CNET editors answer a reader's question about the state of PDAs and offers buying advice on current models and alternatives.
Bonnie ChaFormer Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Q: I was browsing CNET, and noticed that PDAs have dropped off the map. It's been "the talk" for years that phones and PDAs were going to converge and neither would exist alone as we know them. Did it happen? Did I miss it? I've been an avid Palm user (even have programmed them for work), but of course Palm/PalmSource/Aspect is tanking with a couple Treos as the only remaining flotsam. The TX was great...but is going. Hewlett-Packard's iPaq is tragically bland. So, what's a PDA guy to do?
What would you recommend for keeping calendars, addresses, notes, possibly pictures and music, and Web browsing over Wi-Fi--that isn't also my phone? Or should I just suck it up and give in to the too-large-for-a-phone-but-too-small-for-a-PDA smartphone? I'm terrified of relying on Verizon, AT&T, or Apple for the portability of my data in the future--they can't even move a simple phone list. And the way they lock up and cripple their devices is stupendously...stupid! -- Chris C. via e-mail
A: Hi Chris. Back in 2006, when Palm celebrated its 10-year anniversary, I was asked if PDAs would be around for another 10 years, and perhaps it's because I like to root for the underdog, but I said yes. Now, I'm having to reconsider my stance.
I still believe there is a market for handhelds. With all the advanced gadgets today and working in tech, it's sometimes easy to forget that there are a lot of people who still just want the basics, whether it be a cell phone that just makes calls; a simple point-and-shoot digital, or a standalone PDA for simple organization. When it comes to the latter, however, the market is small and dwindling.
As you probably know, Palm hasn't released a new model in years, and while HP continues to offer PDAs, they're very corporate-centric and sounds like you're not a fan of them anyway. So what is a guy (or gal) to do? Well, if you enjoyed the Palm TX, you could always get a replacement, since they're still available for sale. I'd also recommend taking a look at the Nokia N810 Internet Tablet. It's not as compact as the TX and might have a bit of a learning curve, but you'll be able to organize your contacts and calendar, enjoy multimedia, and surf the Web via Wi-Fi. In addition, you get GPS, a full QWERTY keyboard, and there are numerous applications you can add to expand its capabilities.
I'd also encourage you take a look at the Palm Centro. It is a smartphone, but I think it would be a good transition device for you. You'll get the familiarity and benefits of the Palm OS and PIM (personal information management) tools, but you'll also get voice features and a full QWERTY keyboard in a device that is the size of a PDA. Plus, it's really a good value for your money. I'm not sure what carrier you have for cell phone service, but the Centro is available at all major service providers except T-Mobile. If you are a TMO customer, you can buy an unlocked version and insert your SIM card.