PDAs for Social Workers
March 7, 2011 2:03 PM   Subscribe

If you were going to buy approx. 70 PDAs with no bells and whistles just for remote data capture/data storage and removal, what would you get and where would you get them?

The idea is for social workers to have PDAs in the field. I'm interested in what's the most stripped-down, indelicate device that can be purchased cheaply in mass quantity. Thanks much.
posted by Football Bat to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Sony CLEA was awesome. it did everything--had a full keyboard & handwriting recognition, blue tooth data transfer, full audio & video recording, used standard Sony memory sticks and despite launching at $600 you could probably grab them on eBay for $50 now. They were pretty durable too, just cell phones do everything now so it launched at the wrong time or I'd still have mine. Of course, like Burhanistan said, it depends on what specifically you need.
posted by ironbob at 2:22 PM on March 7, 2011

What is the use scenario, which will determine your must-haves? E.g.:

- Store contact information
- Read barcodes
- Sync contacts to central database
- Doc editing
- Arbitrary form creation and database syncing
- Mini SQL database

Old Windows Mobile devices can be had cheaply and are still used for some barcoding applications. If you are doing custom development the cost of the development will probably dwarf the amount spent on the devices themselves. Also consider that with old devices you may have problems finding replacement batteries if they used an odd type.
posted by benzenedream at 2:31 PM on March 7, 2011

Nthing an old Windows Mobile device. I have had two iPAQ, and one is still perfectly fine. (I even still miss AvantGo!)
posted by jgirl at 2:50 PM on March 7, 2011

posted by jgirl at 2:51 PM on March 7, 2011


It's spelled Clié.

I second Palm OS-based devices. The battery life and stability are exceptional, most of them are pretty rugged, and stylus input allows for fairly small user-interface elements (good for lots of checkboxes). You can find lots (as in 'a group') of Palm PDAs for sale on eBay pretty regularly. For example, here's a lot of 10 refurbished Palm Tungsten E2s for what works out to $75 each. If you don't need color or a high-res screen you can find older black & white models on the cheap as well. Bear in mind that battery life become an issue as you further back in time, and replacing the batteries can negate any savings.

Whatever you do, avoid the Palm IIIc. They had a horrible problem where the higher the brightness was the less responsive the screen became. There are a lot of cheap IIIc's on the market as a result, but they're not worth it.

Have you considered putting the application on a web server and having the social workers use smart phones? If most of them already have smart phones then it may be cheaper and easier to provide basic smart phones to the rest rather than find a bunch of old PDAs and write a program for a dead-end platform. Plus, the web approach gets you live data uploads and removes the need for synchronization.
posted by jedicus at 2:55 PM on March 7, 2011

These guys might be a better option for buying 70 or so old PDAs than eBay.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:57 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want new devices you might want to consider San Francisco phones. They're androids at sub-£100. I do not own one, but I know a few people who do, who say they're basic but functional.
posted by handee at 3:03 PM on March 7, 2011

Ebay is probably not a good solution. It's pretty rare to find used PDAs in batches of more than one unit. Unless you really want to do up to 70 individual auctions, look elsewhere.

Also, you want to avoid used PDA auctions, because:

1. Used PDAs on auction are on sale because they are spare parts
2. Nine times out of ten, a working, used PDA will need its rechargeable battery replaced

Contact Dell and Apple (to name two vendors of common PDAs) and ask for an account representative who specializes in orders from 501(c) non-profits.

Get new or refurbished equipment that will work with computers that your staff own and use today, which won't be DOA or require expensive repairs with hard-to-locate parts.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:19 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't forget the security you'll need to protect sensitive personal & medical information you'll probably be collecting in the field. Probably regulated by state and federal law.
posted by yarly at 3:30 PM on March 7, 2011

Aceeca still makes a PalmOS 5 PDA that runs about $180 new in single units. they also make "rugged" models. and, as noted by jgirl, HP still makes plain old Windows Mobile 6 PDAs (without the cell phone bits). you really need to know what features you want first, though. no sense in buying something without, say, data if you want live-updating in the field, or a Windows Mobile device when all the software you want is on Palm OS.
posted by mrg at 4:48 PM on March 7, 2011

Maybe I'm missing something, but the hardware seems to be the cheapest part of this whole equation: You're going to have to do something with this data - Why not start from that end and work back, to save yourself a giant ton of grief when it's time to hatch the egg?

I'm really going to be surprised if somebody chimes in and tells you where to buy 60 clie from. But then I'm absolutely floored by the Aceeca link above, and (For what you've told us this far) it looks perfect for your application, if you're set on PDAs.

Have you taken a look at using old cellphones? Using something like mdrawer to cook up a database input interface might get you pretty far, and I don't know of any PDA made that could take more abuse than a mid-90's nokia.
posted by Orb2069 at 5:53 PM on March 7, 2011

Overstock has refurbished Palm Zires for $88.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 7:28 AM on March 8, 2011

Response by poster: Everybody: thanks very much. I'm sorry for the lack of information. The project is in its infancy, and I'm trying to get an idea of what the options are, hence the vagueness. I've got a better idea what the cost is now and also a wide range of possibilities. Thanks again.
posted by Football Bat at 10:20 AM on March 8, 2011

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