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Top 10 Reasons to Buy a PDA

Top 10 Reasons to Buy a PDA
According to the Chicken Littles out there, the sky has fallen on the PDA market and it's dead.

As usual, Chicken Little is wrong. PDAs are alive and well. Admittedly not as well as we'd like and not as well as this marvelous category of tremendously useful little computers deserves, but alive and well nonetheless. Many millions of Palms and Pocket PCs are being sold every year. It's not the 60 or 80 million a year that was once predicted, but it's still well over ten million, depending on what definition of "PDA" one uses. That's a lot of PDAs. Neither has the industry abandoned PDAs. Last year, Hewlett Packard introduced more new Pocket PCs than ever before. The world's #1 notebook seller, Dell, also introduced a number of interesting new models. Palm continues to offer a good variety and low and high end models, and with the LifeDrive introduced the first-ever PDA with an internal hard drive. So here are, in descending order, the Top Ten reasons to buy a PDA:

10. BIG screens!
Original PDAs like the Apple Newton MessagePad had massive screens measuring 5-1/2 inches diagonally. The MessagePad 2100 even had a 6-inch display! Since today's PDAs are a lot smaller than those early models, their displays are smaller, too. However, most still measure 3.5 inches diagonally, and some -- like that of the HP iPAQ 4700 -- are a full 4 inches. Compare that with the displays of an average cellphone! The screen on my Motorola flip phone is a minuscule 1.5 inches, barely larger than a postage stamp. In addition, almost all PDA screens use "transflective" displays. That means they combine the best of a "transmissive" indoor screen (transmissive, because the LCD screen lets the light from the backlight through) and a "reflective" outdoor screen (reflective, because it reflects the sunlight and gives the screen great contrast). The tiny screens on most cellphones, in contrast, are only transmissive, and some still use ancient passive matrix technology. Finally, the latest PDAs have high resolution 480 x 640 displays, which means almost 200 dots per inch. That's almost twice as many as in most notebook displays!

9. Carry your data with you
PDAs can easily synchronize with your desktop or notebook computer. And this synchronization goes beyond just your calendar and contacts. A modern PDA has enough storage to accommodate whatever documents you want to carry with you, be they wordprocessing, spreadsheets, presentations, pictures, or even video clips. I always carry a number of my reference and personal documents with me, things that I may need to look up when I am traveling, or stuff that I simply like to have closeby. I also carry several dozen of my favorite pictures on my PDA. Sure, you can stick a couple of your favorite pics into your wallet, but there they get wrinkled and damaged.

8. Edit your documents
Few people will ever attempt to write The Great American Novel on a PDA, though theoretically that's possible. However, lots of people may want to proofread, change, or otherwise edit documents on their PDAs, and that can easily be done. Both Palms and Pocket PCs let you edit Word or Excel files. It's not as convenient as doing it on a notebook, but it is possible. And the mere fact that you can actually do useful work on a long flight, while sitting in a waiting room, or just about anywhere else can do wonders for your productivity. I've found that the only time I am truly uninterrupted is when I am sitting in an airplane. And thanks to my PDA, I've spent many productive hours proofing and editing documents. Try that on a cellphone.

7. Travel light
You can now buy very light and very thin notebooks, but with notebooks it's always a trade-off. The trends towards ever larger screens has offset the ability to travel as light as possible. There's simply no way to make a 15 or 17-inch notebook that is not large and bulky. And the very small and light ones often have cramped keyboards, suffer from terrible battery life, get scorching hot, or don't have some of the stuff you really need, like a DVD drive. PDAs, on the other hand, are small enough to fit anywhere. Even top-of-the-line models like the Palm LifeDrive or the HP iPAQ 4700 easily slip into any pocket. Which means they are simply handier than a notebook. I've made many trips with just my PDA. Sure I missed all the functionality of a notebook every now and then, but I definitely didn't miss the bulk and weight!

6. Entertain yourself
In addition to being "Personal Digital Assistants" with useful business functions, PDAs have always had their lighter side as well. Even the original Newton had a many great games, and today's PDAs are veritable mobile entertainment devices. You have your choice between computer games that often rival (or exceed) dedicated console games, high quality music, and even whole movies. While a PDA is not meant to compete with iPods and portable DVD players, you can easily store hundreds of songs and listen to them in very high quality, and if you have a large enough storage card (or a hard drive like in the Palm LifeDrive) you can watch video. And I haven't even mentioned audio or e-books yet.

5. Take notes wherever you are
Having a PDA with you means never having to hunt for a scrap of paper and a pen when inspiration strikes. And most PDAs let you record notes in various ways. You can use them as voice recorders, usually by just pushing a button. You can use electronic ink to scribble something down. If you'd rather have your notes in text, you can either use the onscreen keyboard or the PDA's character or handwriting recognition. The latter doesn't work well for everyone, at least not right off the bat, but once you get used to it it can be a terrific productivity tool. I routinely take notes using handwriting recognition on my PDA during meetings or even interviews. I'll have to fix the mistakes later, but that's no worse (and usually a lot quicker) than having to transcribe from a pad of paper or a tape. I often find I can piece together all the notes I take during, say, a tradeshow, which means I am halfway there to a full report once I upload the notes to a laptop.

4. Browse the web -- anywhere
The promise of being able to do web browsing on a PDA has been there for years, but it was always a compromise. Perhaps you had to use some special service that pre-processed web content, which meant it wasn't really web browsing. Or you had to put up with deadly slow downloads that taxed your patience. Or the browser just wasn't up to the job of loading a modern webpage. Most of those limitations are gone now. Web browsing on a PDA will never be like browsing on a desktop or large notebook, but it's perfectly acceptable now thanks to the larger VGA screens, faster processors, more powerful browsers, and speedier wireless connections.

3. GPS!
PDAs make terrific mapping devices. Instead of spending thousands for an in-car system or almost as much for a dedicated GPS/mapping system, you can now simply get a PDA with either a built-in GPS receiver or an external GPS puck that communicates with the PDA via a Bluetooth (and sometimes a USB) connection. This way you can take advantage of the latest mapping technologies while still having a device that can do all the regular PDA stuff. Garmin makes GPS-enabled PDAs based on both the Palm and the Pocket PC platform. Many other vendors sell either GPS-PDAs or GPS packages containing a receiver, PDA mounting hardware, mapping software, and often a car charger.

2. Use your PDA as a phone
Why get a smartphone when you can get a PDA with a phone? Terrific combinations of PDA and phone functionality are available for all major operating system platforms (Palm, Pocket PC, Symbian, Linux, etc.). Unlike smartphones, PDA phones offer full PDA functionality and they are usually premium phones as well. And the PDA and phone sides are seamlessly integrated so that the phone, address book, schedule and calendar all work together.

1. Get your email on the road
Being able to get email wherever and whenever is doubtlessly the greatest asset of a modern PDA. The mail clients have become very sophisticated and most can easily handle even complicated mail tasks (attachments, pictures, rules, multiple forwards, etc.). If you have a PDA with built-in wireless data and WiFi, you can get your email virtually anywhere, and it's no longer deadly slow.

-- HHC staff

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