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What can a PDA do for me?

Updated on January 17, 2010

Which PDA?

 Ok, so your life is so disorganized, you think you might need a pda, or personal digital assistant.You might be wondering, what could a PDA do for me?

Well, some of thekinds of things they can do are schedule appointments with alarms, keep track of your spending and bank accounts, take important documents with you on the road, keep track of phone numbers and contacts, take short notes, bring lots of reading material with you without extra weight, and interface with your desktop computer to keep everything in synch.

 There are two main operating systems: palm os and pocket pc. Palm stresses ease of use;  they are generally physically smaller, and are an extension of your desktop, not a do-it-all device. Pocket pc, which has pocket word, excel, even powerpoint presentations, is more complete. Palm is generally cheaper and uses grafitti for  handwriting recognition as opposed to using  the regular alphabet  as with pocket pc computers.

Things to consider: size--do you want it to be able to fit in your shirt pocket? Price--you get what you pay for--web surfing wirelessly comes at a premium. Most importantly--what do you want to do with your pda? Do you just want to bring along appointments from outlook and some  documents, or do you want to be able to actually print from your device, being more independent from your desktop? Ease of use is something to consider--want to make use of your knowledge of windows to avoid reading lengthy instruction manuals? How much time are you willing to put into learning and keeping a new system? Does it need an external keyboard for extended writing or will you simply use it to synch with your existing  documents on your main computer? People who are willing to put the time into better organization, generally get more out of their machines.

Another important concern is connectivity. Do you need to be able to give presentations as in a laptop replacement? What type of computer(s) do you already own? Different accessories exist for pdas. Printer cables, bluetooth keyboards, overhead projector attachments, etc. Consider this when making your purchase. How will you handle breakage or theft? Do you need more than one device? Backups are essential. All pdas have the possibility of losing data--some are better than others. You must find a solution that works for you: computer backup, compact flash, and backing up on an internet site are all ways of dealing with data loss. What kind of power requirements do you have? Do you need to be able to just run into the local quikshop for batteries? Do you need long battery life for that 18 hour plane flight? Again, proprietary batteries might be the answer. Security of data is another concern.  Do you need encryption or simple password protection? Do you need a community of people to act as problem solvers (and there will be problems)? What kind of customer support is available? You must carry your pda with you all or most of the time. Even the best or most fancy pda will do you no good if it isn't with you when you need it. Size matters.  What kind of communication ability do you need--wireless web browsing, phone connectivity as in a smartphone combination or a standalone pda/cell phone combination? Screen size considerations are important--too small and it won't be readable, too large and you won't take it along with you.

Deciding which make and model to get is only the beginning...

How will you organize? By the calendar, or by the project and type of document? All pdas can do both, but pocket pc's strength is in taking your office work with you as miniature versions of desktop equivalents. 

Once you decide to make a purchase, stick with it and give it a reasonable time to get used to it. Like anything else, at first, it may be too much trouble to enter in all the data you need, but you need to cultivate new habits: when you take money from the atm machine, you need to log it in to your pda. Don't make the mistake of keeping bits of paper to enter later  for you to enter into your device. It will pile up and you won't do it. Collecting those business cards in a rubber band, instead of entering the addresses into your pda is totally nonproductive. Do you already have an internet service provider that your device must work with? Your pda could become an expensive paperweight if you don't exercise a minimum of discipline.


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