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High on everyone's wish list this year is the PDA, or Personal Digital Assistant, which is basically a small computer than you can carry around in your pocket to act as a diary, address book, email reader, etc, and then lets you share data with your home or office PC, so you can keep all your information bang up-to-date. Whilst in the past PDAs were mainly for your busy executive types, prices have recently come down to much more manageable levels and a whole range of applications that let you surf the net, play games, watch movies and store your record collection are now widely available.

The first level of choice in PDAs, or handhelds as they are sometimes known) is the operating system - they nearly all run on either 'Palm' from the Palm company, or 'Pocket PC' from Microsoft. They're both good, but if you're used to Microsoft, it's probably best to go for the Pocket PC version as it will be able to run scaled-down versions of all the common Microsoft applications you're accustomed to. Most Palm devices are generally smaller and lighter, with a touch screen and stylus for data entry, but if you're planning to do a lot of writing, you should think about a bigger version with a proper keyboard, as it's easier to input large amounts of text.

Then you should think about what you want your PDA to do for you. If you just want a simple diary and address book tool that will remind you when appointments are due or to take simple notes in a meeting, then you can go for a model with a slower, less powerful processor, which will cost a lot less to buy. But if you want to surf the net and watch a lot of movies, it's wise to go with the fastest possible processor (up to about 624MHz is now available), although expect to pay a much higher purchasing price.
Next up is memory. PDAs don't have a hard drive like your home PC, so nearly everything, including your applications, is stored in RAM (for Random Access Memory). Therefore, the more RAM a model has, the more data it can store and the more tasks it can perform. To give you a rough idea, 16MB is enough for your basic diary and address book needs, 32MB will run your Microsoft Office programmes, and you'll need at least 64MB to get the best out of the internet, audio or video. Many models now allow you to extend their memory capacity with a memory expansion card like Compact Flash, Secure Digital or MMC. If you do decide on a model best-suited for video and the net, then make sure you also choose one with a high-resolution colour screen and, preferably, Bluetooth or Wireless connectivity which will allow you to connect to other devices without cabling.

Hot in the market at the moment are the so-called called 'Smartphones', which are basically PDAs with a mobile phone built into them. These can be expensive and have limited capability due to the amount of electronics crammed into them, so if you're thinking about going down this route, it might be a good idea to look at the current offers from mobile phone operators, many of whom will actually give you the unit for free if you sign up to a contract with them, which will also take care of your internet access. One major advantage of the contract option is that you can generally upgrade the equipment as an incentive to stay with the company, so you'll always have the latest model in hand.

Author R. Germain
date added Wed 29 07 2009

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