Monday, January 30, 2006

Do you need a PDA?

The systems administrator brings his to every meeting, the corporate sales guy wears one around like the latest fashion accessory and the CEO is never seen on the golf course without it. The PDA (or Personal Digital Assistant) is almost ubiquitous in the corporate world today... But why would YOU want one?

Keeping track of Ex Girlfriends (or business associates)
It may not be the most glamorous function of the latest windows mobile or Palm OS offerings, but the basic address book functionality found in all PDA's (usually referred to as 'Contacts') is the bread and butter of the genre, being able to record the contact details of the hot new blond you just met at the bar (or the balding executive you just met a sales presentation) on the spot can save a lot of time searching for that elusive post-it note you were sure you put in your pocket, and a lot of drama when you fail to find it!.

Most modern cellphones include quite extensive addressbook/contact functionality however, so this is probably not a compelling reason of itself to purchase the latest and greatest VGA Pocket PC! However there are some advantages to using a more full featured solution like Pocket Informant on a PocketPC (my personal choice). I am able to store a photograph, multiple sets of contact information, notes, journal entries and more against each contact and then easily synchronize this information with the contacts stored on my PC. Perfect for keeping track of what you brought your mother in law last Christmas.

Remembering your dentist appointment
How many times have you missed a business meeting because you were away from your PC when the Outlook reminded popped up?, Have you ever forgotten about your wife's birthday until 5 minutes after the flower shop shuts? Calendar and Reminder functionality is another of the PDA staples and I personally find it quite relaxing to know that my handheld will remind me to get to the latest staff morning tea before the cakes have all gone!

Taking Note
This is my personal favorite, Being able to whip out the PDA and handwrite notes on the fly, have them automatically converted to typed text and then safely stored on my computer every time I synchronize my PocketPC, From recording sudden insights into the nature of life and love while you wait for your next pint to arrive, to composing sonnets on windswept hillsides (or possibly noting down network diagrams in an architecture meeting for those less artistically inclined) I have frequently found the ability to quickly, and reliably, record my thoughts to be indispensable.

A little light Reading
avantGo on the pocketPC allows you to easily view RSS feeds of your favorite blogs and all the latest news headlines while traveling to work on the train, synchronizing your email account will allow you to read and prepare responses to your most important business emails while you stagger between pubs, wondering where your mates went the last time you passed out (on second thoughts, maybe that's not such a good idea :) If you synchronized the RSS feed of this blog you could even be reading this while you wait in line for your caffeine hit at starbucks.

The outlook for Thursday
A Popular 'Today screen' plugin for PocketPC is an up to date weather report, There are several variants of this around and I personally use SPB Pocket Weather, This collects updated weather reports for the next few days for your home town whenever you synchronize your device and allows you to see at a glance if you'll be able to plead bad weather to get out of that BBQ you just invited your boss to.

Mobile Internet Access
Want to check out the online price of the new Terry Pratchett book while your standing in the bookstore? Coffee date going well, so you want to check out what time the next soppy romantic movie is on at the local cinema? With the constant growth in hotspot coverage and all the latest handhelds sporting Wi-Fi connectivity its now possible to be online practically everywhere and, particularly if you are a regular internet user, don't underestimate the usefulness of this!, I would strongly recommend that anyone buying a PDA today make sure they buy a Wi-Fi capable model! (WiFi Coverage is generally better within the US than without, but other countries, such as New Zealand are improving!)

Wasting Time
If you're just looking for an entertainment device there are many better, and often cheaper devices than PDA's available to choose. From portable media players with 20-100gb of movie and music storage to the Sony PSP offering console class games in the palm of your hand there are many forms of electronic entertainment that will set you back somewhat less than the amount of a high end PDA.

However, if some of the reasons above have already convinced you to buy a PDA then the music, video and gaming capabilities of your device are the icing on the cake. Today's PDAs are capable of playing DVD quality video (TCPMP is a highly recommended media player for PocketPC), better than CD quality audio and there are literally thousands of (mostly free or very cheap) games available to while away the idle minutes. In general you're probably not going to watch the last 5 seasons of stargate on your 3.5" PDA screen but you might catch a few highlights of last weeks episode while waiting for a plane, tune out to 'Eye of the Tiger' while going for your morning run or play a little Xonix while you should be working :)

Everything Else
From carrying around your favorite 10,000 photos to navigating your way around Thailand using a Bluetooth GPS unit today's PalmOS and PocketPC PDAs are flexible enough to undertake just about any computing task. Ticking off the shopping list and recording your expenses on the fly. Reviewing the company financials (or your personal budget) in pocket Excel. Planning a large scale jewelry heist (Disclaimer : if you use your PDA for organizing criminal activities I am not responsible!). Everybody is different and has different needs, but with the many thousands of applications now available for both major PDA platforms and many more being released every day there is sure to be something to fit your desires!

Should you buy one?, You'll have to decide that for yourself, but I'm sure that if you do, and make a commitment to using in on a regular basis you'll soon find it essential in ways you never expected. Like the internet is today taken for granted as a readily available source of news and information, Mobile computing is helping us manage an every increasing volume of personal information and as wireless networks become ubiquitous, allowing us to access the resources of the internet wherever and whenever we desire.

Personally I use a Dell Axim X50 PocketPC running Windows mobile 2003 SE and I'm pretty happy with it, although I have found myself idly browsing the reviews for the latest VGA models (these have a 640*480 pixel screen rather than the standard 320*240 pixel screen which makes the display much sharper), I've never personally used a PalmOS device but I have heard glowing reviews from owners who claim they would never use anything else! (The PocketPC does have more options available for the technically inclined)

Keywords : PDA , PocketPC , Mobile , Microsoft, Palm, Handheld, Dell, Ipaq, Wireless, Wifi, PIM, Electronics, PalmOS, HP, VGA, Games, Entertainment, MP3


Alan Howard said...

Thanks for the tip, I've now got weather on my PDA. Cheers!

lee pletzers said...

I have one for reading ebooks and when I was working, I used it as a planner and note keeper (for next week's lessons or whatever), it has a nice alarm function to remind me of an appointment.

However, I find little use of them nowadays.

Anonymous said...