Is there still a market for PDAs?


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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149 comments… add one
  • Susan March 26, 2014, 3:02 pm

    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.

  • John Tighe April 6, 2014, 1:10 am

    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.

  • JH Akins October 14, 2014, 5:41 pm

    I still own and use an m100 Palm Pilot to this very day That’s how old school I am. It still serves me well. I HotSync it once a week, sometimes twice a week. I still have a few vinyl records and a record player. Oh, I do own and use an audio CD player, but I never upgraded after that. I don’t own an iPod.

  • dan March 22, 2015, 3:37 pm

    As people become more aware the government is using mobile phones, wi-fi and GPS to track your every move a PDA such as the Palm E suddenly looks very cool.

  • Bob Deloyd March 22, 2015, 6:40 pm

    @Dan
    Funny you should comment on this right after I just plugged my Palm Zire 71 in for charging after months of nonuse… 🙂

    • Dan March 23, 2015, 4:30 am

      I just bought a new Palm TX, it has colour, and MP3 player, diary, calculator, memos, contacts and tasks. I just dumped my mobile and it feels good not being on call to everyone else…. FREEDOM!!!!

  • Bob Deloyd March 22, 2015, 8:02 pm

    Ha!
    I just found drivers for the Palm Desktop to run on 64bit Win7 and 8.1 🙂
    I am going to give it a go and will report back….

    http://h30434.www3.hp.com/t5/Palm-OS-WinMo-Hardware-and-Software/64-Bit-Windows7-8-8-1-USB-drivers-for-Palm-Desktop/td-p/2159769

  • Susan March 22, 2015, 8:04 pm

    I cannot wait to hear about it.

  • Sophie June 18, 2015, 2:02 am

    I have the exact dilemma. I find the article interesting (& funny) but it doesn’t provide me much of an option & paint the wrong picture of PDA users. I am a smartphone users. I’m not anti-smartphones. I have an iPod Touch and a Galaxy S5 only using via wifi since I’ve upgraded to an S6. I just bought a Surface Pro 3. However, with all those gadgets, I’m still in love with my Palm Vx (bought in 2000). I love its simplicity, quick response (on/off), sync function with one touch button and battery that lasts for weeks (still does!). I really think that only a Palm lover could really understand the pain. I don’t mind upgrading but to what? The best part of Palm is not syncing to any cloud. The iPod Touch has apps and so does the smartphone via wifi, which mean data can be taken without your knowledge. Big no no. There need to be more reasonably priced PDAs for us “old school” or just like to keep things private.

  • Liam Myers March 20, 2017, 9:09 pm

    I find that if you want the stylus feel, a note 4 is a good modern option, with chrome, google docs/hancom, and drive. i dont normally work on one, but i definitly could. the stylus is also very well made/programmed.

    But i do admit, getting my pda and thinkpad working again would be pretty fun.

  • Lars Hammer Andersen April 2, 2017, 11:23 am

    Psion 5mx. There was never made a better PDA. I really hope that PDAs will come back.

  • jdl50cc April 2, 2017, 1:35 pm

    I wouldn’t hold my breath for that. As much as I prized my Palm, I believe a “come back” of that technology is about as likely as crank windows, manual typewriters, 78 RPM shellac records and wooden washboards. Their time has come and gone.

    Nostalgia just ain’t what it used to.

  • Ninetrees April 2, 2017, 3:03 pm

    Still getting the occasional drive-by, I see. I’ve been using the Palm for decades. I am currently on Windows 10 Pro x64, and syncing works fine. Seems ironic that I used to get all sorts of mocking comments from iUsers, and now my other PDA is a Note 4. 😉 It comes pretty close to the Palm, and in some instances is better. But it took all those years to catch up. I use DejaOffice. Took quite a while before I trusted it, because it had so many problems, and corrupted my Palm data regularly. Has not happened for a while, but I use my Palm as my primary, partly because it is so convenient to share data with my wife. I hear whispering of PDAs coming back, and letting phones be phones, but I think that phones are too entrenched now. I seldom run across folks who use their devices to capacity, instead simply using the same set of features, such as the camera and text messaging. Only someone used to the convenience of the Palm would appreciate what is lost on most of the phones. I use a lot of Note 4 features, but usually reach for the Palm in most business contexts. My wife manages many schedules for public venues, and all on the Palm. Nonetheless, handwriting recognition, one of the main reasons I stuck w the Palm, is often better on the Note 4. For some reason, Google services, such as Chrome, don’t seem to use handwriting well on the Note 4. It’s great for texting, though, and I appreciate having it to use when I need to text. I so dislike keyboarding on these devices, Palm included. I marvel at those who just seem to pump out volumes of text with their thumbs 😉 Searching is better on the Palm and the Palm desktop. I have not found a desktop that I like better than the Palm. Seem to me that a handful of folks are trying to create something different, in the hopes that it will be better. Some things just work well as they are. For me 😉 Still, with the inclusion of the stylus, the Note 4 now is almost a replacement for my Palm Pilot. Still too big, too power hungry, not secure enough for my taste (I’ve been involved in business internet/intranet app dev since the 1980s, and have been stunned by the security holes since day 1.), and I can’t just beam something to my wife without the cloud (and it’s exposure). Though I think that there is a market for a good PDA | app platform, like a Palm-iTouch hybrid, I don’t think anyone is going to gamble on it. I know too many who mock the Palm without knowing what it does that their devices don’t. It would take one of the big players to make a move. I don’t really DESIRE a PDA-only device, despite my attachment to my Palm. After all, I use quite the handful of apps on it, too. I just like 5s syncs, complete searches, which I use a lot, and so on. I can send someone a record over IR, and use PDFs, digital books, and mapping (with add-on GPS), to name a few, on the Palm. I can’t use a mapping program while I am away from Wi-Fi. I can’t find a plethora of apps for it any longer. When I speak of the possibility of a PDA, I mean one that uses all the updated screen res, handwriting tools, etc, that we are used to now. I think if the Palm had been handled well in the 1990s, it might have survived as a serious competitor. The Note 4 is, and I appreciate all it does for me, despite those few areas where it falls short of the Palm.

    • jlua April 2, 2017, 3:42 pm

      Ninetrees: I sympathise with your comments because I have been a dedicated user of Palm for a very long time. I abandoned it with great sorrow and worry. However, I have now moved to a complete Apple environment: desktop, laptop, iPhone and iPad, and I have to admit that it is such a superior environment that there is no way back. Note that I have been a Microsoft/DOS/Windows user since 1983, and only moved to Apple about a year and a half ago. Trust me if I say that it is a seriously superior environment, including its organiser functions. For a very long time Palm was the winner and my platform of choice, by far. However, I won´t go into the long list of benefits, but trust me that if you moved to Apple you won´t miss your Palm anymore, except for a feeling of sweet nostalgia, like I do now.

      • Ninetrees April 2, 2017, 5:56 pm

        I admit that I have been looking hard at doing the same. There seem to be pros and cons for the move. I think the Apple line is very polished, and it would be nice to have a line that works together. It loses points because when I started looking at Apple a few years back, and I was told by Apple salespeople that it would replace the Palm, I bought into Apple, only to find that it fell FAR short of the Palm. I used to think that it was relatively problem-free, but I get a lot of negative comments about Apple playing well with others, and I need to play well with others. Now, I am NOT a Windows advocate by any means, and getting less content with it as the days pass. But I work in a challenging environment (science research), and many colleagues use Apple products. As a techno-geek, I get many requests to get this or that to work, all the while listening to gushing about how wonderful life is with Apple. You might be excused for thinking that I am an Apple cynic, but not so. We (industry) used to produce lines of technology that were smooth and polished. I’d pay for that. But these days, it seems that tech vendors are more inclined to rush out the next “cool” thing, rather than turn out a polished, thoughtful product, from phones to automobiles. Hence the security problems with Apple in the recent past. And I guess that I will be difficult to sway as long as Apple thinks that I should be using crayons to write upon their portable devices. I can draw very detailed maps, circuits, and equations on my Palm. This is one of the draws for the Note 4. Despite my criticisms here, it is likely that in the next year or two that I will move to Apple, accepting its shortcomings as I now accept Windows and droid. I still use my HP 15C, even though I own the latest HP gear. I criticize HP for the same behaviour: The 15C and devices of that era are well-thought out and well-engineered. The HP Prime is a powerful contender, but comes with these lovely pastel orange and blue keys. I’m sure that they looked good in some newbie 20s-something color review, but every engineer and scientist I know thinks they are hard to read. Pastel keys are fine for cure sales brochures, but not so good for every day use. I think that Apple suffers from the same approach. Too much cuteness (and yes, I like colors and sophisticated screens), and not enough utility. I guess that I am a cranky, seasoned techno-jock scientist with demanding requirements. Who may soon be a reluctant Apple user 😉

  • Sue April 2, 2017, 6:19 pm

    My Palm PDA died a few months ago. I cannot say how sorry I am. I still use the PC based component for my contacts, I could not decide what to get to replace the Palm. I do not have a smart phone. 2 yrs ago I switched from a Windows based environment to an Apple desktop. I regret it every day. It is just as bug ridden as the Windows environment. Safari keeps crashing, their mail front end lacks many features good old Eudora had many years ago. Their hardware is good, but their software is lousy. It is neither user friendly nor safe. I use Office for the Mac for word processing and spreadsheets. As a result I would be very reluctant to become a hostage to the Apple line which is expensive, inflexible (cannot replace batteries in many of their devices, cannot add memory, etc.), doesn’t play well with other OSs, it is no longer more secure than other OSs and if you look at the “support” website (run by volunteers) you can see the many cries about bugs that never get fixed… Apple really doesn’t care and doesn’t live up to their promises. Their devices are more a “status symbol” than truly better computers. I still do not know what could replace my Palm Pilot PDA..

    • jdl50cc April 2, 2017, 10:26 pm

      If you still have your heart set on a Palm, there are many of them available on eBay, Amazon, and my favorite Palm repair shop, PalmDr.com.

    • jlua April 3, 2017, 5:29 am

      Sue: The eternal discussion of Windows Vs. Apple is sometimes equivalent to a religious dispute, and probably this is not the place for it. But what I can do is speak about my own personal experience, and I can assure you that my experience is not at all near what you describe, even though there are some objective facts that you mention that are indisputable, like the assertion that mobile Apple devices don´t have removable batteries, or extendable memory, and there are technical, philosophical, and -probably- marketing reasons for that, but that has never become a problem for me. It is also true that Apple is more expensive, and that the Apple environment is much more “closed”, which a result of a certain design philosophy, with its advantages and disadvantages. However, while all is not “perfect” by any means, for example, iCloud has much room to improve, the Mac OS and iOS environment are certainly not “bug ridden”, in great part because at least under Mac OS is UNIX, the most stable and probably most solid industry-strong OS ever developed, with which I have much worked in my professional life and know quite well. As for your concern with security, I use Norton, and while Norton used to continually give me reports of security access attempts on my Wintel machines, there have been no serious security reports on my Mac OS machine in the past year and a half. Finally, Apple consistently has the highest ratings in consumer satisfaction with their technical and customer support, and I can say that it has also been my own experience with them. I have no personal stakes in this discussion, and I don´t own Apple shares; all I have is more than 35 years of experience as a computer scientist, and I enjoy sharing my experience with fellow users. Of course, my experience can be different from that of other users, and that´s why, fortunately, we all have choices as users and consumers, which is a very good thing.

  • jlua April 2, 2017, 7:47 pm

    Ninetrees: I so much relate to what you say. I have worked all my life as a Computer Scientist, and after being a Wintel machine user for decades, every new problem was a challenge that I enjoyed spending the time to resolve. The downside with the Apple environment is that it is very boring for people like me. No challenges anymore… I remember reading a study that Lockheed did many years ago that discovered that between a third and a fourth of its employees´ time was spent “twiddling” (their word) with their computers. Needless to say, they were all Windows machines.

  • Ninetrees April 3, 2017, 9:07 am

    jlua et al: Good morning! Imagine my surprise to awake to several post in this thread, started in 2011 😉
    Years ago, working in the nuclear field, I was using HP calculators for reactivity calculations in the field. When my latest HP calculator showed a bug that was a constant annoyance — that is, not some esoteric bug that I needed to search for — I contacted HP. To my surprise, they assigned an engineer to work with me, understand the bug, and fix it. My own company, started in 1990, and now winding down by my choice, offers iron-clad guarantees. We never needed to use them. Not once.
    Last night, Windows 10 Pro x64 decided to swap my extended and main displays. Took me 25 minutes to “fix” that problem, and I knew where to look. OTOH, after listening to the mocking of so many Apple users who could not believe that I still use a Palm, I decided to seriously consider Apple. My wife and I went to several Apple stores, taking our Palm Pilot Tungsten T5(s), and exploring how to make the switch. We were even turned over to “technical experts”, who assured us that we would be able to use the Apples just as we did the Palms, and that we would soon not miss the stylus. As a result, even though we didn’t actually see what we wanted to see, we were convinced that we would if we bought the devices and learned to use them. After struggling for a few months, we agreed that they were simply not even //close// to the Palm. We kept them as alarm clocks, and music players, and went back to Palm. Now I don’t mean this as another flame in the Windows-Apple firestorm. It’s just one experience. Advantage neither. I am strongly attracted to Apple for some of the reasons listed as criticisms. But I opine that we have become a society of “echo chamber” citizens. I have experienced this at every level, from blue collar workers sipping a brew on a Friday night at the local bar, to top-level officers in companies with multi-billion USD annual revenues. They all heard what they wanted to hear from those around them who said what they thought every one wanted to hear. On one occasion, returning from dinner with some of those top officers, my wife asked me if they worked for the same company she had been hearing about from others. Yep. They just all got together and told each other what they wanted to hear. Diverging a bit further on this same path, the pundits — all but a small minority — thought that Trump had no chance to be Pres. Echo chamber. I want to be open-minded about technology. After all, it is here to make my life easier, or to help me solve challenging problems. Like many others, I still use Eudora, not because I am too stuck in my ways to change…I visit alternatives regularly to see what I am missing…but because it does what I want in an email package, and so simply, and the alternatives don’t. Sadly, it doesn’t handle UTF8 natively.
    My experiences with Apple and Windows (and droid) are that they all have problems. I’m often asked to “fix” something on both systems, so I don’t get to see either as better overall, even though I see strengths in both. My company acts as a consultant, aiding others with scientific and engineering design and development. In one Apple-rich environment, we routinely get hit with Apple bugs when we are there. Doesn’t make Apple worse than Windows. It just means that we live in a world populated by incredibly complex devices, and we don’t manage that as well as I’d like it managed. I guess that I could add that before the Palm, I was using a product that I was deeply committed to, and went through a period when I used it and the Palm. In the end, the Palm was the clear winner. I like to think that I apply the same open-minded approach to all new products-tools-devices that I consider.
    From the web (2014)…Still, Sparks doesn’t love adding or editing his contacts with Apple’s Contacts. “It takes far too many mouse clicks to get things rolling.”
    I can’t comment.
    https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/11/how-to-stop-the-wave-of-apple-calendar-alert-spam/
    Active in intra- and internet application development since the early 1980s, I have been shocked for decades at the slack approach to security and protecting my rights…from Apple, Microsoft, Firefox, Google…the list goes on.
    Back to PDAs? Well, the T5 still works as advertised. I’m lucky that I can find drivers for Win 10. I am moving away from the Palm, recognizing that it /will/ one day not inter-operate with my desktop. I’m grateful that there are vendors out there who saw the large number of folks who needed a way to move past Palm Pilot, and got to developing alternatives. At least one of them is making good strides, so I have at least one viable alternative.
    But I can close with this. Recently I was crossing the campus of a major university, and using my T5. A passing student commented. Ready for the usual mocking comments, I was surprised to find him lauding the merits of the device. Seems that he enrolled in a technical class—I think chem—and the prof required the use of Palm Pilots, which he supplied. They are, after all, not generally available 😉 The student said that he came to like the Palm, and realized that the act of taking notes using the stylus helped him remember them better. The prof wanted the convenience of electronic note and data gathering for his review.
    Sorry for so many words 😉 And for not reviewing them for content before posting.
    ~R~

  • Craig Smith April 4, 2017, 5:51 pm

    I’d like to recommend what I find to be an excellent little device for note taking called the EchoPen. Check out the features and reviews for yourself, but from what I’ve seen, it’s one of the best actively developed devices for writing in the market currently. Not to mention it is very compact and integrates with smartphones and tablets. Similarly, I’ve been impressed with the LiveScribe for people like lecturers who wish to take notes with audio and give students the chance to replay the sessions later. Immense help while I was taking my math class once year. No need to bug the prof or rearrange my life around tutoring when I could simply play and replay lectures, and research parts I didn’t understand well.

  • Jordan July 16, 2017, 12:34 am

    I still use my Palm Tungsten C daily for my business (I’m an I.T. professional). Imagine the looks and comments I’ve gotten in my profession using one of these in 2017, haha! I wrote my own article about it here in 2010, and it still applies today.
    https://www.thedarkener.com/why-i-still-use-a-palm-pilot-gasp/

    I have 3 other Tungsten Cs for backups (one works fully, other two for parts). For me the C’s chicklet keypad is just the best thing for Palm. I’ve had others including the IIIc and 5v (?) and was very used to graffiti, but I always preferred a physical keyboard. I’ve had Palm Pilots and other earlier PDAs since about 1997.

    I hate that my smartphone doesn’t have a physical keyboard. I’m looking at the Pyra handheld for when it comes out to replace my phone with a pocket Linux-based computer that happens to have a cell modem on it too. It’s nice to see others still love the Palm today as well, I don’t feel so alone. =p Cheers!

  • Ninetrees July 16, 2017, 8:44 am

    Still using my Palm Pilot, too. See above. But a few years ago, I was “strongly encouraged” by my science team to get a smart phone, and I eventually settled on the Note 4. The stylus was the swing point for me. Now I am told by my provider that I “must” upgrade, because my phone is “obsolete” and will “stop working within a year”. I’ll wait.
    But the Note 4 stylus is great, because it means that I can write notes while not looking at the phone, keeping my attention focused. The battery is not as good as the palm, but the screen is both better and brighter. I also now have an external USB battery, so I can hook that up in meetings. I unlock it so that when it auto turns off, I can just swipe if on again. Most of the comments on thedarkener work for me as well.

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