PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), commonly referred to as handhelds, are portable electronic devices that come in variety of sizes with wide ranging productivity and functional capabilities. The simplest devices are used to organize appointments, take notes and look up information from the address book. The sophisticated and advanced units serve as portable media players (PMP), which are capable of displaying video content, playing music, and viewing photos. Recently, companies have started marketing handhelds as communication devices for accessing the Internet via wired or wireless networks. Ultimately the key to buying a PDA lies in recognizing your needs for personal mobile computing.
The essential function of a PDA is its ability to handle personal information, including calendar entries, address book, and to do lists. Nearly all PDAs will synchronize with your PC to update your personal information, applications and data, as well as back up important information to your PC. In addition, handhelds feature common utility features such as clocks, calendars, and calculators. More advanced handhelds can run applications to manage your expenses, browse the Internet, read PDF documents and download E-books.
This buying guide will help you understand how useful PDAs are to everyday life. First and foremost, assess your needs before making a purchase. Are you looking for a device to organize contacts and activities? To check your email and surf the Internet? In general, the higher the price of the PDA, the more features it will offer.
Things to Consider
* '''Size, weight, and form factor --''' Since you will be carrying the PDA around with you, make sure it is portable, light and designed for ease of use, preferably with the use of one hand.
* '''Operating system (OS)''' -- The OS is an important factor in terms of applications, upgrades, and utility support.
* '''Memory storage for applications and data''' -- How much memory you need is a function of the OS, the applications you want to run, and the size and type of data you intend to store on the device. An easy way to add memory to improve productivity and media entertainment capabilities is through expansion cards. Palm OS devices come with a minimum of 2MB RAM while 8MB is the norm. The most common needs require about 16 MB of RAM. On the other hand, Windows CE devices the minimum is 6MB RAM, while 32MB is the norm.
* '''Expansion --''' The more expansion capabilities your PDA has, the more versatile it is.
** You can access removable media through different types of slots i.e., MultiMedia Cards, Secure Digital, and CompactFlash.
** Bluetooth connectivity allows your PDA to 'talk' to other devices like keyboards, headphones, etc.
** The availability of accessories that improve function and performance.
* '''Communications ports''' -- PDAs are designed to communicate with other devices, such as PCs, other PDAs, printers, and GPS devices, via serial and USB ports, cables, infrared, and wireless services.
* '''Docking cradle -- '''The cradle serves as a battery charger as well a port for synchronization. Look for a light travel charger to take with you on trips rather than the bulky docking cradle.
* '''Display '''
** '''Monochrome or color -- '''Color TFT touchscreen displays enhance productivity.
** '''Resolution -- '''The higher the better. A 320 x 480 resolution is considered to be very good.
** '''Backlighting and contrast adjustments -- '''Look for devices that have display settings that are easy to adjust.
** '''Audio/Video -- '''Audio features are particularly important if you plan to use your handheld as a portable media entertainment player.
** '''Speakers and Headset jack-- '''Stereo speakers and a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack.
** '''Music formats -- '''Choose the device that supports the digital rights management system that you subscribe to, such as Napster, Rhapsody, iTunes, etc.
* '''Data input '''
** Character recognition is good only for short notes. Also handwriting recognition software is still a far cry from being perfect. Sample it before you invest time and productivity in a new device.
** If you plan on writing long memos your best bet is a keyboard accessory preferably with Bluetooth connectivity. ThinkOutside produces Bluetooth enabled stowaway for large variety of PDAs and cell phone models.
** Infrared beaming is great for transferring small-sized data between handhelds; for larger files Bluetooth is exceedingly better.
** '''Backup -- '''Check to ensure that you won't lose data and applications if the device runs out of battery power.
** '''Battery type -- '''Lithium polymer is the longest lasting type, followed by lithium ion, nickel hydride, and nickel cadmium.
** '''Recharging -- '''A short recharging time is ideal.
* '''Wi-Fi option''' -- If being connected to the Internet is important to you while you are mobile then buy a handheld that either has built-in Wi-Fi or can accommodate a Wi-Fi adaptor.
** Wi-Fi offers high speed Internet access allowing you to send large files via e-mail and browse the Internet for information faster.
** Wi-Fi will let you access the Internet at airport or cafe hotspots, such as Starbucks.
* '''Digital camera accessory'''
** The quality camera has a 1.3 MP unit capable of taking 24 bit color images at up to 1280X1024 pixels. FlyCam makes a highly regarded camera.
* '''GPS functionality'''
** Extremely useful for the business traveler or road warrior who has to navigate different cities for sales trips. it is well worth the additional investment.
* '''Warranties --''' If you travel a lot, look for extended coverage and consider getting insurance against screen damage.
Which PDA Is Right For You
Don't overspend; only buy the technology that you really need or will need in the future.
* Designed for people who simply want a digital planner to keep track of appointments, handy access to contacts, and the occasional journal entry.
* The available memory is minimal, ranging from 8 MB-32 MB, and the processor speed is fairly low, from 126 MHz-300MHz.
* Limited options for third-party software applications.
* Expect to spend from $75-$150.
'''Suggestion:''' The new Palm Z22 handheld, which retails for about $99.
* Expect more features with faster processors and more memory. The processor speed (416 MHz-624 MHz) will make multitasking easier.
* 64 MB of memory is standard on models with Integrated CompactFlash and SDIO Expansion slots.
* Integrated Bluetooth Wireless Technology is also standard, however, integrated 802.11b Wireless Technology for connecting to wireless networks in airports, hotels, and coffee shops costs extra.
* A full range of compatible peripheral and third-party devices are available.
* Such models are available for $250+.
'''Suggestion''': The Dell Axim X51 starts at $299, with upgrades pushing the price to $500.
Wireless Road warrior
* Perfect for people who are constantly working on the go and who need speed (624 MHz), memory (32 MB with expansion slot), and even extra rechargeable batteries.
* Upgrade to GSM/GPRS/EDGE and Bluetooth wireless technology so you stay connected in and out of the office. Separate GSM/GPRS wireless service plan required.
* Integrated GPS receiver coupled with separately purchased navigation application can give you driving directions at your fingertips to get you anywhere you need to go.
* Prices start at $549.
* Sleek designs with fast processors of 416 MHz or higher for people who like to travel with their entertainment.
* Large hard drives (4 GB or higher) are perfect for recording your favorite TV shows.
* Multimedia models have color displays and stereo audio jacks.
* Expect one or more types of expansion slots and a wide range of available accessories.
'''Suggestion''': Palm's LifeDrive mobile manager, priced at $449.
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