Help choosing a PDA
February 1, 2005 9:28 PM   Subscribe

Missed two appointments this week and have decided that it's time I get a PDA and get more organized. Need help picking one out. [More inside]

I've tried paper appointment books, etc., but I really need something that will beep and tell me "hey, idiot, you need to be here now." Scheduling, contact management, etc.

First off, I'm a student on a pretty tight budget. I'd like to keep it under $300. I'm pretty sure I want a PocketPC, not a Palm, unless you've got some good reasons why I should consider one. I don't want anything too fancy (I just want a PDA, not a phone, etc.) but wireless capability would be nice since I have an 802.11g network at home (do-able in my price range?). Great deals I should know about? Brands to avoid? Reliability/warranty issues? And finally, when you got one did it really change your life and get you more organized?

I'm ready to take the plunge. You're a PDA salesperson. Sell me one.
posted by AstroGuy to Technology (21 answers total)
The Palms are the best at being organizers, and always have been. You can tell that a lot of effort and testing was put into making that part of the system intuitive and simple, when that was all the software there was. It's virtually unchanged today, years later, which is a testament to the quality.

Plus the battery lasts a month. No fooling.

OTOH, the Pocket PC's are much better at being toys. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
posted by smackfu at 9:47 PM on February 1, 2005

If you're a cheap student, keep an eye out for a second-hand Palm. Palms get the "it just works" seal of approval from me, and if you want something to organise yourself, you don't want anything that takes fiddling or screwing with to get working right. The oldest Palms had serial rather than USB cradles, so check if you do buy one second hand. They're also genuinely pocket sized, which the iPaqs are not.

802.11g is not a possibility at the cheap end with Palms though, whereas with a PocketPC device you can buy addon cards pretty easily.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:55 PM on February 1, 2005

Response by poster: Toys are cool. I should have mentioned that apps like TheSky Pocket Edition are of interest to me when I'm not using it for serious stuff (see my username). This is one reason I was leaning more toward PC. Also, I've heard they can do more stuff and I'm already a Windows kind of guy.

Syncing with my laptop (old-ish, and no funds for a new one any time soon) would be via USB (1.0), Infrared, or aforementioned 802.11 LAN.
posted by AstroGuy at 9:58 PM on February 1, 2005

I once saw a tap-by-tap comparison of simple organizer tasks (calendar, task list, contacts) on Pocket PC vs. PalmOS. It was amazing how many steps it took to do really simple things on the Pocket PC. Microsoft should haul them in for some more user interface thought.

Pocket PC devices are probably more capable but you will be much more efficient with the Palm.

Wireless would be nice, but why do you care about it? You said you wanted to not miss appointments and it will be more likely that you will put them in in the first place with the Palm.
posted by grouse at 10:35 PM on February 1, 2005

Response by poster: I guess I believe that in the long run it's better to spend a bit more and get more advanced capabilities now than to spend less, bump into limitations, and buy again a year from now. Since I posted this I've actually been looking at the Dell web site at the Axim X50v. Yes, it's more than I initially said I'd like to stick to, but damn that screen is nice. I'm still researching my options. I hope some more people chime in here though. There seems to be a definite Palm bias happening here. As far as money goes, I don't have tons, but I'm not destitute. I'm not giving up eating or anything to buy a PDA. I just want to spend my limited funds wisely. To me that means getting the most functionality out of it. But I'm willing to consider that you guys may be right and I'd be better off with a cheaper Palm. Thanks for all the input so far.
posted by AstroGuy at 10:48 PM on February 1, 2005

Color Palms and Pocket PCs have poor battery life, roughly 3-4 days before you need to charge up.

If you just want to keep a schedule, get a Palm with a black and white screen. It'll be inexpensive and the battery will last weeks between charges.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:52 PM on February 1, 2005

I recommend Palm as well. Besides Palm being much better at doing the organizer thing, I think Microsoft still has not fixed the bug that causes PocketPC PDAs to occasionally fail to wake up on alarms or notifications.

Palm also has a lot more software available (although the gap may be narrowing). Check out this site for Palm freeware and this site for PocketPC freeware for a comparison.

If you really want wireless, you can get a Palm Tungsten C, another newer Palm model that accepts their SD wireless card, or a Sony Clie that has WiFi built in or a CF slot for their wireless CF card (if you can still find them, as Sony discontinued their Clie line). I personally recommend the Sony PEG-TH55, which has built-in wireless and a nice big screen. Another good choice is the Tungsten T3 (with an SD wireless card). Both are more than your original price, but less than the Axim you mentioned. Another idea is to buy a Treo, if you need to get a new cell phone anyway.

I recommend if you buy a Palm, to purchase datebk5. $24.95, but worth every penny.

Hope this was helpful.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 11:28 PM on February 1, 2005

I'd throw my hat into the Palm camp as well, but I've never been a PocketPC user, so I don't have much to compare it to.

My girlfriend is also in the market for a midrange PDA, and I think we've landed on getting a Tungsten E. $199 fits your budget, has a very nice color screen, can open Office documents, has photo, video and MP3 playing capabilities, and as far as I can tell has gotten some decent reviews.

If you want to eek in just at your budget, check out the Zire 72 for $299, which can do what the Tungsten E does, plus has Bluetooth, a camera, SMS messaging and voice memo capabilities (perhaps useful to a student.) Got a similarly good review.

Handy feature comparison chart of all current Palm familes (Zire, Tungsten, Treos) here.
posted by robbie01 at 11:33 PM on February 1, 2005

I'll throw in a vote for Pocket PCs...I bought a Dell Axim (with integrated wireless) last year for around $300, and I really like it. I primarily bought as a scheduler, because I could sync it up with my calendar at work - but I'm having fun with some of the extras and games you can download.

For purchasing advice, I think Dell is one of the more competively priced brands for PocketPCs - the bang for your buck factor is higher than HP's. Case in point - my boyfriend bought an IPaq a month or two before I bought my Dell, and he spent $100+ more for his (they both have similar specs).

As to the changing your life factor, it does come down to this - you need to turn it on and use it! You can get gung-ho and put all your contacts and appointments in it, but it won't remind you about those appointments unless you take the time to turn it on (and not leave it in your bag).
posted by dicaxpuella at 11:41 PM on February 1, 2005

As indicated by others, simply owning a PDA does nothing for you unless you remember to use it: remember to turn it on every morning, remember to charge it every evening, remember to enter every single engagement, remember you are a slave to it.

If you can't get that anal about something, forget a PDA as a reminder tool.
posted by mischief at 6:03 AM on February 2, 2005

I guess I believe that in the long run it's better to spend a bit more and get more advanced capabilities now than to spend less, bump into limitations, and buy again a year from now.

I felt that way when I bought an HP PDA in 2001. Ends up I am not the type of person who can carry around one of these things, and now my $600 (at the time) toy is gathering dust.

It is looking like you really want one of these things for toys and are trying to rationalise it by claiming you need it for organisation. This is not snark. I was in the same boat; wanting the GPS, the WiFi, the colour screen for games, etc, etc.

Consider trying something inexpensive like one of those $99 Zires and see if it is something you will use. If it is, then you can sell/give it and buy something with the bells and whistles you crave.
posted by terrapin at 6:55 AM on February 2, 2005

Think about how you will use the thing. It is possible that you don't need a PDA at all, and at any rate, the key to getting more organized is not having whizzy gadgets but setting up a system for yourself that has a very low threshold for actually using it, and doesn't butt up against your own weak points.

I've been using the calendaring feature in my cellphone for reminders. Typing into a cellphone is (for me) a pain, but most of the time, it is convenient for me to put my appointments into iCal first and then sync them to the phone via bluetooth (which I love). If I had to do more data-entry on the go, this might be less attractive.

The cheapest option would be the "Hipster PDA" -- a stack of index cards with one in a different color (to serve as a divider between used cards and fresh cards), which you carry in your back pocket.

Also, just in general, check out
posted by adamrice at 7:23 AM on February 2, 2005

I agree with the majority of the posters - get a Palm.

terrapin has a good point also in that you should not spend a lot of $ up front - try a $99 Zire, or pick up a color Handspring Visor on ebay for even less. My Visor died last week, and while I *want* a Treo 600 or 650 combo phone/PDA, right now spending $65 is better.

It takes having and using a PDA to find out if it fits you -- I can't be without mine now. I got one for my wife and it collects dust.
posted by omnidrew at 7:34 AM on February 2, 2005

It is worth noting that most of the people I know who got Pocket PCs gave up and stopped using them eventually, probably because it was too much trouble. I know some people who did the same with their Palm, but much, much, fewer.
posted by grouse at 7:37 AM on February 2, 2005

Yahoo! Calendar, which is free, will email you and send your cellphone a text message to remind you for appointments.
posted by callmejay at 7:44 AM on February 2, 2005

I'd look past your original question to the points that people have been making about PDAs in general:

They're big and its something new to carry around. And you have to always be carrying it. I mean always.

They're also a pain to start up and use. The average time (in the wild - I saw results from a video study of existing palm / pocket pc users) it takes for a user to get out, turn on, find the right app, and be ready to write into the correct box / field is 27 seconds. That's the average.

I'd think of something more low tech -- paper. Or, synch something to your phone. Use the sms manager above, or use the included (but probably woefullyl sucky) calendar in the phone itself.

Also maybe look into getting a blackberry / treo / hiptop integrated device. They're about the same price used.

Your usage pattern will dicate what you really need. If you have lots of recurring appointments (and don't do much on-the-road data entry), then one solution is probably better than others. If you do lots of juggling and calling people from one meeting to tell them you'll be late / early / etc. from the next, then a different solution is probably optimal. All I'm saying is talior the solution to your real needs -- don't just buy a brick and then expect your entire life to fall into place.
posted by zpousman at 8:21 AM on February 2, 2005

I'm also in the market for a PDA, and I've recently found out that "most Palm OS models make it difficult or impossible to replace the battery yourself. And beyond the warranty period, you can't be sure the manufacturer will do it for you" (according to Consumer Reports). So the question is, how much of a big deal is that? Anybody know?
posted by acridrabbit at 8:21 AM on February 2, 2005

I can't speak to the difficulty level, but this website claims that it's not nearly as difficult as the manufacturer's would have you believe...naturally, they sell PDA batteries : )
posted by bachelor#3 at 8:56 AM on February 2, 2005

After four years, my Palm wasn't holding much of a charge anymore and I replaced it myself (instructions from site bachelor#3 linked to.) It's not exactly convenient, but wasn't much work after I had the right Torx wrench.

You could get a Palm m500 dirt cheap on Ebay. Or a Zire 21 new for cheap. I'm with omnidrew and terrapin -- get a cheap starter model to see if it really fits with how you want to use it.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:13 AM on February 2, 2005

Asus 716. I think that will fit in your budget. I love mine.

Or you could get a Series 60 mobile phone. The N-Gage may be crap for games, but it's a very cheap and capable Series 60 phone. I love mine. ;)
posted by krisjohn at 2:58 PM on February 2, 2005

I used a Palm (V then Vx) for a few years and really liked it. But they weren't color, they didn't do email well, and didn't read Word or Excel docs except with add-on software. And they only had a few MB of memory. So a couple years ago I switched to a Dell Axim. Color. WiFi card. Outlook. Word. Excel. Web browsing.

I can't stand it. It takes too long to do the things I want, I don't use the add-on junk, I'm still using very little memory (it's enough for all I need it to do). I'm in a WiFi environment yet never use the WiFi (the browsing experience is terrible). Worst of all it's big and heavy, so I don't have it with me nearly as much as I had my Palm with me. I'd trade back to the old Palm in a heartbeat. A newer one would be even better, and I'm searching for a good one on eBay or right now.
posted by brianbaute at 11:40 AM on February 4, 2005

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