Help me choose a PDA
March 8, 2006 4:28 PM   Subscribe

Help choose a PDA for a sysadmin with a laundry list of requirements

I know the PDA category has been beaten to death but I searched and couldn't find anything in the last year with what I'm looking for. I'm constantly being pulled into "mini-meetings" at work while walking the halls. It gets frustrating when I'm in the middle of several big projects because my mind is usually elsewhere. I've decided that a pen and paper agenda would end up being more hassle to carry around and make sense of than anything. So now I've arrived at a PDA, and here's what I need out of it:

- Handwriting and/or voice recognition. Handwriting is the biggest thing because voice probably wouldn't work well enough to be useful (correct me if you have a PDA that proves otherwise)
- The ability to sync to a Windows desktop with Bluetooth is strongly preferred
- Wifi for web browsing while on the road
- Seamless integration with Outlook 2003. Email, Calendar, Tasks. I need it all.
- A Secure Digital memory slot so I can use a card I already own (not a necessity)
- A belt clippable case and should be reasonably compact and light.
- Even if I have to buy a higher capacity battery, I'd like to be able to get through an entire day (~10 hours) without a charge if this is possible. Use would be pretty much limited to note taking, calendaring and desktop synchronization.

I definitely do not need it to be a phone or an mp3 player, either. The most I'd like to spend is about $600. Please help! Recommendations based on your personal experience with the product are especially welcome.
posted by saraswati to Computers & Internet (23 answers total)
 
Does a Treo not fit your needs? I know you don't want a phone, but if it does, you could always kill two birds.. no handwriting, but it has a keypad that may suffice for short notes.
posted by kcm at 4:32 PM on March 8, 2006


no handwriting, but it has a keypad that may suffice for short notes

Handwriting recognition is probably one of the biggest things. Using a Blackberry for a bit a little while back has allowed me to foster an intense hatred for typing on miniature keyboards. Thanks though
posted by saraswati at 4:37 PM on March 8, 2006


I am Palm-biased, so I would get a TX. WiFi, Bluetooth, SD. You might need to do a little setup (outdated) on Outlook syncing, and I haven't tried this. But the Palm kicks all kinds of ass as far as software availability and usefulness. I suspect you'll get much more battery life out of a Palm. Graffiti is easy to learn. Zillions of freeware apps. I sometimes worry about Palm's future, but it just makes me want to buy a few as backups. My whole brain is on this thing.
posted by theredpen at 4:46 PM on March 8, 2006


I suggest a small tablet PC like the Motion LS800 or the Fujitsu Lifebook P1510D. Or even one of then Origami thingies, if they're shipping reasonably soon.
posted by kindall at 4:46 PM on March 8, 2006


Oh, sorry, didn't notice your price range. The Origami may be close, my other suggestions are not.
posted by kindall at 4:47 PM on March 8, 2006


kindall: Those tablets look incredible it's too bad they're so much. Also, I don't think I can wait for the Origami. From what I've read about it so far it's just a prototype to demonstrate some kind of technology Microsoft will be putting into a handheld eventually.
posted by saraswati at 5:06 PM on March 8, 2006


The Asus PocketPC (A716, I think) I own is a pretty close match, though the handwriting recognition isn't wonderful and the battery life can be an issue. It has WiFi and Bluetooth built in, though you can only use one at a time. I got around that issue by buying a CF WiFi card. Yes, it has a SD slot too.

And you don't care, but bugger, I was supposed to bring it in to work today to demo it for someone. :(
posted by krisjohn at 5:24 PM on March 8, 2006


I'll throw in another vote for a Palm device. They have most of the technical requirements your looking for, but four other elements stand out (in my experience): good battery life, excellent syncing with desktop apps (and I say this as a Mac user syncing to the Mac version of Outlook, I imagine it only gets better on Windows) tons of shareware, and, to me a big deal, Documents to Go. This allows you to create, sync, and edit MS Office documents on the Palm.

I realize WinCE should have great support for that final one, but it seems like nothing but *crickets* in here w/regard to WinCE. They still make it, right?
posted by MarvinTheCat at 5:37 PM on March 8, 2006


Love my HP iPaq (I've got the 3115 which is discontinued, but the hx2795 seems like the updated version. It meets all of your requirements (though with WiFi and Bluetooth on, it may tax the battery a bit much for your liking). The handwriting recognition is indeed not great, but it is actual handwriting, not Graffiti (though there is a Graffiti-clone you can use). The 2795 is well under your price point, and a 3115 on eBay may be less that 1/3 of what you are ready to spend. Frankly, the case that came with the thing is perfect for me - classy, provides good protection, but still slim enough to slip in a pocket.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:38 PM on March 8, 2006


it seems like nothing but *crickets* in here w/regard to WinCE. They still make it, right?

Yes, it's called Windows Mobile now.

You can do some things on a PDA but they are terrible, IMHO, for taking notes. The screen's not big enough, and most epople can't write even as quickly as they can type, and typing sometimes isn't fast enough. If you had something with a bigger screen, you could just leave it as "ink" and do the handwriting recognition later, which would at least save you from having to stop and correct all the recognition errors, but on a PDA you can get about six words on the screen this way.

If you're hell-bent on the PDA route you might look into alternative text-input methods, such as Fitaly. It'll take some training but you can get almost as quick with them as typing.
posted by kindall at 6:23 PM on March 8, 2006


Another vote here for the Palm TX... apart from the belt clip/case it has everything you're asking for. You'd be surprised how long the battery holds its charge. I've gone for two weeks on a single charge. Heavy use and Bluetooth/WiFi will of course drain it faster, but if you regularly plug the thing in to sync it, you'll never have any battery issues.
posted by Robot Johnny at 8:32 PM on March 8, 2006


Dell Axim x51v. (I was going to suggest an x50 but evidently they've been bumped.) The top-o-the-heap is $374 Right Now and comes with bluetooth, WiFi, VGA resolution screen (very nice, BTW), CF slot, SDIO slot. 2200mAh battery is available. I have the x50 and it's pretty good. The battery life may be a miss, though; the base one gets about 4 hours according to CNet. (They were, however, playing movies the entire time.) You may want to invest in an extra battery. It syncs well with Outlook - MS syncs good with MS, really - and is Treo-sized, except not as thick. I haven't tried syncing over Bluetooth, mainly because I just sync over the WiFi. (FWIW, I think some of the stored-on-Exchange things end up syncing on their own anyway with your Exchange server. Not horribly sure though.) Compaq/HP makes good PDAs as well, but I haven't used any since before the merger. I'm not sure enough about where Palm is or is going to recommend getting one - they used to be awesome but lately I think Windows Mobile has done a pretty good job of eating their lunch.
posted by mrg at 9:04 PM on March 8, 2006


The other downside to Origami, from what I've seen, is that the price point is going to be closer to the $1000 side of the table. I'm also not certain about the handwriting recognition requirement (checking various sites now...)

Okay, one of the images on Engadget, it will be a touchscreen, with handwriting recognition. I still think it's going to be north of your budget, and won't be available for at least another month or so.
posted by Jim T at 11:36 PM on March 8, 2006


I believe you can buy aftermarket belt clips for a Palm TX and still stay well under your budget. The Palm TX is an excellent device, and easy to use.
posted by grouse at 12:20 AM on March 9, 2006


Just from your laundry list, I have to chime in with another recommendation for the Palm TX. It fills all your requirements and you can get a case/belt clip with enough room to spare in your budget. Personally, I was shopping around for a PDA for my dad and decided that it was the best option available.
posted by ooga_booga at 12:50 AM on March 9, 2006


I'd say get a pocket pc with the third party Calligrapher (made by Phatware) software - works a treat. Microsoft Voice Command is handy for task voice tags too.

The x51v is a very nice piece of kit - VGA and you can use telnet etc on it. If VGA isn't that big a deal though, you can pick up an axim x30h for about $200, which is just as fast and has a extra capacity battery for about $20 that lasts about 8-10 hours playing movies (ie intensive use).
posted by Mossy at 4:15 AM on March 9, 2006


Also, be careful with windows mobile 5 devices (ie the latest pocket pcs) - these don't sync over bluetooth unlike the 2003se devices.
posted by Mossy at 4:16 AM on March 9, 2006


Mossy: Are you sure WM 5 doesn't sync over bluetooth? I've read things about WM5 that list sync over bluetooth as one of the things that improved from WM 5 from WM 2003 SE. The only thing I've read is that it doesn't sync with Sony computers because of something Sony did
posted by saraswati at 4:58 AM on March 9, 2006


I'd strongly second Mossy's recommendation of Calligrapher. On my Axim x50v (which I love) it made ALL the difference in handwriting recognition. I write a terrible scribbly mix of printing and cursive, but with Calligrapher the PDA is remarkably accurate in figuring out what I'm trying to write.
posted by Kat Allison at 5:30 AM on March 9, 2006


I've tried almost every device discussed here: Treos, Palms, PocketPCs, tablets. The only thing that I still use is the tablet. The others really aren't usable as note-taking devices for more than a few lines or the very briefest of notes. The diference between the dreadful input methods on a PDA and full-screen note-taking on a tablet are huge; OneNote is fantastic for taking, reviewing and filing notes. Also you can run proper Outlook on it, not some crappy cut-down version. In fact, with a docking station you could use it as your main PC.

I know you said they're out of your price range, but try eBay for a second-hand Toshiba tablet; here's one for $700. I'd rather have a second-hand tablet than a brand-new PDA anyday.

If you still want to go down the PDA route, at least try one for a week or two and see whether it fits your working methods before taking the plunge.
posted by blag at 5:45 AM on March 9, 2006


My boss and I both have Windows Mobile 5 Sprint PPC6700s, and I don't have anything bluetooth myself but he syncs fine via bluetooth at home. Since it is a phone, I've got wireless broadband as well as wifi, so I can IMDB stuff during movies even if there's no wifi in the theatre. It works as a wireless broadband modem on my laptop, too. Not that you wanted a phone, but it's handy and better than having to carry two devices.

I've been really impressed with the battery life, even with pretty regular use. I do keep it in the dock when I'm at my desk, when I remember, but I'm not screwed if I forget. I love the keyboard the most, plus it understands my handwriting pretty well if I go that route instead. It is extremely awkward to hold to my head and talk into, but that's what headsets and my giant red princess-phone-style handset are for.

My Mac-using, PDA-dependent, PalmOS-inclined husband just went with Cingular's PPC model after a weekend experimenting with mine, which I'm pretty sure is a ringing endorsement.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:07 AM on March 9, 2006


Another vote for Palm TX. And yes, it can synch with your outlook mail, calander and tasks.
posted by furtive at 8:46 AM on March 9, 2006


My bad - the removed the wifi sync. Which is now fortunately back: http://www.modaco.com/index.php?showtopic=237804
posted by Mossy at 7:12 AM on March 10, 2006


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