PDA Buyer’s Guide
Typically, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) in their most basic form, act like a digital filofax. Primarily used to store contacts, manage appointments and tasks, many wireless PDAs now incorporate web browsing, email management, GPS navigation and mobile phone services. They are synchronized to a PC via a cable or wireless connection.
This expert guide aims to help you understand the different PDA types, to explain the important features to take into consideration when buying a PDA and to provide guidance on the types of PDAs available within the various budget ranges.
Available types of PDAs
The main difference between PDAs is that they are either pen or key based. Pen based PDAs use a little pointing device callded a "stylus", which looks like a little, thin pen, to navigate through the menu and enter text on the touchscreen interface. Key based PDAs have small keyboards and scroll wheels to navigate the system.
All PDAs offer the following basic features: contact and appointment management, memo pad and calculator. Wi-Fi PDAs can access the internet and email in real time. Bluetooth PDAs can synch data with a Bluetooth PC and mobile phone. Smart phones are hybrid PDA/mobile phones which provide functionality from both types of devices. The last couple of years, the trend has been to integrate more and more features like the ones I discussed above. This is also the reason why it has become difficult to seperate PDAs from smartphones. At TestSeek, you will find traditional handheld computers in our PDA category, and smartphones in the "Mobile Phones" directory, but we recommend you look in both categories.
Important features & specifications
The following features are important to consider during your quest of finding a perfect PDA for you.
- Battery life
Unless your PDA is connected to your PC for most of the time, it is best to compare the battery life of the different models to make sure it meets your requirements. Battery life tends to be less if the PDA has a big screen.
- Processor speed
Depending on the usage, you may need a top performing PDA to ensure that internet and email connection speeds are fast enough. Top PDAs can have a processing speed of up to 624MHz and more.
- Memory capacity
All information, both application and user files, is stored in RAM (Random Access Memory). The integrated storage capacity can range from 16MB for a basic model, to several gigabytes for top of the range PDAs. You should look for a PDA with a memory expansion slot so you can add more memory if needed.
- Connection type
Older types of PDAs use cables to synchronize the PDA with a PC. Newer models offer Bluetooth; infrared and/or Wi-Fi connections as well as a cable connection. Although these newer technologies are practical to syncronize emails etc with your computer, a cable is still needed to make bigger file transfers, like photos, movies and mp3 files.
Ensure that the screen size is adequate for you. If you want to use your PDA for browsing web pages, we recommend a resulution of at least 640x480. Although a big color screen is nice to have, these screens do reduce the battery life considerably.
- Operating system
Most pocket PC devices run a version of Microsoft Windows specialized for PDAs, which makes them compatible with your PCs when dealing with document types etc. Palm devices use a unique Palm operating system and while they generally come with third party software that enables synchronization with Microsoft Outlook, you will need additional software to use Microsoft Office.
Entry level budget
It is possible to get an entry level PDA for under $100. These offer all the basic functionality such as contact and appointment management and sometimes even Wi-Fi connectivity. The downside of entry level PDAs is that their performance can be a little slow and while some have internet access, most will not offer the telephony functions of a smart phone. Examples of really cheap and popular PDAs are; Palm Z22 and Toshiba E570.
The Palm Z22 is a great entry level PDA. It comes with a 200MHZ processor and has 32MB internal memory. This easy to use device has a 160 x 160 color resolution screen and offers only the basic PDA functionality including contact, appointment and task management and a calculator. It uses a USB cable to synchronize with a PC. Purchased for around $60, it has received a good overall expert review rating of 75% at TestSeek.
If you are looking for a better performing PDA with a longer battery life, better screen resolution and more features, you should expect to pay up to £200.
The Palm TX PDA has a good processing speed of 312MHz and 128MB integrated RAM. With far greater features than an entry level PDA, it even allows you to edit Microsoft Word documents using the Documents To Go application. This PDA also offers Bluetooth; Infrared and Wi-Fi connectivity. If you are looking for a reasonably priced PDA with great battery life, then this is a good option. Purchased for around $180, it has received an overall expert review score of 80%. Refer to www.testseek.com for further details. Other interetsting units are; the Nokia 770 and the HP iPAQ RX1950
PDAs that offer advanced features, excellent performance and battery life, as well as those that incorporate mobile phone technology; be prepared to spend in excess of $200.
The HP iPaq 212 Enterprise has an exceptionally fast 624MHz Marvell processor and 128MB RAM. It has a good 18-bit color touchscreen with a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels. Additional features include a built in microphone and speakers, as well as a CF expansion slot. Synchronization can be achieved through a Wi-FI; Bluetooth or cable connection. Purchased for over $360, it has an excellent average expert review rating of 72%; refer to www.testseek.com for further information.
With an array of features to offer, selecting the right PDA can be tricky. If you are unsure which PDA is best for you, refer to expert review category for PDAs and Mobile Phones available at TestSeek to see what the experts say about the available units.
Disclaimer: This guide was written in late 2008 and the specific product recommendations may be outdated. However the basic discussions in this buyer's guide may still be of great value.
Written by; TestSeek staff