook is active, I launched SMBmate and I was excited to be able to "surf" my wife's notebook hard drive. I took a few screen shots of the DW and was able to transfer the jpeg files from the DW's SD card to the notebook.

SMBmate is a third party freeware application and integrates well with DW's Wi-Fi environment. I think Alphasmart could have written a similar program and include this as a built-in application. This would truly make the DW a Wi-Fi solution. Since Alphasmart is focusing the use of the DW in the education sector, imagine students submitting assignment direct to the school server, or downloading reading materials from the server.

*this is a listing of files on my wife's notebook desktop being read by SMBmate*

To read more on ad-hoc connectivity and SMBmate, please go to:-

Wi-Fi Hotsync.

One last thing I would like to mention here is wireless Hotsync.

Setting up wireless HotSync is not straight forward as I initially thought, in fact I think unless you really read the user manual and accompanying documentation, you would not know how to configure the DW for wireless hotsync. There is no "wireless hotsync" option in the HotSync screen. From the user manual, I need to configure the DW to do a network hotsync and initiate the HotSync process as if it is a Modem HotSync. Only then can I choose "LAN" as a wireless HotSync option.

Other than the slight confusion in the setup, Wi-Fi HotSync works great. I could do a HotSync anywhere in my home.

More on Wi-Fi HotSync here.

Mobile Office.

Documents to Go 6 comes bundled with the DW, the best office suite for PalmOS devices, in my opinion. Word to Go is good but I find Alphaword "snappier". Word to Go and Sheet to Go is a little slow in openning files and saving files to SD card but being able to save word documents and spreadsheet in native Microsoft Office format is a plus.

My guess is that Documents to Go was ''designed" with PalmOS 5 in mind so running it on an OS4 Dana makes Docs to Go a little sluggish.

Doing spreadsheets on a wide screen DW is great. and being able to save the worksheets on an SD/MMC card makes transfer of files from one device to the other easier. I tried copying a Microsoft Excel file from my office onto an SD card, using a card reader, in an effort to finish the work at home. The DW wide screen is great to work with and I got my work done with ease. The next thing to do was to plug the SD card back at the office and have the report printed.

I could have printed the report directly from the DW but both my home and office printer uses parallel port while the DW only supports USB printer connection.

Wish List

Being a great device, I think the Dana Wireless should have come with better specifications. I am no engineer but it would have been nice to have the following in the DW :-

  • Colour display - I would have traded the 20 hour battery life to a 10 hour DW with colour screen. Of all the PalmOS devices I know, only the Dana and the Zire21 comes with a monochrome screen.
  • Better processor - at least at par with the Zire21, 126MHz OMAP processors. Docs to Go would perform better with a faster processor
  • OS5 instead of OS4 - With a better processor, Alphasmart could use a newer OS on the DW.
  • Bluetooth - Having tested Bluetooth connectivity, I'd love to see the DW comes with a built-in Bluetooth as well.
Well, perhaps when Alphasmart would have these in their next Dana.

Tapping off
Mohd Nazley Fadhley
Last Updated ( Oct 30, 2005 at 02:27 AM )