PDAs Buying guide

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PDAs Buying guide

One of the first decisions to make when purchasing a PDA is whether to go for a palm-size, streamlined easy-to-use PDA, or a more advanced, full featured and larger handheld model. A good rule of thumb is to think about how much you want it to mimic your computer’s functions, as opposed to functioning as your date book and notepad. If you lean towards the computer, you should look at the bigger, more advanced models. If you’ll use it primarily for maintaining addresses, an entry-level Palm model or even something smaller should do just fine.

What features should I be looking at when deciding on a PDA?

As their compact size and portability has probably drawn you to them in the first place, you’ll want to think about how much power/performance/comfort you’re willing to sacrifice to get the size down even smaller. The thinnest PDAs are practically credit card thin, but do little more than function as an electronic address book. While the bigger ones probably won’t fit in your pocket, they will in some cases come close to the performance of entry-level notebook computers. New technology is also allowing the more advanced models to get thinner and thinner, so size is becoming less of a factor. Other than size, consider these features:

Method for data entry: One of the fundamental considerations when purchasing a PDA. Consider how and how frequently you use PDA, and whether you need to enter data quickly or just easily. If you decide to go with a touch screen (offered on most PDAs, such as Palm), you should probably be willing to learn a modified alphabet, or be prepared to purchase handwriting recognition software or an attachable keyboard that will help.

Web/Email readiness: If you plan on surfing the web or sending or checking email from your PDA, you’ll need to find one with an internal or external add-on modem, as well as communication software.

Power/Batteries: If you’ll be using it a lot, look for one with rechargeable batteries—most have them. An AC adapter is a nice touch, although not all come with them or even accept them. Know your battery life, because dead batteries can mean lost data. Note: larger, more full featured PDA’s eat up batteries faster.

Operating System: To Palm or not to Palm, that is the question. Palm once dominated the handheld market, and buying a Palm or Palm OS device ensured a multitude of software and accessories options. The good news: competing systems, such as Microsoft ‘s Pocket PC, have just about completely caught up.

Memory: If you’re buying a more full featured PDA, compare memory amounts included. The more complex PDA applications require more memory to maintain good performance.

What’s the difference between a PDA, a PalmPilot, and a Handheld?

PDA terminology is often inconsistent, and hence the confusion. Generally speaking, a PDA (personal digital assistant) is the broad term for all these devices that store contact information and perform light and sometimes advanced computing. “Handheld” generally refers to the larger of these devices which usually use Microsoft’s Pocket PC operating system, while “palm-sized” generally refers to the more compact version that can actually fit in the palm of your hand. PalmPilot is a major name brand of palm-sized devices.

Everyone seems to have PalmPilots. Is that what I should get?

Palm is definitely a leader in handheld devices, and for good reason. They’re easy to use, have tons of available software, and are economically priced. That doesn’t, however, mean they’re your only option. Pocket PC models have largely caught up in available software, and are also coming in more streamlined and portable versions, making them a great option also. To help you decide, start by thinking about the tasks you will perform on it, as well as your preferred method of data entry. For more help, see the question in this FAQ page about what features to look for.

Which is better—touch screens with handwriting recognition or keyboards?

The way you enter data is one of the fundamental considerations when purchasing a PDA, and there are pros and cons to each method. Consider how and how frequently you use PDA, and whether you need to enter data quickly or just easily. If you decide to go with a touch screen (offered on most PDAs, such as Palm), you need to be willing to learn a modified alphabet, or be prepared to purchase handwriting recognition software that might help, but also might eat up a lot of your PDA’s memory. Once you get the hang of using a stylus you’ll probably find it fast and easy, but if you end up relying on the on-screen keyboard, then expect to move slowly. If you decide a real keyboard is more for you, you’ll end up looking at bigger models that won’t fit into your shirt pocket. If that’s okay and you really feel more comfortable with a keyboard, then you’ll probably end up with a system that offers even more power and expandability.

Can I surf the Internet with my handheld?

Yes, most handhelds have the ability to do this if three necessary components are present: a modem, an ISP (Internet service provider), and proper software. Your handheld may come with an internal modem, or you may need to buy an external one. If you have all the necessary components, read any instructions in your PDA’s user guide and then contact your ISP, because setting up a PDA Internet account can be a little more tricky than a regular one.

What is HotSync/synchronization?

Synchronization is the process of exchanging data between your handheld and your PC or Mac computer. HotSync is a synonym for synchronization used by manufacturer Palm. Synchronization allows you to download into your PDA emails, documents, web materials and other useful information from your computer, and you can also transfer data, such as new contacts, notes or appoints, from your PDA to your computer. Pay attention to how your PDA will synchronize. Some use standard parallel ports, while others use USB for faster downloads or even infrared ports that require no hookups. Many PDAs come with docking cradles that both synchronize with the computer and recharge the PDA’s batteries.

How long do PDA batteries last?

Battery life varies greatly, depending on the individual unit and the frequency and type of usage. Most PDAs use rechargeable batteries, and lithium-ion rechargeables tend to last longest. Many PDAs also come with an AC adapter to conserve and sometime recharge batteries during use. Some PDAs only use regular AA or AAA batteries, so keep that in mind if you plan to use your device a lot and want to keep it economical. Whether you’re cost-conscience or not, it’s important to know your PDAs battery life, because dead batteries can cause a complete loss of information.

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