Palming off, or, how to replace my PDA?

A rough approximation of my PDAAs the social media guru Douglas MacArthur should have said, old technology doesn’t die, it just fades away.  What’s fading on me, lately, is my Palm Tungsten PDA, one of the two that Noah used on the ark.  It’s the third Palm I’ve owned, though the second one’s life did end prematurely when a heavy shelf decided to part company with my office wall.

The PDA doesn’t have Internet access, can’t make calls.  What it used to do, reliably, is synchronize my contacts, my calendar, and my to-do list so I could use these things either on the PDA or on my laptop.

A while back, the calendar stopped synching, which means the PDA won’t remind me I’m supposed to be at the dentist’s or that the scope of work is due at the client’s on Thursday.

I’ve decided not to try fixing this thing.  My idea of a good time, or even a mildly tolerable bad one, doesn’t include textual analysis of error messages when they boil down to “nope, that didn’t work, either.”  Instead, I’m trying to figure out what I want to do electronically so I can choose a suitable solution for myself.

The status quo:

  • I use Outlook for email.  I’m an independent practitioner, so it’s not like I’m required to use it.  I’m just accustomed.
  • I use Outlook’s calendar and to-do list a lot.
  • My portable phone’s a very basic model.  It makes calls.  I don’t have a text plan; it’s too much trouble to enter text when you only have 12 keys.
  • Most of the time, I work from my home office.  Most of the rest of the time, I’m using my own computer at some client site.

So, I’m considering getting a smartphone to replace both the PDA and my current phone.  I still want synchronization, by which I mean I want to be able to rely on either the smartphone or my computer for calendar, contacts, etc.

I am not welded to Outlook, though by nature I’m reluctant to shift fundamental applications.  If I had to switch email, I’d be looking for solid evidence that the New Thing linked well with calendar and to-do stuff.  And if I were really unhappy, I might go to the recommender’s house and let the air out of a tire or two.

I’m not opposed to an iPhone, though I do think Apple’s business model includes the Beanie Baby approach: create the appearance of exclusivity, then charge more.   I talked a bit yesterday with a Verizon salesperson about the new Droid phone; I’d like to hear more from people who do the kind of stuff I’d like to do.

So–how should I be thinking?  What am I overlooking?  Feel free to add a comment here, through Twitter, on LinkedIn, or at dferguson [you know] strathlorne [ditto] com.

CC-licensed image of PDA sketch by andreaspopp.

15 thoughts on “Palming off, or, how to replace my PDA?

  1. Hi Dave! I’m using the BalckBerry Storm, my 4th smartphone, on Verizon, as my prior experience with ATT and a smartphone, was that it didn’t work in places I traveled to (KC, Wyoming, mid-state IL). As V says: there’s a map for that.

    I like the full screen for reading and looking at pics and videos. A prior BB had half that screen.

    And the BB syncs well (wirelessly too) with my Outlook (and other systems) for email and tasks, calendar, and contacts. At $49 the original model (which I’ve got) might be used without a data plan – and no Internet access, etc. And without a text plan too. Same could be said of the Palm Trio (2 phones back). Use it as a cell phone and as a PDA that you sync – with or without a text and data plan.

  2. Thanks, Guy.

    As I consider this, I’m pretty sure I’ll end up with a data plan. Far too often I find myself out and about, wishing I had a quick connection (like one I could complete in the time it’d take to fire up my laptop).

    I realize I’d been thinking too readily of Outlook’s integration of mail / calendar / to-do. What’s more important is the availability of those things, and the ability to keep each in sync between (portable) computer and smartphone (computer).

  3. I love my Beanie Baby iPhone. I love everything about it. I love to turn it on its side to see the image rotate. I love my itunes. I love my Kindle Ap–great for when I thought I’d be 5 min at an appointment but instead I am 1 hour and didn’t bring my real kindle. I love the way it synchs to my PC just by plugging it in. I love my contacts…I have a little pic of many of my contacts so that when they call a nice little picture of them pops up and it makes me smile. I love the picture of my cat that is my wallpaper.

    I do not sleep with it. I do not talk on it while eating or while at a restaurant. I do not text continuously. But I did get the data plan which up’d my monthly phone bill by like $10. I already had AT&T so I wasn’t plan hopping when I got it.

    A droid phone. I think all the same wow is there. And, you might like the fact that the droid phone has its own GPS. That might be a good add for you/your car. I mean if you were to leave your home office :-)

    Oh, my phone’s ringing, gotta go!

  4. Katy–

    Man, I didn’t know you had a Kindle, too.

    The synchronization is a big deal for me. I’m also very reluctant, at least for now, to put my contacts into Google’s cloud. Some of that’s just paranoia; some of it is waiting for a smart entrepreneur to write an app that’ll sync Outlook contacts and tasks with the Droid.

    I’ve done some looking around (on smartphone discussion boards, for instance) and have seen a few glimmers of light.

    I understand why Google doesn’t have one; I just don’t get why such a theoretically large chunk of the market–people with lots of time and data invested in Outlook–is being ignored.

    (As you know, I’m using a standalone version of Outlook, not some corporation’s Outlook Exchange. I don’t think I’m the only one in that situation.)

  5. Hi Dave,
    I found this blog looking for an answer to your exact question … kind of. I used a Palm Tungsten until about 6 months ago. It did what I asked of it – calendar, contact info, to do list – KISS. But then it died and, like you, I work from home and if I need to meet with a client I bring my laptop.
    But, I still do things like networking meetings and doctor appointments and I need a PDA.
    Unlike you, I have no interest in a data plan. $30/month for the honor of receiving my email while driving just isn’t worth it.
    I got an HP Pocket PC on Ebay, which would be great if it didn’t crash constantly and suck the battery dry in between crashing.
    I’m now debating between trying a quick fix of a new battery for the PPC, or taking Guy’s advice and buying an older Treo (with Windows Mobile) as an all-in-one replacement.
    As it turns out, the second option isn’t that much more expensive than the first. But, the viewing screen is half the size.

  6. Well, I certainly don’t see “crash constantly” as a value-add. A data plan makes sense to me; I’m tired of wishing I had online access when I don’t. Palm, I think, rested far too long on early laurels. Since writing the post I’ve looked at working versions of both the Verizon Droid and Verizon Eris. The lower price for the latter and my lack of need for a teeny physical keyboard, are definitely attracting my attention. The commodification isn’t quite there, as evidenced by Verizon’s decision to increase the alimony–I mean “early termination fee”–by 100%.

  7. My palm died in December. I’ve been without a portable version of my calendar and contacts since then. I’m considering getting an ipod touch to use as a PDA so that I don’t have to replace my phone (which I like) or pay for a data plan.

    Have any of you considered getting an ipod for this reason?

  8. Rachel, I wasn’t aware the iPod touch could be a PDA, though once I read your comment, I learned that’s the case. This post by Bruce Keener is only one of many articles I found.

    Sounds like at least a possibility if you’re happy with your phone. I’ve been lazily dithering but am leaning toward the HTC Droid Eris.

  9. I too, am feeling increased pressure to replace my PDA (I have the Dell x51v). Didn’t know what to do, for all of the reasons already expressed here. I too was “relieved” to find out that the ipod touch was essentially that “modern” pda. So I investigated.

    One GIANT problem: The app I use MOST on the pda is Pocket Quicken. To have my home financials available on the portable, and to sync them (almost) effortlessly, is essential to my way of life (not quite religious, but close to it). So, what happens when I graduate to the Ipod Touch? NOTHING, as I found out. Apple offers NOTHING for Quicken, and Quicken offers NOTHING for the Iphone/Ipod. Zilch. The maker of Pocket Quicken (Landware) offers NOTHING. And, they have no plans to offer anything, because they get no support from Quicken and no support from Apple. And they don’t expect to in the future.

    So rather than change my religion, I guess I’m faced with coaxing the last life out of my x51v.

    The other problem: synching in general. Yes, I find on the Ipod Touch I can use Pocket Money (or something like that) and I can get it ot sync with Quicken, if I do this manua thing by exchanging the data file. And, I find I can use an Outlook address book substitute and “get” it to sync with Outlook by performing such-and-such instructions. Similarly with an Outlook calendar substitute.

    Well, I just don’t want to plug the Ipod into the computer, issue instructions to sync this, then instructions to sync that, then…

    With my PDA, I just plugged the thing in. Then everything was synched in a few seconds. A near-religious experience?

  10. Daryl,

    I wish you well in your search. It’s almost exactly one year since I got my Verizon Drois Eris smartphone. I’ve been able to sync with both my Outlook calendar and my email. Currently I’m fiddling with task/to-do software. I’m beginning to think I need to abandon the effort to have the tasks sync with Outlook’s tasks, which is too bad–but mostly because I’m a creature of habit.

    It occurred to me that if I can find task/event stuff that suits me, maybe I can get off the Outlook calendar, though I’m still disinclined to use Google’s. It’s a bias of mine: I don’t want to share any more info with them than I absolutely have to. So I have a gmail address but don’t actually use it for anything. (My “real” email is through my own domain.)

    There are so many useful things about a smartphone (especially one that lets you make calls) that I have spent very little time mourning the loss of my PDA.

  11. I’ve been using the ipod touch as a pda for a year now and its been just as good as the palm pilot that I had to replace.

    I use outlook too, and my contacts sync easily everytime I hook up to my computer – no third party software or anything.

    I still don’t want to pay for a data plan and my ipod is serving me well so far.

  12. Rachel,

    My attitude is, “If you’re happy, you’re happy.” The data plan I’m using adds $30 a month to what had been my cell phone bill. Not everyone would see that as a bargain. I find benefits for myself from that $1 a day–using Evernote from my phone, for example; comparing prices on the fly (meaning, in the store); having the option to use Twitter, to update my blog, or to customize my digital toolbox by adding apps.

    That’s not to say this is what you should do. What’s worked for me, though, is that I’ve reduced portable devices by one, since the PDA is now part of the phone. And I’ve also reduced the distance between the computer and the phone.

  13. it’s so great (for me) to see that others have had the same problem i’m now faced with: a dead pda (mine’s a Compac IPAQ 111 PDA) and trying to decide whether to continue buying them until the supply runs out or update to newer technology — but what?? i too need to be able to synch to my desktop. mainly, i use Outlook Calendar and Address book. i also appreciate having a calculator and solitaire (the simple, original variety)! i could live without notes/to-do, but they’re nice to have. i’ve never used my pda for mail, so that’s not an issue.

    so, as i’ve read through this thread, i think i noticed a contradiction: one person said the ipod touch worked as a replacement (synch included?), but another said it doesn’t synch anything. the originator, Dave, is using a smartphone and is happy. i only use a cell phone for emergency calls, so i really don’t want to lock into any kind of monthly plan and/or contract. i like Verizon’s pay as you go, but none of their prepaids can synch. on one of their plans, i can pay $100 for a year and have unlimited use at either $1.00 or $2.00/day of use. any ideas?

  14. Joni,

    As you saw, there hasn’t been a lot of activity since the comment before yours, more than a year and a half ago.

    Here’s my experience: the synching became more and more problematic (meaning “hardly ever worked”) for which I mainly blame Microsoft.

    Actually, I’m only using the mail client portion of Outlook, mostly because I’m too lazy to search an alternative, or I’d drop it.

    I gradually moved my contacts to Google; though I resent having to do that, given Google’s lowest-common-denominator approach to many things, it was better than getting duplicates from failed synch.

    I got a (Verizon) Motorola Droid Razr about four months ago (bargain price at Costco, with a free auxiliary battery thrown in). It’s much faster than the Eris, though it comes with eight or nine undeletable bloatware apps. They’re not a big deal from a space standpoint, but they annoy me with their whining on the update list, especially since I refuse to update them. (The solution is to root my phone and get them out, and I may do that eventually.)

    So I’m inclined to say that if I were you (which I’m not), I’d give up on the synching. I’d get whatever bargain smartphone makes sense to you. I am content with Google contacts and Evernote as my have-it-everywhere note-taking and personal information management software. I even use Evernote as a kind of task manager.

    You don’t sound like you’d use a lot of data (e.g., watch streaming movies on your phone). My wife and I between us don’t use 1 gigabyte a month, though that may because much of the time we’re both near a computer and consume the bulk of our data that way.

    The real convenience with the smartphone, for me, comes with the apps that you pick and choose to suit yourself. I have canofsleep’s Weight Watcher app (track points and weight), Jefit to log my occasion gym workouts, the K9 mail client, Hello Expense (mostly used to record cash purchases on the go), Any.Do as a quick to-do list.

    I’ve got Business Calendar, which pulls in my Google calendar data, the Starbucks app so I don’t need to carry my card, Tweetdeck for the odd tweet, and Google Navigator for turn-by-turn, which means I don’t need a GPS.

    All of those were free apps.

    Oh, and I can use Bluetooth to send pictures from my phone to my computer, and I can use our household wireless printer to print stuff that’s on the phone. So there are a lot of things that as Ruud Hein says help create low friction.

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