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PDAs: To Buy or Not To Buy

About 4 months ago, I wrote that I was once again taking a foray into the world of PDAs. Today I give you an update on that venture. The short version is this: I'm using the PDA far more than I expected, but I'm still not sure whether the total investment (more than the cost of an inexpensive notebook computer) is worth it.

To briefly recap, I selected a Dell Axim 50v as my PDA of choice ( ) because of the broad feature set, built-in wireless connectivity options, and the VGA screen. I added a 1GB Secure Digital memory card and the Dell Bluetooth GPS Navigation System, plus a few other options such as the extended accidental damage warranty, extra batteries, and a spare power system so that I didn't have to disconnect my desktop setup when traveling. The entire system cost about $900.

That's a serious investment so I'm determined to give the PDA world a serious shot. Much to my surprise, I find that I use the PDA almost everyday, although not how I originally envisioned using it. I'm still not sure it was worth the money, but if I'm still using the device after a year or so, I'll consider the money well spent.

I had expected to use the PDA for basic contact information tasks, but I'm also using it to read books. Fortunately I'm able to find hundreds of titles online, including new releases from publishers such as Baen ( ), and having my PDA at hand all the time means I always have something to read, which is a big deal to me because I always carry around a book or two to read as the opportunity presents itself. With the PDA, I have 30 or 40 titles with me at all times. Also, the PDF reader lets me put technical documentation on the device so that I can have it available while I'm working on products or to peruse while I'm on the train to customer sites in the city. The convenient availability of documentation and spare reading material goes a long way to making the PDA a useful device for me.

The second surprise is how useful the GPS system is. The included car kit lets me enter an address while at my desk, then take the PDA to my car, turn on the GPS hardware (which connects to the PDA via Bluetooth technology), and get directions spoken to me while I drive. The ability of the PDA software to find restaurants and other venues during my travels has also come in handy, and I expect it to be even more valuable this summer while I travel by car looking for property to buy in central Pennsylvania.

So far the PDA has enhanced both my personal and business life, and I'm beginning to believe it's worth the expense. My other Dell portable device, the Digital DJ, has been useful but has died twice. Dell did send me a replacement unit within 3 days in both cases, but putting 5000 tracks back onto the replacement device isn't fun. I haven't had to deal with replacing the Axim yet, but the device supports single-click backup of its contents, and I've been obsessive about backing up the data I store on the PDA. I'll let you know in a few months whether I'm still pleased with the device.

TAGS: Security
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