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PDA Shopping Guide
PDA stands for Personal Digital Assistant. It is a palm-size computer you can
bring anywhere. In the begining they are mostly used for PIM (person information manager) applications and
data - address books, calendars, notes and tasks. Though these are still one of
the main use of PDA, now they can do much more and cost less. With proper
configuration and software, you can use it as a cell phone, a camera, a mp3
player, a remote control, a game pad ... There are worlds of features. Just
figure out what you want and there will be a PDA right for you.
There are 3 breeds of PDAs according to the Operating Systems they use:
Palm OS PDAs: Made by Palm, Sony and Handspring, famous for their
simpilicity, speed and easy customization using 3rd party softwares.
Pocket PCs: Made by many companies, including HP, Toshiba, Dell, Viewsonic,
Casio, Symbol. Comes with Pocket version of IE, Word, Excel, Media Player,
Outlook, MSN messenger, connection manager and more and even a WinXP-like
Linux or other OS PDAs: Made by Sharp and some small companies, not so
popular partly because of the lack of accessories and 3rd party softwares that
are available for them.
Palm OS or Pocket PC?
Cost: generally speaking, Palm OS PDAs are cheaper. They usually have
less CPU power and less RAM but it doesn't mean they are slower -- the OS they
use simply require less. Entry-level Palm Zire starts from only $99. But
higher models like the Palm Tungsten C or the Sony Clie NX80V can also be quite
Pocket PCs use resource-demanding Windows OS and usually start at $200+. But
mostly they are equipped with nice color displays, and audio playback and
PIM functions: Palm OS PDAs win this one, at least for now. It takes
fewer clicks to get the contacts, to-do list or other information you want in
Palm OS PDAs. But if you are just not comfortable without Windows, Pocket PC can
offer a more familiar environment.
Document processing: Pocket PCs come with integrated Microsoft Word
and Excel. With a simple copy and paste, you can read/write your existing
desktop files on your PDAs. But don't expect the PDA version of Word and Excel
is as good as the desktop version, you may even lose your formating and font
Almost all non-entry level Palm OS PDAs come with a software bundle called
"Documents to go". It actually offers more advance features and
compatible with MS office documents.
Input Methods: Both have handwriting recognition and on-screen
Palm OS PDAs come with Graffiti handwriting recognition. You can enter
characters using the stylus but some characters must be written in a strange way
and different from normal handwriting. It takes some learn to use it. PDAs with
Palm OS 5.2 or later version can also use the Graffiti 2, which recognizes the
normal style handwriting. Sony Clie NX73V and NX80V also has Decuma. Decuma is a natural language input system that
recognizes handwriting words and even sentences.
Pocket PCs has 3 handwriting recognition tools: one is similar to Graffiti (great for long time Palm users who switch to Pocket PC),
another similar to Graffiti 2, and a Transcriber that allows you to write in
cursive/script but not so accuate.
Music, Mp3, Camera: For Music/Mp3, all Pocket PC can play music file
with included Windows Media Player, but most Palm OS PDAs can't do that. Only
selected pretty expensive Sony Clie and Palm Tungsten can also work as an Mp3
If you like a cool built-in digital camera, you have to get a Palm OS PDA.
But you can also buy 3rd party add-on camera for your Pocket PC if you like.
Battery Life: On average, Palm OS PDAs have significantly longer
battery life because of the less demanding OS, less demanding applications and
sometimes, less features. But for some expensive and more advanced Palm OS PDAs
with bright color display and multimedia capabilities, the gap is getting
Size and Weight: Generally Pocket PC are larger and heavier. But also,
on more expensive models, the gap is getting smaller.
Connectivity: Pocket PCs with CF slots can accept WiFi and Ethernet CF
cards, but Palm OS PDAs can't because they don't have the CF slots (with the
exception of select Sony Clie that have CF slots that use Sony's expensive WiFi
card). But some higher Palm OS PDAs like Palm Tungsten C have built-in WiFi.
Palm OS 4 and higher PDAs can use Bluetooth card through SD slots to get
Bluetooth connectivity. But both Pocket PC and Palm OS PDAs have models with
Memory Cards: Palm usually use SD card and MMC cards, Handspring
Visors use Springboards, Sony Clies use Memory Stick (pro) and select models use
Pocket PCs mainly use CF cards, Pocket PC 2002 PDAs also accept SD and MMC
cards, selected iPAQ accept PC Card memory and hard drive through PC Card
expansion, some also accept IBM MicroDrive/CF II cards.
Palm OS PDAs: Cheaper, simple to use, fast, light weight, longer battery
life, lots of 3rd party software and accessories to choose.
Pocket PCs: Come with lots of familiar Microsoft applications and can do many
tasks out of box without any upgrades. Can play music by default, built-in
So at least for now, if you just want a cheaper model to handle your contacts
and documents, try Palm OS PDAs. But the more multimedia works you desire,
the better the Pocket PC stands. So for more expensive models, take a look at
both types of PDAs and choose the one that better fits your needs.
Things to considering when buying a PDA
Size, weight, etc. Hold it before you buy!
Most people think the smaller, the better. It is true if you just consider
the portability. But if you are a big guy, you might get frustrated with the
tiny keys or the super slim stylus on the ultra compact PDAs. Also, for smaller
person, bigger PDAs can cause trouble too -- it can be too wide to fit in hands,
or some controls are just too far to reach with only one hand. So if possible,
don't just buy a good-looking device, go to the stores and test if you are
comfortable with it. After all, PDA is for your convenience. It would be useless
if you need to take pains to work with it.
Screen: Just remember, don't choose the bright big color screen just
because you like it. They can drain your battery in 2 hours. For simple PIM
work, a darker, smaller, less colorful or even mono screen could work and a set
of battery can last you upto several months!
- Size, Resolution - The greater, the better image quality. 320x480 is
already more than good.
- Color, brightness, backlight - choose a unit with backlight if you usually
- Other: Can you write on the whole screen or it is limited in a small area?
Can you swtich between landscape and portrait mode?
Battery: Most PDAs come with rechargeable batteries and many also work with regular alkalines.
The majority use one or two among these three: Nickel Cadmium (NiCad), Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) and Lithium-ion (Li-ion or LiOn). The Nickel
are cheaper but they will run out fast if you don't use the unit for a while.
Proprietary rechargeable batteries don't need to be replaced and should last
the lifetime of the PDA. Some are user replaceable (note: only some) but extras
are expensive and it is hard to find replaceables when you can't find a power
outlet to recharge it (for example, when you are camping)
Some PDA can work during charging, others can't.
Connecting to Web: You certainly would like to use your PDA to browse
the internet or at least read e-mail. But unlike some people think, PDAs don't
connect with web out of box. And you can't just access the Internet anywhere
even if you have WiFi. Some come with built-in connectivity, other have them as
optional accessories. For best connectivity, try PDA Phones which are PDA and
Cell phone all-in-one. It has become very popular lately. Here is some
connectivity options, choose the one best for you and get a PDA with it.
- Modem - Connect via phone line. Some PDA have a PC card or CF slot that
you can plug a add-on modem to, others use proprietary snap-on modems that attach to the back or bottom of the device.
or better yet, you can use your cell phone as modem for your PDA if 1) both
have bluetooth or 2)your cell phone has the modem feature.
- WiFi - 802.11b, 11Mbps max speed. 80211hotspots.com
has a listing of many sites around the US where you can access public
wireless networks, including Starbucks, McDonalds, some even free. Or if you
have Wireless router/accesspoint at home, you can get WiFi at home for free.
- BlueTooth - It is a wireless Personal Area Networking (PAN) technology that allows devices
with this feature connect to each other using a certain radio frequency in a range of 33 feet (10m,
or more with stronger signal). It won't interfere with WiFi network. It is
pretty slow comparing with WiFi, but it is fast enough to transfer data from
- IR: PDAs with IR ports can connect with web through external modem or
other networking device with IR ports.
Sync with PC: All PDAs can sync with your PC and interchange data.
Some via the included Cradle, others just use a cable. But if you have a
favorite PIM application, find a PDA with sync program that supports it. PDA can
also sync with PC via web connection, but that means you have to leave your PC
on, which is not good for security reasons.
Expansion slots: Most PDAs have expansion that accepts storage/memory
cards and IO cards such as modem and networking cards. Pick a PDA with the
expansion you want. See the connectivity and memory card section of the above
Palm OS PDA/Pocket PC comparison for more information.
Accessories, software: Check both the included software and
accessories and available otional ones. Some come with a Cradle to sync and
recharge, protective screen or carrying case are necessary for large screen
smaller models. Buy a model with keyboard or have add-on keyboard available if
you have lots of input work to do.
Memory, CPU: May not be as important as you thought. But if you need
to run some big programs or game on your PDA, invest on a fast CPU and larger
- HP iPAQ 1935 Pocket PC: Touch-sensitive display, Dazzling
transflective TFT color display w/ LED backlight, Include mobile versions of
Microsoft Outlook, Word, and Excel, fun games, music and video.
400MHz Axim X3 w/ Integrated 802.11b: 3.5" color TFT display,
64MB SDRAM and 64MB ROM, Mobile Pocket PC 2003 pre-installed, Integrated
Secure Digital / SDIO Now! / MMC card slot.
Clie PEG-TJ35 Handheld: integrated MP3 audio player, view native
Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and PDF documents, Decuma handwriting
- T-Mobile Color Sidekick Phone (T-Mobile):
PDA phone. 11 ine large color screen
with backlight, keyboard, built-in connectivity with service.
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