Understanding PDAs

Learn about PDAs, and see if you might want to get a digital assistant.
Published: Mar 30, 2006
Author: Michael E, Callahan
Related OS: Windows

Tell Me About... PDAs.

by Dr. File Finder

This question submitted by Lisa Trujillo, Andy Watson, Anita Hoyer, Jeff Rosenberg, Kathy Starley, Elton Dansbury, and numerous others

I've gotten many emails asking me about PDAs which stands for personal digital assistant. My intent here is just to familiarize you with what PDAs are and what they can do. Coming soon, we're going to start having software reviews of programs that are made for the increasingly popular "smartphones" which are also PDAs. So, lets take a look at these handy, little gadgets.

There are two, primary types of PDAs based on operating system. The ones that have been out the longest utilize the Palm operating system. These are the so-called Palm Pilots you may have heard of. The Palm operating system has gradually evolved until these devices are pretty impressive. The other major type of PDA are the Pocket PC's and these run operating systems developed by Microsoft. The Pocket PC operating system has undergone many changes, not the least of which is the name it's called. Originally it was Windows CE, then Pocket PC, and now it's called Windows Mobile. Both the Palm and Windows operating systems have gotten more powerful so that todays PDAs can do many things. So, what would you use a PDA for? Let's look at a few basics -- not considering operating system.

PDAs are small and compact. Some have replaceable batteries and others have batteries that are rechargeable. Nearly all PDAs today have color displays whereas the early ones were all grayscale. A PDA is perfect for carrying around information that you might normally have to leave at home. Contact information for example. Most PDAs will synchronize with a desktop computer. There are a variety of PIM's or personal information managers that run on the desktop and "sync" with your PDA. That makes it easy type things in on your desktop PC and then 'sync' it with your PDA device.

PDAs come with basic software built right in. Often this is software to handle contacts, take notes, read documents, play games, a calculator, and more. A good number of PDAs have wireless capability so you can actually connect to a wireless network and go on the Internet. Others also have Bluetooth so they are able to connect to other devices that have Bluetooth. And if that weren't enough, nearly all PDAs have the ability to beam data to other devices using IR or infrared technology. That means that I can "beam" an address from my PDA to my wifes and vice versa.

Over time PDAs have gottem more memory as well as the ability to handle storage media like SD (secure digital) and mini-SD cards. A fair number of devices also have built-in keyboards. These innovations have made PDAs even more powerful. When you hear someone refer to a "smartphone" they are really talking about a cellular phone that's also a PDA. This seems to be the trend ... getting more functions into one device. For example, I recently got an Audiovox VX6700 Pocket PC "smartphone" from Verizon Wireless. My "phone" has all the functions of a PDA -- I can open Word documents, use a calculator, play games, surf the Internet, and even send email. It has a keyboard that slides out from underneath that's fairly easy to type on. At the same time, the device is also a full-featured phone. With built-in Bluetooth I can talk on my phone hands free while I drive using a Bluetooth headset. While sitting at the airport I can send emails or check things on the Internet, and I can call anyone in my contact list. I got a one gigabyte mini-SD card so I can also store songs, documents, and pictures on my "smartphone."

So, personal digital assistants are rapidly evolving to be high-powered, multi-function tools. If a "PDA" sounds interesting to you, be sure to do some research before you rush out to buy one. Think about what you'd want to use a PDA for. Do y really want and/or need all of the fancy stuff? Do you need wireless? Bluetooth? The ability to store data on a storage card? A keyboard? Think about these things and you could save yourself a lot of money.

How about software? Well, you might be amazed to see just how much software is available for both Palm and Pocket PC devices. Software for business, fun, games, and even for professionals. My wife, Carol, is a Family Nurse Practitioner and recently she got the new Palm "LifeDrive. On her Palm device she has complete diagnostic software, the equivalent of a pharmaceutical reference that's constantly updated, software to help her ask medical questions in Spanish, and much more. The software contains enough information to fill multiple books, but she can carry it in her pocket. There's software for pilots, engineers, doctors, nurses, and more.

I hope this article has given you a little background on PDAs and what they can do. Amazing little devices and many are very reasonably priced. If you have questions about them come and talk with me about it in the Forums.

I'd like to thank Lisa Trujillo, Andy Watson, Anita Hoyer, Jeff Rosenberg, Kathy Starley, Elton Dansbury, and numerous others for asking thisquestion.

If you have a question on any technology topic that you'd like someoneto tell you about you can submit it via email by clicking HERE You will not receive a reply, but all topics will be considered.

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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