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PDA/Smartphone Buying Guide

PDA & Smartphone Guide

Our PDA/Smartphone Guide contains all Palm OS PDA's and smartphones, plus Palm's Windows Mobile Treo devices. In addition, each device has its own My Handheld page with recent news, recent forum posts, essential software, patches and updates, and related links and information. For non-Palm Windows Mobile devices, see Amazon Windows Mobile section

PDA or Smartphone?

The first decision that you need to make is whether you want a dedicated PDA or a smartphone. This is mostly a personal preference, but there are some things to consider. In general, a PDA is going to have a much larger screen, possibly more memory, and in many cases have wi-fi. If you need to have these features, then you can use a separate cell phone and link the PDA to the cell phone via bluetooth, infrared, or a cable.

If having a single device is most important to you, then you can choose either a Palm OS or Windows Mobile smartphone or PDA Phone. For Palm OS, smartphones are currently limited to the candy-bar style. For Windows Mobile, there are large-screen PDA Phones as well as smaller-screen smartphones. For WM smartphones, there are both candy-bar style as well as flilp-phones.

You can access our PDA/Smartphone guide here, based on the type of device you are looking for.

Current PDA's Only
Current Smartphones Only
Current Specialized Only
View All Current Models

Palm vs. Windows Mobile?

Years ago when the Palm OS dominated the market and Windows Mobile was not fully refined, Palm devices were much easier to use, had longer battery life, and the most third-party software applications. Today, however, Windows Mobile has just about caught up to Palm OS in ease of use. There are also third-party applications for just about anything you can imagine. Today Palm devices and WM devices use the same or similar processors and so battery life is the same given the same size battery. WM does tend to cater a little bit more to corporate users, at least in terms of built-in software. However, Palm has third-party applications to do pretty much everything WM can do. Overall, there aren't many large differentiators between the two operating systems, so feel free to choose whichever one you feel most comfortable with.

Note that Palm's Windows Mobile Treo's have included software that extends and helps simplify standard WM software. They are basically trying to make Windows Mobile even more easy to use.

There is some empirical evidence from PC World that shows that Palm's have less support issues than PocketPC's, but this is changing over time. Read our article Editorial: Palm vs. PocketPC for more information.

You can view a list of all current PDA/Smartphones sorted by operating system.

How Much Memory Do I Need?

Memory on a PDA or smartphone can be quite confusing, because there are so many different types and configurations. Probably the most important one to look at is how much "Usable" or "User Memory" the device has. In general, this is where programs are installed, where data is kept, and where running programs get their memory from. The more the better. Some devices have flash memory where data and programs can reside. Be sure to check how much of this flash is "Usable" by you, rather than the operating system.

In general Palm OS PDA's have separate memory dedicated to running programs, while in most Windows Mobile PDA's do not. This makes a HUGE difference in how much memory you will want in the device. Some WM PDA's and smartphones do have dedicated program memory, but for WM devices that do not, you need roughly twice as much memory as in a Palm OS PDA. This is because you end up dividing about half the available memory into usable memory and program memory on a WM PDA. I wouldn't recommend getting a WM device with less than 128 MB of memory, unless it has separate dedicated program memory. In that case, and for all Palm devices, 64 MB is the minimum that I would recommend.

Another very important aspect to consider is whether the device supports memory cards and what type of card it supports. Most PDA's have standardized on the SD/MMC format, which is about the size of a postage stamp and go up to 2-4 GB in size. Smartphone memory cards are less standardized and include SD/MMC, Mini-SD, and MicroSD. These smaller formats generally can be used with an adapter that fits into an SD/MMC card slot. By the way, cameras use even more varied types of cards, so you might want to consider getting a camera or PDA/Smartphone with compatible formats.

Note that Palm's Treo line and their most recent PDA's have what is referred to as non-volatile RAM or flash memory. This memory acts like usable memory, but will not get lost when the device loses power, even for an extended period of time. This is a very nice feature if your device ever gets fully drained because all of your data will still be in tact when you recharge the device.

All devices also have Read-only Memory or ROM. Device manufacturers typically provide enough ROM to store the built-in programs, so you generally don't need to worry about this. This type of memory cannot be used by you, so don't get fooled into thinking your device has more memory available to you than it really does.

Read our Memory Management User Tips for more information.

Other Features To Consider

You should also consider how important the following additional features are for you in determining what PDA or smartphone to purchase. I would recommend first determining which features are definite requirements, then prioritize the other "nice to have's".

  • Size & Form-Factor - Consider the overall size of the device as well as the form-factor (PDA, candy-bar, flip phone).
  • Battery Life - Check the mAH and manufacturer's stated battery life measurements (those will be overstated, but can be used for comparison purposes)
  • Screen Size - The bigger the better, unless you are looking for a small, lightweight smartphone
  • Camera - VGA (640 x 480) is common, but you'll need at least 1.2 MPx to make a decent 4x6" print
  • Bluetooth - Today's standard for headsets and device synchronization
  • Wi-Fi - Excellent for use at home or the office for much higher-speed data transfer than Bluetooth or the phones data network
  • Data Network Speed - For smartphones, check the average data speed of the network. There are HUGE differences between the speeds of the various protocols, such as GPRS, CDMA, EDGE, etc.
  • Voice Recorder - Useful for "taking notes" while driving
  • Vibrating Alarm - Nice for meetings
  • Charge Indicator (LED) - Nice for easily seeing whether your device is done charging or not
  • Included Software - Look at both built-in applications (in ROM memory) and "bundled" applications that can be installed in RAM from a CD
You can view all of these various specifications on the individual product pages in our PDA/Smartphone Guide.

Where to buy?

You can get a great deal and help support PalmZone.net by purchasing your device or any other merchandise from any of the online stores listed at the bottom of this page. This includes Amazon.com, the Palm Online Store, and many other excellent sources.

You can view all of our site sponsors here.

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Published on: 2006-07-04 (79417 reads)
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