I made some posts to a listserv today as sort of a beginner’s guide to PDAs. I thought I’d collect and share them.
1. Having a Palm device is not a requirement of getting into the 21st century. Not by a long shot.
2. Like many technologies, Palm devices can be useful tools to address specific needs. If you don’t have the needs, you don’t need the tools. In the case of the Palm devices, the specific need is to have information (generally calendar and addressbook info) readily accessible when you are away from your office. If you spend 95% of your time at your office computer, the purchase of a Palm device is hard to justify.
3. As others have mentioned, once you have identified a real need, you’ll need to consider what software you want to use (there are programs for just about everything), your budget, your style and your eyesight. You’ll carry and use a device that you actually enjoy carrying and using – especially if you are wary about the devices in the first place. Also, I recommend color over mono because the screens are much easier to read, a concern for those of us on the verge of entering the bifocal era. The Sony screens, in particular, are amazing. A visit to a store where you can compare display, look and feel is definitely in order before buying.Color will drain the charge on batteries more quickly than you will like. That’s the bad news. The good news is that color units come with rechargeable battery packs, so you need to remember to keep the device in the recharger/cradle on a regular basis. The “good old days” of getting 2 months use out of a pair of AAA batteries on a Palm III are gone. The typical standard Palm apps (calendar, to do list) actually use very little color, but the color display screens are so good that the improvement in clarity alone is a reason to give the color units careful consideration.
4. As I mention in a recent Law Office Computing article (http://www.denniskennedy.com/mobilecomputing03.htm), I think that for a number of business and other reasons, the Sony devices are the devices of choice these days. Note, though, that carefully watching sites like www.dealnews.com or www.half.com, you can find lots of bargains on many of these devices. Be aware, though, that there are some concerns that both Palm and Handspring may get out of the hardware business (one reason I recommend the Sony devices). As I suggested earlier, if you shop on the Internet, you are likely to find some great deals – I’d hesitate before paying anything like a retail price on PDAs these days. See, for example, http://www.overstock.com/cgi-bin/d2.cgi?PAGE=PROFRAME&PROD_ID=61898 for a great price a refurbished Sony Clie.
5. Although this article is a little outdated in terms of today’s models, my “Getting Started with Palm” article (http://www.denniskennedy.com/palmstart.htm) still offers a useful way to think about these devices.
6. For what it’s worth, I use a Sony Clie T615C. I just won a Toshiba e740 Pocket PC with WiFi, so I’ll be exploring that route. If you are thinking about Pocket PC as an alternative to Palm, I’d take a look at the Dell models, which are priced lower than most other Pocket PC devices.
Note that Sony devices are Palm OS devices. Here’s a handy guide: Palm, Handspring (Visor) and Sony devices all run the Palm operating system. Toshiba, HP, Compaq, Dell and a few others run the Pocket PC OS from Microsoft and tend to be much more expensive (up to about $800) but have stripped down versions of MS Word, etc. Lawyers tend to use Palm devices; business people tend to favor the Pocket PC devices (especially when the company pays for them). Palm OS devices still command approximately 80% of the market.
7. My two cents on the PDA/cellphone combos: I like two separate devices, each of which does a good job at what it’s supposed to do, rather than a combo. I know some people who like the Treos, but they are definitely techies and they have heavy, specific wireless needs. The big question is whether you like holding something the size of a Palm up to the side of your head for an extended time (most people don’t and I can’t even imagine it), or whether you are comfortable talking on a headset. In St. Louis, there is some acceptance of seeing people talking away on a headset (even in elevators or in line at a restaurant), but in other areas, people may just think that you are a nut talking to yourself. The other issue about the combo devices is that some of the cell providers that carry them are not the highest rated service providers.