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Is there still a market for PDAs?

on December 21, 2011 5:49 pm

A few years ago, most of the people reading this article probably carried two devices with them every day in their pocket or bag: a mobile phone and a PDA. PDAs aka Personal Digital Assistants were the norm back then, while smartphones were still just a glimmer in eye of Steve Jobs and the Google whiz kids. These days no one wants two devices when they can carry one uber-nifty mega smartphone right? Maybe not.

Once a month or so, I’ll receive an email like this one:

Hi Julie,

I was wondering if you could give me some advice on a replacement for my Palm TX?  I’ve done quite a bit of research and found that no one except HP (IPAQ) is making PDAs any longer.  (And they are expensive.)

I could go to a different platform, but it seems that there isn’t anything handheld that enables you to enter data with a stylus and that functions primarily as a business organizer (focus on calendar, contacts, notes, and enables you to sync it with the computer.)  I don’t need a phone with more functions and I don’t want to have to pay a monthly data fee to use the device. I really like the simplicity of Palm devices.  It seems I am not alone.

Some people are turning to the iPod Touch, but I really like the “always on” feature of PDAs. Plus, I understand it is primarily an entertainment device as opposed to a business organizer.

Any thoughts.  I’ll need to sync with a Windows 7 PC.

Don

I know that Don isn’t alone because I live with someone that has no desire for a smartphone. She still uses a Palm Zire 31 which was released way back in 2004, the dark ages of mobile computing.

As I see it, people that want to continue using pocket sized PDAs, have 3 choices:

1. Continue using older PDA devices for as long as you can find / replace them

Most of the people that email me asking for PDA advice, always start out by saying that their Palm device is dying and what current device can they buy to replace it. Guess what? You can still find brand new boxed Palm PDAs for less than $50 on eBay. And if you don’t mind used devices, you can easily spend less than $25. Handspring Visors and Windows Pocket PCs can be found too. This is the most inexpensive solution and most likely the best one for people who are perfectly happy kicking it old school.

In addition to the basic PIM (Personal Information Management) apps that are built-in to each device, you can still download 3rd party productivity apps from sites like Handango and Freeware Palm.

The biggest problem I can see with these older devices is the fact that there is little to no support for them other than like minded users on various online forums. There’s also the issue that as we continue to update our desktop computers to newer OS versions, the ability to sync/backup our data on these devices will probably become impossible due to software incompatibility. That said, depending on the device, you can still find syncing software for Palm and Windows CE/Pocket PC devices on http://www.hpwebos.com/ and http://hp.com respectively.

2. Consider a WiFi enabled Android device

There are two ways to get a pocket sized Android device that can serve as a PDA. One way is to buy a WiFi enabled smartphone and only use the WiFi connection instead of the cellular connection. Just like with older Palm devices, older Android smartphones can be found at bargain prices. However, if you want something shiny and new, consider one of the Samsung Galaxy Player devices. They offer 4 and 5 inch models that are priced at $230 – $270. They have all the main features of current Android smartphones like WiFi, GPS, Camera, SD card expansion and Bluetooth, but without the need to pay for a monthly data plan. I took a quick look at the Galaxy Player 5.0 at my local Best Buy and was tempted to buy one just to do a review.

One of the best reasons to go with an Android device is the fact that you completely bypass the need to sync data with a desktop PC. All data syncing is done with Google (calendar, contacts, email) via WiFi to the cloud. And for those of you that are extra paranoid, there are third party apps that will back up your data to an SD card.

3. Another option is an iPod touch

Apple’s iPod touch is almost like having a thinner iPhone without the actual phone feature. Priced at $199 – $399 depending on the capacity, the touch has WiFi, Bluetooth, and front / rear facing cameras. What it doesn’t have is a flash card slot or a real GPS… but there is a mapping feature that uses proximity to known Wi-Fi networks to figure out your location. Definitely not very accurate though.

There are a bazillion productivity apps for the touch including some of the really popular ones that used to be available for the Pocket PC and Palm OS like Pocket Informant and iambic’s Agendus.

Like Android devices, you have the option not to connect the iPod touch to a desktop computer as the data will be stored in the cloud with iCloud. iCloud will also make sure that your data is the same across all your iOS devices which is cool. I like that I can take a picture with my iPhone and it will automatically show up on my iPad and iMac. You can even sync your Google data (calendar, email, contacts) with Apple’s built in apps.

Of course if you choose option #2 or #3, you’ll have to charge your device every 2-3 days unlike 2-3 weeks or longer with an older Palm device.

If it were me, I’d probably choose the iPod touch for a few different reasons. For one thing, it has more support from Apple in the way of OS updates than the Samsung Galaxy Player and other older Android devices. Apple tends to provide major OS updates through 2 generations of devices. So if you buy the current or last gen device, you can still run the latest and greatest version of the OS. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Android devices. There is also a huge variety of 3rd party accessories for the touch that include cases, charging docks, speakers, fitness sensors and more.

So what do you think? Is there still a market for PDAs? Are there other devices not mentioned here that you think would make a great PDA for the non-smartphone crowd? Let me know your ideas.

Comments

  1. 101
    Sue says:

    Has anyone tried to download a virtual version of Windows XP and to then hotsync the Palm? I haven’t… I’ve just heard that it might work.
    I still use my Palm TX. I can connect to the Internet and use it for email, contacts, docs to go (with a sandisk) even plain text books! memo, notes, calendar… photos +++ It’s amazing – still to this day.
    I tried an ipod touch and I tried an Asus Memo Pad but I do not like the touch screen at all.
    Fortunately for me… I have two Palms, one is in a box and barely used at all and I don’t like all this ‘cloud’ business either. I was very pleased to see that I’m not alone in this… there are many many many of us – how great is that?

  2. 102
    Carl Fairhurst says:

    Hi, yes I am a Palm tragic too, they were the very last word on “integrated” personal organization. I wish the Chinese had bought the company! Clearly HP bought it in order to kill and bury it. I have tried a number of times to “migrate” from Palm to something else, with great promise, but little success. Also re clouds and such, I keep my whole life on my Pda and I want to keep total control of that information, not send it off for a trip.round the internet thankyou.
    Here’s the thing, someone who comes up with a Palm emulator for android will be greatly loved!

  3. 103
    Robert Cranson says:

    Hi Don,

    How to synch?? Thanks for an enlightening article. I’m an old Palm Zire 31 die-hard, whose multiple palm 31’s are in fact dying on him. Your article convinced me to come into the modern era but I still don’t want to to pay monthly fees. I have a Tracfone (an LG 800) and, since I don’t use the phone function much, I don’t need that. My big question is (drum roll) if I buy a Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0, how can I synch my contact database from the Palm Zire 31 to it?? If you can answer this question I will be eternally grateful. Thanks much, Bob

  4. 104
    jdl50cc says:

    Yes, you can do it with CompanionLink software. The easiest way is through The Cloud (Google), but if you’d rather not use that method, then you can also get DejaOffice (also from CompanionLink) to do a direct USB sync from your PC (Palm Desktop) to your mobile device, assuming that your Android device has a USB port as well. I’ve done it both ways. Because I have to share my calendar and contacts with others, I opted to stick with The Cloud method.

    DejaOffice is free, but CompanionLink is about $50. It may be the best $50 I ever spent, however.

  5. 105
    Robert Cranson says:

    Thank you jdl50cc!

  6. 106
    Ninetrees says:

    Thought you all might get a kick outta this ;-)
    http://www.biemiller.com/fstrap.htm
    Scroll to the bottom it the rest doesn’t interest you…I can relate both ways ;-)
    http://www.biemiller.com/v20-3-palm.jpg

  7. 107
    Bob Deloyd says:

    Not much about the Palm, But what a Wonderful story!
    I like this part of what Mike writes as he makes his first landing on an aircraft carrier and what the Air Boss in the ship’s tower tells him over the radio: “OK son, we got ya’. You can throttle back now, you’re not going to make the ship go any faster.”
    You really have to read this colorful story to understand :)

    Thanks @Ninetrees for such a wonderful read!

  8. 108
    Jason says:

    I still reach over to my current smartphone (which is iPhone 5) cradles thinking I can hit the sync button…

  9. 109
    Craig says:

    Just thought about this today for one reason alone. Think the gov’t (or hackers for that matter) will ever scale down their efforts to shove their grubby little fingers into your personally owned information? Fat chance. Well guys, good luck doing that when I only put anything more important than a stupid internet picture on my non-wifi, non-cellular, non GPS PDA from 1998 :-) An air gap is the best security there is. (and no, I won’t be syncing that data to my pc) Backups will be SD card or :gasp: paper copies if they are that important. Might even buy a cheap laptop that will never have net access to store info on. Ancient. Linux. Computer.

  10. 110
    Lynn says:

    I have a PalmIIIxe that I purchased brand new in April of 2001. I sync it every day to my computer at my office. I’ve never had any issues with it. I love it and don’t want to ever let it go. The IT department at my office has informed me that I am due for a new computer in a week or two and that it will not support my Palm. I do not want to use something other than my Palm. I don’t have a smartphone and don’t want to pay a monthly fee to access my own stuff. Hopefully, I can utilize some of the tips in this article for when the day comes that my Palm is no longer functional.

  11. 111
    jlua says:

    Lynn: I feel your pain. I have been using my beloved Palm, until the day I upgraded to Office 365. Then the Palm synching stopped working altogether. My support synching software PocketMirror by Chapura is a discontinued product now. You may want to look into CompanionLink, a product which claims to support the synching, as I understand when I read their web site. However, I see the writing on the wall, and I am going to buy an iPhone 5s. We´ll see what happens, because the path is not very clear to me, but waht is clear is that I must start thinking to move on…

  12. 112
    John Love says:

    Thank you for this article, like most of you, I have been using a Palm pda since the 90’s. Currently, I am using a Palm T/X, actually my second since 3 years ago.
    I believe that until somebody could come up with a device with at least 4 ‘hot buttons’, that would immediately turn on the device and immediately run an application when pressed, and with a powerful search function, Palm owners will always stick with their device.
    Right now, I am still playing with a Nexus 10. I found out that with a usb keyboard attached, pressing any keys would immediately turn on the device.
    Now if only I could figure out a way to assign my favorite apps to the 12 Function keys . . .

  13. 113
    Ray Ingles says:

    I moved on to Android, but I still have a soft spot for Palms. So I wrote an emulator, so I could still carry my favorite apps and games around with me. I even have my old Datebook diary – 1.4MB and counting – loaded up.

    It’s on the Google Play store – “PHEM”, the Palm Hardware Emulator.

  14. 114
    jlua says:

    After being a Palm person for many years, I had to switch because when I installed Office 365, Hotsync and Chapura Pockemirror gave up. So -after much reflection, fear, and research- I recently bought an iPhone 5s, which I am now using with CompanionLink. As fearful as I was of leaving my beloved Palm devices behind ( I have used almost all Palm devices since day one), I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised that this combination does much of what Palm did, Categories and all. I still think that Palm was the most elegant and intelligent design for a device. But, I can now say that the iPhone+CompanionLink combo does what it does pretty well, and I am happy with the result, in case anyone out there is as fearful of a platform switch as I was.

  15. 115
    jdl50cc says:

    jlua,
    You and I are pretty much in the same boat. I am using an iPod Touch the way you are using your iPhone, with pretty good results, although I miss the integration of addresses, appointments and tasks that Agendus provided me (and still does on my Desktop).

    The only thing I’ve been really struggling with is the memo function. I was using NoteSpark for a while, but they just announced that they’re discontinuing the product. Now I’m trying Dropbox and PlainText, and they seem to be working out pretty well.

  16. 116
    mpdx says:

    Thanks for the article! I have a Win8 phone, but I still use old-school PDAs for my calendar and tasks. I have an iPAQ 110 from work, and purchased a Celio Redfly dock to make typing easier (the Redfly works with any WM6.x pda or phone). I also have several older handheld PCs (HPCs), including an HP Jornada 720 and NEC MobilePro 880. Both are like small laptops – clamshells with physical keyboards – but they function like PDAs. Instant-on and they sync with Outlook just like a pocket pc or Palm. I’ve tried to just use my phone, but I don’t like the short battery life and I like the bigger screens on the HPCs.

  17. 117
    Susan says:

    Great article.

    I have a Workpad Desktop 3.0 (goes back to the days when IBM was selling the Pilot, I believe in 1998). I have to get off Windows XP (no longer supported). I have a laptop w. Windows 7 and I am trying to “migrate” the Palm SW to it as I would love to keep it. I tried straight copy of the whole directory but not even the desktop app comes up. Any suggestions re. how to move over the Pilot (assuming that the SW works w. Windows 7)? It is not only the money I would not like to spend but I dislike a lot touch screens, I need only the capability to store addresses in an organized fashion and notes. Thanks in advance.

  18. 118
    Bob Deloyd says:

    @Ray Ingles
    I just saw a video of your PHEM APP and I have to say you were being very modest in what you posted here. This is a very incredible Palm APP for Android!
    I would post the video myself, but like you said, “It’s on the Google Play store – “PHEM”, the Palm Hardware Emulator.”

  19. 119
    Nancy Weinberger says:

    Okay. I think I have most of you beat! I have a Handspring Visor Prism which I adore. Unfortunately, I had to replace my PC and the new one runs Windows 7. So of course, I can no longer HotSync. My life (quite literally) is on this PDA. Any ideas for a replacement…without having to pay any monthly charges like Apple products. And ideas how I get my life off of this machine that I don’t really want to part with at all?

  20. 120
    jdl50cc says:

    There are options as long as you don’t mind using “The Cloud” as a conduit to get your devices to talk to each other.

    If you have a smartphone, then use CompanionLink to sync it to your PC database via Google. CompanionLink is about $50.

    If you don’t have a smartphone (like me), then get an iPod Touch to replace your Prism. If you don’t want to buy a new one, you can get a used one on Rakuten.com for about $150. (I used Rakuten.com to buy a used Thinkpad laptop and I am delighted with the purchase.)

  21. 121
    filofel says:

    Nancy,

    You CAN use Hotsync on Win 7, I used Palm Desktop on a 64-bit Win 7 and it worked just great (I now use Linux that has PalmDesktop-like software available).
    All it took was installing the appropriate USB / Palm conduit driver – couple of minutes, and here is how to get it:

    Aceeca.com makes and sells hardened Palm devices.
    And they have the appropriate USB drivers for WIn 7 32-bit and or 64-bit.
    Download them from there:
    http://aceeca.com/index.php?option=com_maqmahelpdesk&Itemid=96&id_workgroup=1&task=downloads_category&id=8

    And they can still sell you a brand new full PalmOS device. Just choose from there:
    http://aceeca.com/handhelds/compare
    The simplest one (PDA32), a “halfed-rugged” model, looks good enough for regular use. It’s just a bit thick – but probably doesn’t require a case, since it’s most likely more robust than the original Palm.
    I haven’t bought one yet since my Palm/Tx is still running, but I definitly will when it dies.

    For more info, also look there:
    http://aceeca.com/index.php?Itemid=96&option=com_maqmahelpdesk&view=downloads

    Note that I’m not affiliated in any way with Aceeca. I just happened to find their site a few years ago, benefited from their up to date Palm / USB driver, and intend to buy a “PDA32″ from them as a replacement for my good’ole Palm/Tx whenever it fails.

    PalmOS ain’t as dead as everybody seems to think…

    PhA.

  22. 122
    Chuck Findlay says:

    I use a Palm Tungsten E as a customer database for my one-man business. I plan on using it for as long as I can. Like other palm users I have come to like the instant on and quick searching ability it has. While talking to a customer I punch in their info and it pops up right away. For what I do, the Palm is the best choice.

    And I don’t have to pay a monthly fee to access my info and it’s not stored on-line for others to look through. For those that think net-connected computers are safe, you should talk to the 70,000,000 Target store shoppers that had their info hacked.

    I have a spare palm (got new on E-Bay) and I also kept my old XP laptop to sync with the Palm. I back up the palm almost every day.

  23. 123
    Kev Darsney says:

    Sorry Nancy. I’m still using a 1998 Handspring Visor Platinum. I’ve had to rebuild it a few times over the year. Let’s face it, these things were never meant to last 10+ years especially the digitizers. Still as I tell the kids at work it’s all I need. For sure I don’t need to pay an extra $360 a year, every year, for a data plan that I don’t want and don’t need.

  24. 124
    Bob Deloyd says:

    Everytime I see a post here on PDA I go right to eBay and start checking them out. I have other PDAs: 2 Dells, and a few older Palms that lose all memory because of a faulty capacitor (see way above in comments), oh and a Sony CLIÉ PEG-SJ22 that’s charged up and ready to go; I still wanted to get a more recent Palm. So I just bought a Palm Zire 71 with Cradle, AC Adapter, Case, Software and User Guide for $20 and free shipping. I have an XP laptop and a ME desktop that are dedicated to running these and other old programs and devices that I own. The windows millenium desktop has not been online for… a longtime. I imagine that with a good antivirus I can use the XP for a year or two if I watch where I go… then it stays offline ;)

  25. 125
    jdl50cc says:

    For you hardcore Palm addicts who need to keep your hardware going, be sure you’re aware of Palm Dr./Shortronics. Chris Short has been fixing my Palms since 2010. His work is fast and cheap, and he does a great job.

    You can find him at http://www.palmdr.com/

  26. 126
    Constance Bevitt says:

    I just purchased a TX from a 3rd party vendor on Amazon (and they were terrific). I downloaded the drivers from Aceeca mentioned in an earlier comments.

    On a 64 bt Windows 7 works GREAT and the vendor helped me understand how to transfer from my aging Zire m150 to the newer TX.

    Maybe there are less expensive options on Ebay, but I wanted the forum to know that the vendor selling on Amazon (“renew electronics) is very good and has very helpful customer service people.

    I highly recommend them…and can now retire my XP beast without concern.

    I so appreciate all the tips from the forum. Thank you all.

  27. 127
    Susan says:

    Thanks jdl50cc for the infer re. PalmDr’s website and service. He just fixed some problems that prevented my Pilot to synchronize. Very professional, quick and effective help. Highly recommended to anyone who still insists on having a Pilot or similar device supported/serviced by Chris.

  28. 128
    John Tighe says:

    I was happily using a T5 until my ex-girlfriend killed the Prizm I gave her, then killed the battery on my T5 by playing Scrabble endlessly. I’m relatively new to PDAs. In 2008 I used a Prizm for a PHONE for some months, but the headset plug on it was weak and I had to get a real phone. I then bought a used T5 that was a beta test model from Palm. It had serial numbers stamped onto the case, and still developer notes on Palm products from it’s previous owner. I bought a used TX, but the screen had the off-registration problem on the screen.

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