In the Palm of Your Hand

My day job is one that involves a lot of technology and many of my co-workers are gadget fans. So it should come as no surprise that I have owned a Palm Pilot for almost three years now. Moreover, when people ask me about them, I advocate buying and using a PDA. I firmly believe they are worth the cost. Nevertheless, most people have the reaction of “But would I really use it?” Well, I had the same thought and here’s what I found, both in my professional and personal life . . .

The model I have been using up until last week was, in fact, the very first model in the Palm Pilot line. It’s probably five or six years old. Compared to the current line, it had far less memory, a slow processor, wouldn’t run some newer software, was not expandable, ate batteries at a pair of AAAs per month, and, due to its age, would sometimes wipe itself out on me every few months. Despite that, I discovered it was surprisingly useful within a few weeks of getting it.

I had loaded it with some business related phone numbers, and added some appointments to the calendar application (called Date Book.) I didn’t know when, or even if, it would be necessary. In fact, it seemed to me like my paper and pen Day Planner was more reliable. The Day Planner didn’t require batteries or synchronizing with a desktop application and I suspected it would be faster to get a phone number by flipping to an alphabetical tab and skimming down a page.

On a business trip to Toronto, I tossed my Day Planner in my bookbag and the Palm in my jacket pocket. Even the smallest Day Planner would not fit in my pocket, but I didn’t, at first, consider that the best measure of a PDA’s usefulness. On arrival at the taxi stand at the Toronto airport, however, I soon realized two things:

  1. That the PDA fit in a pocket made it far faster and easier to pull out and put back.
  2. That turning it on, choosing the Address Book, and looking up the address I was going to was not only tempting, but a helluva lot faster and easier than dragging and fumbling with out my Day Planner.

The PDA operates easily with maybe six buttons — most of which you may never use — and a little stylus. In fact, I can generally get by on the power button, stylus, and the two scroll buttons. Within seconds, I had told the driver where I was going and had dropped the Palm right back into my pocket. Checking the schedule of events in Toronto was also just as fast and easy.

All I needed was to find the PDA useful once and I was hooked enough to dump all of my information into it. I quickly found that getting my information in through the desktop application was relatively easy, especially when I exported my e-mail program’s contact information into a format that I could then import into the PDA’s software.

What’s more, I set the Palm to give an alarm ten minutes before any meetings or other events I scheduled (this can be set as a default, by the way, which make it even easier to rely on the Palm as your personal secretary to remind you of upcoming events.) Since then, I’ve been on-time for more than 90% of the things in my Date Book. Without it, I might have been too deeply focused on a project to otherwise remember I had to stop the project and rush off to a meeting. In addition, the ten minute advanced warning generally gives me plenty of time to properly complete what I am doing so that I can come back to it and pick up where I left off.

As I mentioned, though, the old Palm wasn’t always reliable. Sometime it would just wipe out what I had in it; I suspect the previous owner had tossed it around a bit too much. I am thankful, however, that most of the time it didn’t lose data while I was traveling. So I simply swapped in fresh batteries and synced it to my desktop again. The desktop software acted not only as a convenient way of entering or converting data into the PDA, but also as an excellent backup for it.

For my most recent birthday, my fiancée bought me a brand new PDA, a Handspring Visor Prism. Handspring is the Mercedes of Palm OS based PDAs, even better, in my not so humble opinion, than the Palm Pilot handhelds made by Palm. My fiancée did have one bad experience with the Handspring Visor Edge, which has a very slippery stylus and a clumsy way of attaching it. But when I evaluated all of the Palm-based PDAs in December to buy her one she might like better, I found that the other Handspring Visor models all felt much better than the Edge and the Palm Pilots. They pack just slightly more heft in the hand like the original Palm Pilot, have some ribbing along the sides for a better grip, and because they have offered expansion through the Springboard modules longer than Palm Pilot has offered expansion, there are more and better developed expansion options with the Handspring, which can still run all the same software as the Palm Pilots.

The Handspring Visor Prism is the color model. When I did a side-by-side comparison of the Visor Prism and the Palm m505, the color display on the Prism was clearer, brighter, and sharper than the Palm. Moreover, the Prism can be viewed across a much wider angle than the m505.

Aside from the Palm OS, there are PocketPC lines available from a myriad of companies. I have not had direct experience with them, but what I am advocating here is getting a PDA, so I will say this for the PocketPCs: Because they are running on a Microsoft OS and have handheld versions of Microsoft Office applications on them, they can read and write many of the common document file formats you might want to be able to take with you. For the Palm OS handhelds, there is additional software available to read and write MS Office files. I have yet to need to use any Office files on my PDA, but I am sure this is a big selling point for many people.

So, if you find you have enough money to buy one, I would recommend buying a Palm OS or PocketPC PDA. You will likely find that it will help keep all of your information, and you life, better organized. It’s not just a cool gadget for geeks.


By Christian Lee

Christian Stuart Lee's Rants and Chants has entertained and informed readers since January 2002. Rants and Chants includes non-fiction writing -- anecdotes, essays, movie reviews, and more. He is diligently working on a novel and other projects, which he hopes to publish soon. He is available for freelance writing -- the materials in Rants and Chants will give you a sense of his interests, knowledge, and style.