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BITS & BYTES: PDAs — Convenient, Functional & Fun

By Staff | Jul 7, 2010

As the appeal of checking e-mail, Web browsing, and performing other related tasks while away from the computer is becoming increasingly popular, companies are releasing more options to replace the typical cellular phone.

These replacements, offered by companies such as Nokia and Blackberry, are full palmtop computers that, in addition to offering typical telephone features, provide complete calendars, address books, navigation systems, word processors, spreadsheet programs, Internet telephony, e-mail checking, Web browsing and much more: all in a device easier to use and more convenient than a laptop, desktop, or workstation.

These devices are becoming increasingly small and light-weight. This guide will introduce you to some of the newest features being offered by modern PDAs (Portable Digital Assistants).

E-mail is probably the first activity most people think about when considering a PDA. Though most PDAs offer e-mail functionality, only a few provide great e-mail service. Look for a device that supports IMAP IDLE: not just IMAP, but IMAP IDLE. IMAP IDLE enables you to be notified instantly when a new e-mail arrives. Another convenient feature is the ability for the PDA to actually read you your e-mails using advanced speech synthesizer technology. A hands-free way to check your email.

Providing more than just e-mail checking and cell phone features, modern PDAs with broad synchronization allow for a portable calendar and full address book. They can sync with your computer, allowing you to create a full calendar on your computer and have the information automatically transferred to the PDA.

The reverse is also true. As you change/add items on the handheld, the computer will automatically update, which means the computer and handheld always have the same information. From the address book you can click a button to have the PDA automatically make a cell call or start an e-mail.

Internet phone service (Internet telephony) can be a convenient service. Though sound quality is not as good as true phone service, Internet telephony provides a way to make voice calls using your Internet connection at very low rates, including international calls at less than 2cents / minute. Look for a PDA that is SIP compatible, which makes Internet calls just as easily as it makes cellular calls.

The difference in stability and consistent operation among PDAs is surprisingly large. The least stable PDAs include those which use Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X operating systems. These suffer from issues such as spontaneously duplicating the entries of an address book, losing calendar events, restarting in the middle of a phone call and other symptoms. The most stable devices include those which use Symbian or GNU/Linux operating systems. These PDAs are so stable that many users never experience an issue and can have the phone powered on for months at a time without having to restart it.

PDAs are currently offered in two ways: "locked" by your cellular service provider or "unlocked" from anywhere else. "Locked" PDAs will generally have features, considered competing with the provider, deactivated. "Unlocked" PDAs provide access to all features intended by the manufacturer, allowing you to get the most out of your handheld computer.

(Bits & Bytes is a computer troubleshooting advice column provided by Zebis, a single point of contact managed service provider located on Sanibel serving clients worldwide.)