What is a PDA? Discover what PDAs are and what features to look for when purchasing one..

We Know: All About PDAs

What is a PDA?

A PDA, or personal digital assistant, is a handheld or palm-sized computer that serves as a personal information manager, replacing the traditional desk organizer. PDAs store and organize telephone numbers, addresses, calendars, and task lists. PDAs also allow email to be sent and received, wireless Internet access, word processing, and file transfers between a desktop computer and the PDA. Some even allow MP3 and cell phone capabilities.

How does the PDA work?

PDAs are special purpose, mini computers. They work as any other computer works. The basic components of the PDA are the microprocessor, display screen, RAM, keyboard or stylus, power source, and operating system. Each component and its functions are discussed below:

  • Microprocessor - "brain power" of the PDA.
  • RAM - stores programs and data.
  • Liquid crystal display (LCD) screen - displays the output of the PDA. May be passive or active matrix screen.
  • Power source - use alkaline batteries or rechargeable lithium ion battery.
  • Operating system - uses Palm Pilot software or Windows CE. The operating system tells the different components what to do and when to do it.
  • Input device - keyboards or a pen-like stylus allow data input.
  • Cradle - most PDAs come with a cradle that has connectors to a desktop PC and permits file transfers. Recharges PDA battery.
  • Software

How many different kinds of PDAs exist?

There are three major types of PDAs:

  • Palm Pilots - manufactured by Palm, Inc. and is the standard for PDAs. Uses the Palm Operating System.
  • Pocket PC - larger than the traditional PDA and has color screens. Runs Windows CE and can include a variety of programs and applications. Like a replica of a PC.
  • Blackberry - combines cell phone, email and organizer capabilities into one. Used by corporate workers on the road.

What are some features to look for when purchasing a PDA?

Today's PDAs are feature rich. The more bells and whistles, the higher the price on PDAs. Some things to look for in a PDA include:

  • Big color screens - Screens with higher resolutions provide better quality graphics.
  • Processor speeds - the faster the processor, the faster the PDA processes information.
  • External flash memory card slot for transferring files.
  • Hard drives - PDAs now have hard drives that enable larger file and program storage.
  • RAM - the more RAM, the higher the efficiency and faster the PDA.
  • Wireless Internet capabilities.
  • Some PDAs provide for MP3 storage and playback.
  • Advanced PDAs have digital photography capabilities.
  • Blackberries provide cell phone capabilities.

What are some PDA models currently on the market and what are their price ranges?

There are a number of PDAs available on the market that suit beginners to advanced users.

Palm Models begin at $129 and go up to $500. Except for the beginner models, most Palms are compatible with MS Office files. These include:

  • Palm Zire 31 Handheld ($129)
    • color screen display
    • photo viewer
    • MP3 player
    • 16MB RAM
  • Palm Tungsten T5 Handheld ($399)
    • 320x480 high resolution color screen
    • Bluetooth wireless technology
    • 256MB RAM
  • Palm LifeDrive Mobile Manger ($499)
    • 4 GB hard drive
    • 320x480 high resolution color screen
    • Bluetooth wireless technology
    • MP3 player and photo editor

Pocket PC Models use the Windows CE operating system. Low end models start at around $300, and go up to $800 depending on the features. Pocket PCs are larger than Palm PDAs. Models include:

  • Dell Axim X50v ($499)
    • 128MB RAM
    • 640x480 screen resolution
    • Bluetooth wireless technology
    • fast processor, 6.2 ounces
  • HP IPaq Hx4705 ($600)
    • 64MB RAM
    • 640x480 screen resolution
    • Bluetooth wireless technology
    • 6.6 ounces
  • HP IPaq Rx3715 ($450)
      152MB RAM
    • 240x320 screen resolution
    • Bluetooth
    • 5.6 ounces
Blackberry models start at $99 and up, but depend on whether there is adequate cell phone coverage in the area. Blackberries are sold by cell phone companies. The key features include:
  • Bluetooth technology
  • email and text messaging
  • wireless phone
  • organizer
  • browser

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