PDA Buying Guide

Personal digital assistants (PDAs) are data-centric devices designed for on-the-move computing and communications. Here's what to consider before buying one.

Operating system

When choosing a PDA, you're also choosing an operating system and this will affect functionality, applications and third-party software. It's important to get the most suitable platform for your intended tasks. You'll have to choose between Microsoft, Palm, Symbian and RIM.


The Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system appears on a number of PDAs from manufacturers including O2, i-mate, Dell, Acer and HP. It has the dominant share of the PDA market and there are a number of versions within the Windows Mobile family that update earlier versions with enhancements and additional features.


Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Second Edition included improvements such as support for increased screen resolution and dual screen orientation for viewing in both portrait and landscape modes. The Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PC Professional Edition and Premium Edition included Media Player 9, Pictures, a photo editing application, and improvements for connections between device and network. The Premium Edition also included Microsoft Reader.

The latest version is Windows Mobile 5.0, which is used in PDAs with voice and phone functionality, and smartphones. It supports a range of devices with different screen sizes, and an increased number of files for synchronisation with Outlook. It also has the addition of PowerPoint viewer, improved Media Player and support for wireless network connections through WiFi and Bluetooth.


The other major player in the PDA market is Palm which has a number of low- and high-end PDAs. The most recent version of the operating system is Palm OS 5.4, also known as Garnet, an improved version of the older OS 5.0 which is still in models in the marketplace. The additions include support for higher resolution screens, more memory and improvements with Bluetooth connectivity. Palm has a large group of third-party applications and add-ons for business and personal tools, such as flight scheduling, money management and shopping lists.


The Symbian operating system is more commonly found in smartphones, but some of these devices have computing functionality and can sit in both the smartphone and PDA categories. Devices based on the Symbian operating system tend to favour phone features, but the data applications are improving with each new version of the operating system. The latest version of the operating system is Symbian OS v9 which has improved security, enhanced email and calendar functions, support for higher resolution cameras and better video and image processing.


The newest entrant to the growing PDA market is RIM (Research in Motion) with its BlackBerry devices. It is a proprietary platform that was originally developed for sending and receiving email. BlackBerry devices now support Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino, Novell Groupwise and POP3/IMAP email clients. The platform has also developed to include a range of information management tools as well as phone functions in some models. Palm has recently announced that BlackBerry connect will be available on the Treo smartphone in 2006. However, most BlackBerry devices have limited office applications, storage and multimedia features.

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