alphasmart for cheep.

For those of you who would like to try out one of those Alphasmart thingies I’ve been praising to high heaven in the past, but aren’t willing or able to drop $150 on a new Neo, here’s an alternative:

This seller on eBay is blowing out used Alphasmart Danas from a school inventory.  The Dana is the same form factor as the Neo, but a little more sophisticated, as it runs the Palm OS.  It has the same functionality as the Neo, but a bigger screen with a backlight, SD card slots, and a touchscreen with a stylus.  I ordered one of those a few days ago, and received it yesterday.  It’s not just a plain Dana, but the wireless 16MB version with integrated 802.11b WiFi radio.  You can’t surf the web with one very well, but you can check email or wirelessly back up your stuff.  It arrived in very good shape, with just a few of the usual school-typical scuffs.  The keyboard is virtually new.

The best part: this vendor is selling the wireless Danas for less than $20.  Shipping is another $7 and change, so one of those units will run you $25 shipped.  They come with rechargeable battery packs that are probably flat by now, and AC adapters are not included, but you can either get an adapter and a new battery pack from Alphasmart for a grand total of $25, or just use the Dana with three off-the-shelf AA batteries.  They last for about 30 hours—not the 700 hours of the Neo, but you get a backlit screen and SD slots in exchange, and 30 hours still blows away any netbook or laptop. 

Just like the Neo, the Dana is a lightweight, distraction-free writing machine, and $19 for a wireless Dana is a steal.  Since I tested the waters already, I figured I should share the source, in case someone wants to give the whole Alphasmart concept a whirl on the cheap.  Hurry scurry, though…the sale ends in another 22 hours.


38 thoughts on “alphasmart for cheep.

  1. Justin Buist says:

    OK, I’ve got to try this thing out. Thanks for the heads up!

  2. falnfenix says:

    Thanks for the heads-up. I’ve got a writer-friend who would probably love one of these.

  3. Dogzard says:

    Just placed an order for one.

    Will be using it in class, now that I am back in college.

  4. Jay G. says:

    Darn you, Marko, you just cost me $27! 🙂

    Figured that since I’m doing more writing now, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pick one of these up for S&Gs…

  5. Marko Kloos says:

    Whoever buys one–you’ll also need a standard USB cable (Type A–>Type B) for transfer of text to the PC/Mac, if you don’t already have one in the house.

    • Jay G. says:

      You said it has an SD card slot, right? That should be fine for transferring files too. Can’t imagine that any text I’d create would be more than 4 gig… 😉

      I’m sure I have a USB cable somewhere. It’s finding it that’s the issue… 🙂

      • Marko Kloos says:

        The Danas were designed in 2002, so their SD card slots can’t read cards bigger than 1GB. I have a 64MB one in mine. Thankfully, text files are really small. In plain text, everything I’ve written in the last 10 years would fit onto that 64MB SSD with room to spare.

        (The Dana has two SD card slots, though, so you can go all the way to INSANE 2GB of storage….)

        • Jay G. says:

          I’ll have to see if I can find a couple 1 Gig cards kicking around.

          I find it fascinating that my first computer had 550 MEGAbytes of memory, and now I’m worried that I won’t be able to find a 1 GIGAbyte memory card – because they’re too obsolete!

        • Marko Kloos says:

          I think you may be able to use higher capacity cards, but the Dana will only read them as 1GB.

        • Windy Wilson says:

          Of course, the first home computer I ever laid paws on had a “Full 16 k of memory”.
          Yes, I’m an old fart.

  6. Bing says:

    At NEO direct you can get an adapter for $10.00 and a rechargeable battery for $15.00.

  7. Bing says:

    Just looked at e-bay. All have sold @ $18.39 plus $12.40 shipping. I clicked on the site listed in your info. Is this where you got yours and if so are you getting a little graft under the table? Hmmm… LOL By the way the prices from GEO Direct probably DO NOT include shipping.

  8. Don Gwinn says:

    Thanks, Marko. If it doesn’t help me increase my output, my novelist son can have it for that price.
    Though I should point out that mine cost about $33 shipped . . . maybe they’re on the East coast.

  9. El Capitan says:

    Shipping to Texas was $10.53, so as with all things, your mileage may vary!

  10. Victor, NY is where they are shipping from. (So I got dinged with 7.5% NYS sales tax.)

  11. BioBob says:

    You don’t think a netbook is more versatile than the alphasmart ?

    For 20-40 bux it doesn’t matter much that you are getting throw-away tech I suppose tho….

    • Marko Kloos says:

      Yes, a netbook is more versatile than an Alphie. The Alphasmart is the better writing machine, however. I don’t want versatility in a writing device, just long battery life, a great keyboard, and no distractions.

    • Tam says:

      Versatility is exactly what’s wrong with a Netbook as a dedicated writing machine…

      Also, a lot of the smaller ones are pretty sub-optimal in the keyboard department for serious writing. I have a 900-series Eee that I use to websurf on the go, and I do utilize it for cranking out the occasional 500-word column from the front porch, but I couldn’t imagine trying to write much more than 500 words at a lick on that tiny, non-tactile keyboard.

      • BioBob says:

        Mobility is overrated !

        It’s very interesting and amusing how attached we become to our particular keyboard preference. So many haven’t ever found one better than the IBM “clicky” model M types, lol, 30 year old tech.

        I will stick with my comfortable desktop for serious writing, tyvm, small squinty screens are not my favorites, and aging and those displays do not mesh well.

        • Tam says:


          So many haven’t ever found one better than the IBM “clicky” model M types, lol, 30 year old tech.

          Well, I know I haven’t.

          The reason they don’t make them anymore isn’t because the new tech is necessarily better, but it is cheaper and lighter.

          Similarly, I have yet to encounter a laptop keyboard to match that on the 13-year-old G3 “WallStreet”…

        • BioBob says:

          LOL….. I have to conclude that new tech is just about universally better. The operating systems, displays, storage devices, networks, input devices, etc are all much improved, cheaper, and more reliable than old ones. I would not go back to any of them [like $3,000 Ten MB hard drives] for any reason whatever.

          Just about the only exception is keyboards, and even there some would argue. You CAN get clicky tactile keyboard types with a minimum of searching and even retro IBM model M types if you are willing to pay extra or pay for antiques. Plug them into any USB connector and they just work.

          The biggest change has been the increase in the granularity of tech. One now has a myriad of choices when once we were so limited to few.

        • BioBob says:

          LOL @ this formating – if you reply to my comment it will display 1 char at a time.

        • Tam says:

          …and mind you, just because a keyboard is old doesn’t necessarily make it good. I give you the Mattel Aquarius, IBM PCjr, or Timex Sinclair 1000 as prime examples…

  12. Al Terego says:

    Unrelated to neo’s but not to writing, I need to tell you that your twitter to Ms. Bray caused me to find and read the blog entry you referenced. Would that every parent, teacher, “counselor”, and conflicted young person (not just students) could save, read, share, and take to heart the content, the message, and the brilliance of it.

    And then…and then maybe secondary schools in this country could begin to turn out some actually educated, enlightened, critical thinking, productive, and self-dependent adults instead of the jaded, bored, brainwashed, soul-less pegs that have been whittled to fit the holes in the minds of those whose life it isn’t but whose own frustrations beget the creation of more just like themselves.

    I too will be saving that brilliant post for my already brilliant 9 year old granddaughter. Thanks for inadvertently directing me to it.


  13. John B says:

    Well I didn’t get the Dana. I DID however, get a projector. I got a gadget in the basement that makes a monitor into a HDTV. Projector instead of LCD Plasma.

    I may never write anything again.

    This does however offer excellent opportunities for Facebook games…

  14. Matt G says:

    Dammit! Missed it.

  15. Ed Skinner says:

    The seller has reposted — a few more are left. Go to the original posting and, up at the top, it has a link to click. I grabbed one. Nine left.
    Thank you! (I’ll retire my AlphaSmart 3000.)

  16. So… it came. Just the unit, nothing else. No biggie, I have a stylus from a very old Palm unit, a 32MB SD card and the right flavor of USB cable.

    I wrote a few paragraphs, named the file and tried to send it to my computer. The Dana said it was sending it as a RTF file. I have no idea where it went, as no such file shows up (Win 7 pro).

    I presume I need some software of some kind on my PC?

    • Justin Buist says:

      I got mine in the mail not too long ago. I’m going to assume you’d need the Palm Hotsync app on the PC for it to sync up like across USB.

      ‘Course, if you don’t mind losing your formatting you can do what Marko’s suggested in the past: Just wire it up and let it go into USB keyboard mode. It’ll transfer a saved document to the PC as raw text that way.

      I just tried it and there’s nothing to configure or install. It just works.

      No AC adapter, but the battery pack is just 3 AA NiMH batteries so I chucked that in a drawer and shoved 3 batteries in there. Nice to know that it’s designed to run off 3.6V.

      • I couldn’t find where it would transfer the text, but I found that if I opened a word processing program to a blank document and then hit the send button on the Dana, it would dump the text of the file into that.

        I can live with that.

      • Marko Kloos says:

        If you feel adventurous, you can unwrap the battery pack, and rebuild it with off-the-shelf AA rechargeables. That’s what I’ll be doing this weekend.


        you can install Palm Desktop for the full sync options, you can save the text files to an SD and open them on the desktop via card reader, or you can do what Justin and I do and just use the “send” button while the Dana is wired to the desktop via USB. Open any text-accepting app, and dump the text. Easy, and works in any OS without extra software.

        • Justin Buist says:

          I wouldn’t bother rebuilding the battery pack unless you’re not invested anywhere else in NiMH and have no reason to bother with them.

          Granted, I’ve gone full Nerd on NiMH batteries lately. That’s why I went “squee!” a bit when I saw the pack and knew it would run fine off 3.6V of power. I’ve got a recent blog post up on the whole NiMH fascination of mine, with gear advise, if you want to check that out and maybe play Battery Dork like I am. Saves me money, but most importantly I never have to make a quick run to the store to grab a new pack for a kid’s toy or my own toys. That’s the big thing.

          Failing that, if you do rebuild the pack make sure you buy low self discharge (LSD) or “pre-charged” batteries. The two marketing labels mean the same thing. With such a low draw device like the Dana you’ll lose more power through self discharge than you will hammering away on it. Sanyo Eneloop is a good brand name, GP Recyko is another that I’m seeing good reviews of, but if it were me I’d save about 50-60% off those prices and start with these:

          If you poke around that site you’ll find better deals if you want more than 4 batteries at a time.

        • There was no battery pack in mine.

          No biggie. If I want to use NiMH batteries, I can get some.

    • Mopar says:

      We missed out on the first go-around, but snatched one when seller relisted some. He musta noticed the surge of Marko readers because this time around they were $5 more. No biggie, especially I live somewhat close to the seller the shipping was cheap. A few things to mention. There is a firmware update for the Dana that adds a ton of features. One nice one is a power switch lock option so it doesnt accidentally get turned on in a bag or case. If you’re lucky enough to have the wifi Dana, the update improves the wifi function a lot.
      Oh, and someone mentioned not getting a stylus. I thought I didnt get one either at first, but it stores in the side and looks kind of like a slide switch or something.

  17. Charles says:

    The seller has more listed.

    I bought some from the first batch. I love my Neo and couldn’t pass up the super deal on Danas for the kids. The amazing thing about the Dana is a larger screen and backlighting. I’d consider dropping the Neo for the Dana but for the Neo’s extraordinary battery life.

    Thanks for the catch Marko.

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