Selecting a Personal Digital Assistant

A Computer in Your Hand

Carrying around an address book and planner is becoming a thing of the past. With new PDA developments, you can manage your contacts and schedule, use e-mail, and even listen to music. Personal Digital Assistants, originally called "Palm Pilots," previously were used just for retrieving basic information. Today, using some of the more advanced models could possibly replace the need to carry a laptop computer. Modern PDAs can play music, games, videos, write documents, and connect to networks and databases -- nothing short of a desktop computer.

Although newer PDAs have the processing power of a computer, they still have some limitations. Inputting information is done by handwriting recognition or by a miniature keyboard. Skilled users can input 20 - 30 words per minute, less than half the speed of a good typist on a full-size keyboard. PDAs with a color screen tend to run through battery life faster. Finally, because the small screen size the number of prograqm options that can be displayed, the programs available aren't as advanced because the user doesn't have as much control over the program.

Despite these limitations, the market for PDAs is continuing to expand. Students, doctors, and business professionals are increasingly relying on PDAs for computing on the go. Common PDA applications include spreadsheet, word processing, database, financial management, and games. PDAs synchronize files with your computer so that you can take your important information with you and update it when needed.

What to Look For

The two basic types of PDAs are Palm and Windows Mobile devices. The Palm Pilot was the first PDA available and its operation is very intuitive; some compared it to the Macintosh. Windows Mobile devices run an operating system very similar to Windows on desktop computers. Although Windows Mobile offers advanced features, its interface is still somewhat difficult to navigate in comparison to the Palm.

When purchasing a PDA, make sure that the programs on the PDA are compatible with the programs on your computer. Test out different models, with keyboard and with handwriting recognition, to see which one fits your preferences best. Also consider which application you will be using most. If you plan on using your PDA primarily for e-mail, get a PDA with a good keyboard and good battery life. If you plan on taking digital photos, your main concern should be the quality of the digital camera and the screen.

About The Author

Deryck Richards is the founder and managing partner of Desktronix. With an extensive educational background in computer information systems, Deryck currently manages hosting and data center operations for Desktronix. He also provides system administration and technical support directly to small businesses as he has since 2000. His areas of expertise include networking, Windows, Linux, and Macintosh systems and he is the author of The Guide to Technology for Small Business. For more information on Desktronix, visit www.desktronix.com.

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