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The Alphasmart Dana PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mohd Nazley Mohd Fadhley   
Mar 14, 2003 at 04:27 PM
I bought another toy .... errr ... tool. I just got a Psion Netbook ... for my wife.

OK .... this is not the latest gadget in the market, in fact it is a dinosaur of prehistoric times if we were talking in terms of "computer years". The following is not intended to be a full review but more of relating my thoughts and impressions of the Psion Netbook.

I know ... I know ... it's not a Palm, I would say its not a PDA even, but since this dinosaur is replacing a Palm OS device, I'll share my thoughts with you lot.

My wife's TRGpro (used to be mine *grin*) is finally dying, the digitizer is acting up, making Grafitti annoying, you know, writing a "c" becomes a "g" or sometimes an "x". Hence, both of us decided to get a repalcement for the ageing TRGpro. Initially, we were set to get the Sony Clie SJ30, then when news broke out of the SJ33, we decided to wait for this new model. Just when Sony started a pre-order campaign of the SJ33 here in KL, I stumbled across the Psion Netbook offer. The decision then, had to be either the Clié SJ33 or the Netbook. Choosing between the two, she picked the Netbook. I asked her why she chose a "relic" instead of a brand new model. She said her decision was based on her needs, and in her list of needs, the built in keyboard and huge colour screen is a priority. And with an "Office Suite" integrated in the Epoc OS, it's a bonus. If I could just recall her exact words ... "Why choose a 320 x 320-3 inch display if you could get a 640 x 480-7 inch screen, I don't really mind the size."... or something like that.

I'm quite proud of her reply actually, since that's what I been preaching to friends who're getting new PDAs. "Get one based on your needs not because the other Joe has one". ....

Ooohhh, sorry to bore you, I'll continue .....


1. Overall Design

The Psion Netbook is a notebook look-alike with its "clam shell" design. A black leather wrap gives the Netbook the elegant look. It sports a compact 84 key QWERTY keyboard with no function keys (the F1-F12 keys) and some less used keys were left out, for example the key for the bracket "[" and "{".

At roughly one kilogramme in weight (1150 gm without external memory cards), it isn't very heavy to tot along.

2. Display

Personally, I think, the netbook would be a good companion to a mobile professional, who doesn't really need the "power" of a full-fledged Notebook. The Netbook's 7 inch 640 x 480 VGA display gives a pleasant working environment. Writing on the move, do some number crunching on a spreadsheet and email communication is built into the Netbook, to be exploited. Current PDAs, like the Sony Clie's and the Palm Tungsten T can accomplish these tasks as well, and in some ways better, but the screen size is rather limiting.

Even though the STN LCD screen only gives out 256 colours, the display is brilliant. The only problem is, since it has similar screen as the Palm IIIc, working in direct sunlight is almost impossible.

3. Expansion Slots

I, myself use a HandEra (also, itself a fossil) and am very grateful of its 2 expansion slots. I can use the SD/MMC slot for memory expansion and the other for my Compact Flash modem. The Netbook is in a was similar to the HandEra because it too has twin expansion slots, one for Compact Flash Cards (type I and II), the other is for PCMCIA cards, also for both type I and II. I use a similar setup as well, memory expansion on the CF slot and a modem in the PCMCIA card slot. Very convenient indeed.

4. Power Supply

The Netbook is powered by an internal Li-Ion battery, with a 3V button CR3032 as backup. The Li-Ion battery is user replaceable. It slides out easily.

Generally, the battery would give enough "juice" to power the Netbook for 8 to 9 hours continuously. However, accessing fiies on external memory, like on the CF card will drain the power faster. I tested this claim and I got the 8 hour per charge usage.

Browsing the internet via the PCMCIA modem was interrupted after 3½ hours when a window popped up asking me to recharge the battery.

Not bad at all, if you ask me.

5. "The Brain"

In the literature accompanying the Netbook, it is said to sport a 191MHz Strong Arm processor. Very much like the first generation Pocket PC. However, as a regular user, it does not mean much to me. What I can relate to is that, the speed of which the Netbook access files and crunch numbers is fast enough for me.

The memory is however, important. The netbook comes with a 32MB RAM without any ROM. The Operating System is stored in RAM and occupies 14MB of memory, leaving the balance 18MB for other applications and data files.

There is a drawback here. Since the OS it in RAM, it is important not to drain out both the Li-Ion battery and the 3V button battery. Otherwise, everything in the RAM, OS and all will be wiped out. I check the backup battery almost everyday to avoid such catastrophe.

Still on RAM, the 18MB available for use, in my opinion, is sufficient. Reason being, one, EPOC softwares normally have a small footprint, like PalmOS applications. Two, the EPOC OS allows you to install softwares into a CF and runs directly from it. This is one point, I like. The trick is to have a large capacity CF, 128MB or 256MB, install third party softwares on the flash card and leave the RAM free. Data files could be stored on external memory as well. In fact I strongly recommend so, you know, just in case the RAM is wiped-out, your data is safe on the CF.

Built-in Applications

1. PIM or Organizer

Just like a Palm, the Netbook comes with the 4 basic PIM (Personal Information Manager) tools; Agenda, Contacts, Jotter and Sketch. The Agenda application handles both daily events and to dos, while Contacts is the equivalent to Palm's Address book. Jotter is like a memopad and Sketch gives a blank piece of electronic paper to scribble on a-la Bug-me!

What I like about the built-in PIM applications is their integration with Office applications. For instance, you could attach a sketch in an event and attach a worksheet as a note to the meeting.

2. Office Suite

There are the three basic applications in the office suite, Word (wordprocessor), Sheet (Spreadsheet) and Data (Database) … Huh.. like I should explain this to you lot. Just like PocketPC, all this is part of the OS, although I don’t think there is a database program that comes built-in with a PPC.

3. Communication Suite

Ah-ha!... this one is my favourite. The netbook comes with one, that’s right, one application to handle your Email, SMS and Fax. Getting connected via landline via a PCMCIA Fax/Modem you have a very indispensible tool in your hand.

Checking email need some getting use to since the application will open your mailbox at the server level. To read the mails you need to copy the contents into the application inbox. By copying the mails into inbox, the original mail is left untouched in the server. If you chose to "move" the contents to the inbox then the mails will be deleted from the server.

Faxing is a breeze., just type the recipients fax number and send. The receiving part I have not tested yet. By reading the user manual, it seems like you need to wait for the fax call to ring then only activate the software to receive the incoming fax ... gotta find some time to test this out.

SMS management using this application is workable but a little slow compared to FunSMS and Hezarts mMail plus on a Palm device.

The initial setup is not complicated. You might need to do a little reading on it but it is not difficult at all.

Browsing the Web is a lot better than the confined screen of a PDA screen (I have been doing this on my HandEra all this while) but of course, the browser is not as robust. I surfed using Opera 5.14 for the Symbian Platform. In short I am satisfied with what it can do. Yahoo mail works, I can open all my favorite sites ... that's enough to make me smile.

Oh ... I almost forgot, you know what ... This thing does Wi-Fi as well. It has built in support for Lucent Orinocco wireless PCMCIA cards and the ones from Cisco. I dont have a supportered wireless card but I have seen it work at Starbucks Amcorp Mall, connected on the TimeZone Broadband. Cool isn't it? A friend, who also got the Netbook and the Cisco wireless card managed to set up a "hotspot" at home.


This is a workhorse ...

Forget how old the technology is on this thing. It really helps you get things done. The only drawback I can mention about the Psion Netbook is Customer Support ... basically non existant locally. You can try getting help from their website, I have not done so yet but am quite skeptical about their response time.

Hey... at the price I got this unit for ... I'm not complaining.

Until I get a new toy to tinker with and babble about ... Ta-ta.

Tapping Off

Mohd Nazley Fadhley
Last Updated ( Oct 30, 2005 at 09:22 AM )