It wasn't long ago that the Palm Pilot was first introduced, but today many users admit they can't live without them. Palm is the registered name for the original Palm Pilot -- a hand-held computer known as a Personal Digital Assistant or PDA, that works as a mini-office with a database, day timer and note-taking software. Since its introduction, Palm has licensed its operating system to other companies who are manufacturing similar devices, and some of these companies are giving Palm a run for its money. Handspring is one of the most successful, with a line of PDAs that add plug-ins for external devices such as modems and digital cameras.
In order to find out which PDA gives you more for the money, THAT MONEY SHOW sought out some experts. David Heim is the managing editor of CONSUMER REPORTS and the author of its recent cover story, "On Palms and Other PDAs."
THAT MONEY SHOW presented Heim with a hypothetical: If you had to pick a PDA for somebody who doesn't have a lot of business needs, what's the best one for the money? According to Heim, "I would say it would have to be a basic Handspring or a basic Palm. They're very close in price and they're very similar in capabilities, as you can imagine. See where you can get the best price."
Brian Clark, who is a big PDA fan and MONEY magazine's technology writer, especially likes Palm's entry-level model, the M100. Says Clark, "If all you're using it for is a date book and a calendar, you can spend $150 dollars and buy Palm's M100 device, which comes with 2 megabytes of RAM, which is more than enough to store thousands of addresses and e-mails and things on your to-do list."
If you're willing to shell out more money, you can buy yourself one of the mid-range PDAs. CONSUMER REPORTS especially liked Sony's Clie', which runs Palm's operating system. According to Heim, "It's got a very clear nice crisp
display, it's very slick looking, and works with Windows PCs." THAT MONEY SHOW's Clark disagrees, saying he would choose Handspring's Visor Platinum for its expansion slots.
For the serious road warrior, both Heim and Clark recommend splurging on a Pocket PC running on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system. These more expensive PDAs are geared for business travelers who want to transfer data back
and forth from their PCs to their handheld devices. Of course, our experts also disagree about which of these is better. Clark prefers Compaq's iPAQ, while Heim favors Hewlitt-Packard's Jornada.
There are also high-end hybrid organizers such as Research in Motion's beeper-sized device that also allows users to send and receive wireless e-mail and access Web sites with its Blackberry Service. But while all these bells and whistles sound great, many consumers find wireless Internet services ahead of the curve and nothing more than an extra cost.
But how handy are PDAs? To find out, THAT MONEY SHOW did a survey. We measured, weighed, and timed how long it takes to use some of the most popular PDAs. The bottom line? Measurements didn't vary much, with most devices fitting easily in pockets and handbags. Most are fairly light too, weighing in at between four and eight ounces. And while PDAs can certainly store a lot of information, their speediness really depends most on the user's familiarity with the operating system.
Although there are plenty of people who love PDAs and claim that they couldn't live without their portable electronic brains, there are just as many who'd rather rely upon their own brains, and save the two to three hundred dollars necessary to buy a PDA. Even our experts agree that PDAs are not a must-have item for everyone. Says CONSUMER REPORT's David Heim, "The simpler your life, the more you can do without a Pocket PC or a PDA. The more complicated your life, the more you have to keep track of day in and day out, the more a PDA makes sense."