Windows XP / Beginners

Choosing a Personal Data Assistant

A personal data assistant, or PDA, is a small computer that runs on batteries and can be held in one hand.

PDAs come in two forms. One is small enough to fit in your pocket. You enter information by touching a stylus to the LCD display. This type of device typically can read handwritten printing, although you may have to learn a special stylized version of the alphabet to use it. You may be able to buy a separate compact keyboard for entering larger amounts of text.

The other type of PDA is larger and has a full keyboard. Typically, the keyboard is smaller than the standard size but is large enough to make touch typing possible, if a bit, uh, contorted.

You should view a PDA as an electronic device in its own right, not as a tiny, limited computer. From this point of view, the lack of a keyboard is not necessarily a great disadvantage. Your particular needs may make a device with a keyboard more useful than a device that fits in your pocket, though.

When you choose a PDA, consider these factors:

  • Does it fit in a pocket or not? Does it have a keyboard or not? If not, do you need a plug-in keyboard, and can you add one?
  • What applications are built in? What applications can you add?
  • What operating system does it run?
    • Some PDAs run a version of Microsoft Windows called Windows CE, which runs special, highly stunted versions of applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel. These PDAs provide a familiar environment that is highly compatible with your Windows XP system. You can move Word and Excel documents from your computer to your PDA and back, although you lose a lot in the translation.
    • Other PDAs run an operating system designed for portable computing from the ground up, most often the Palm OS from Palm, Inc. These devices can run applications equivalent to Word and Excel, but the applications are different and their compatibility is more limited.
  • What is the device's battery life?
  • How much data can the device store? Does it have a slot for plugging in a memory card? If so, what type?
  • What provisions does the device have for exchanging and synchronizing data with your Windows XP computer?
  • What provisions does the device have for other types of communication? Does it have a built-in modem, or can you add a modem? What about wireless access?
  • What special features or accessories do you need? Are they available?
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