Overview Since the release of Palm Computing’s Palm Pilot in 1996, the hand-held device market has skyrocketed--both in sales and in number of manufacturers. The first PDAs (personal digital assistants) were inexpensive pocket sized devices designed to store addresses and appointments. As newer, more modern technology became available, the number of functions PDAs could perform increased as well. Currently, PDAs can be used to play music, take pictures, send e-mail, and even make telephone calls. 

General Information and History of PDAs 

History Attempts at creating commercially viable hand-held devices began in the early 1980s when Psion released a cigarette pack-sized organizer and address book device called the Psion I. Following Psion's lead, Apple Computer Inc., built the Newton Message Pad in 1993. This device was the first to incorporate a touch-sensitive screen and handwriting-recognition software. In 1996, US Robotics released the Palm Pilot and the PDA market exploded. For more details about the development of PDAs, go to cctr.umkc.edu/~jblong/hist.htm

Advances Hand-held devices have come a long way from simply storing addresses and phone numbers. The first Psion devices featured a monochrome sixteen-character screen and a 10-kilobyte storage capability for basic organizer and address book functions. The first Palm Pilot devices appeared on the market ten years later and allowed people to enter information by ‘writing’ on a touch-sensitive screen using a stylized alphabet called Graffiti. The Palm Pilot also introduced new functionality, such as automated synchronization between the Palm Pilot and a PC.

In the last five years, PDA's have been developed with faster processors (over 200 MHz), larger memory (over 64 MB), color displays, and multiple functions including Internet access, additional software, and multiple operating systems. Advancements in PDA technology continue to occur monthly. Below are some sites that will help you to keep up-to-date on the changes.  

The site, www.mobiletechreview.com features hardware and software reviews as well as specifications for the current PDAs on the market. www.pdagold.com has links to articles about PDAs in the media, a buyer’s guide, and platform-specific PDA information.

The Pocket PC Central site, http://pocketpccentral.net, often announces and reviews cutting-edge hand-held devices. You can find detailed product reviews for devices that use PocketPC and Palm OS platforms at this site. This site the-gadgeteer.com is dedicated to reviewing and describing new computer gadgets including PDAs and other small data-storage devices.

The site www.handhelds.org, who's goal is to "encourage and facilitate the creation of open source software for use on handheld and wearable computers" provide software reviews, downloads, documentation, and numerous other resources. 

Where to buy PDAs Most PDA manufacturers have on-line links from which to purchase their products. PDAs can be purchased from an independent merchant or directly from the manufacturer. For example, http://shopper.cnet.com is a comprehensive Handhel/PDA shopping web page with product categories ranging from hardware to software as well as add-ons. The site http://geek.pricegrabber.com also provides a list of the top 25 PDA devices and accessories as well as shopping links including specials and  reviews that are updated twice daily.

Major Brands of PDAs Palm Computing, Casio, and Compaq are three of the most popular PDA manufacturers. Hewlett-Packard and Handspring are not far behind. The PDAs manufactured by these companies vary in price, size, performance, and even in which platform they use. Below is some information to help you distinguish the products that are currently available. 

Palm Computing is the company that manufactures the Palm Pilot. First pioneered by US Robotics, the Palm Pilot proved to be so popular that the division was able to spin off into its own company. Palm Computing has an extensive line of PDA products, accessories, and software. Visit their site at www.palm.com/products

BlackBerry manufactures PDAs that use the BlackBerry OS operating system. This proprietary operating system is produced by Research in Motion through cellular telephone companies. The BlackBerry supports e-mail, mobile telephone, text messaging, web browsing and other wireless information services.  You can can find out more about BlackBerry and its services at www.blackberry.com.

Hewlett-Packard offers the iPAC line of PDAs that have wireless networking capabilities, color displays, and a long list of compatible software including versions of Microsoft Excel and Word. These devices use the Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 for Pocket PC, Premium Edition platform that runs numerous applications including games, an MP3 player, and various software applications. For descriptions, pricing, and availability go to this link.

Dell  entered the personal digital assistant market in 2002 with the debut of the AXIM family of PDAs that are Windows Mobile-powered Pocket PC devices. The Dell Axim delivers performance, connectivity, and a briliant VGA display at an affordable price. For more information about Dell's Axim handheld devices go to www.dell.com.