Are you seeing more and more Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) being flipped open during meetings and on airplanes?  Are you wondering if PDAs are just the latest over-the-top status symbol being purchased by those who flaunt too much money or too much geekiness?

Here’s a comparison of PDAs to paper, the ubiquitous alternative.  You decide if PDAs are the latest frivolous fad or the great leap forward to a better way.


Maintaining contact information with an overflowing bin of business cards has its limitations.  The biggest problem is that you can file the cards by only one identifier such as name or company.  With a PDA, it doesn’t matter how you file contact information, you can search on any identifier including favorite sport or industry.

It’s also hard to take the bin of business cards with you when you leave the office.  In comparison, Mr. Leo Giannoulis, the IT Director at Duke Energy, likes the ability to carry his contacts and calendar with him on his Kyocera PDA/cellular telephone combination.

Beaming your contact information from a PDA to a colleague across a boardroom table has an inescapable cool feel to it.  Flipping your business card across the same table feels really bush-league in comparison.


With wireless access to the Internet, a PDA can send and receive e-mail almost anywhere.  If continuous access to e-mail is important to you and you can accept the limitations that the small screen impose on the display of messages and attachments, then a PDA is the way to go.  “I find e-mail the most useful application on my PDA”, says Mr. Mark Sleeman, a software developer, “I synchronize my Zaurus from Sharp, with Microsoft Outlook regularly”.

On the other hand, who wants to have e-mail run their life?  Access to e-mail through a connected PC is more than enough for most of us.  Now if you want to write a letter, (remember that concept?) then only paper will do.


Taking notes on a PDA can work once you’ve become skilled at adapting your writing style to what the PDA likes to read.  The Tungsten from Palm, the Blackberry from RIM and the Zaurus from Sharp address this problem by incorporating a small but functional keyboard into their PDAs.

Taking notes on a piece of paper is still much faster and cheaper.  However, paper notes are often typed into a computer later.  The PDA avoids this step.


PDAs can play lots of fun games.  The best that paper offers is a challenging crossword puzzle or intricate origami.  While playing PDA games can be addictive, (Have you ever played Bubblets?) it’s also a lot of fun when you’re waiting for a late airplane or you’re bored on the LRT.  Some games can be quite frustrating.  Mr. Sergio Del Rio, with T4Bi in Vancouver, has quit playing Solitaire on his Palm V because he hasn’t been able to complete a game.  But do cool games justify the cost?


Some PDAs offer camera attachments.  Now you can preview simple pictures on the PDA screen and save the images you like for later editing or e-mailing.  This feature can be a great advantage if it means you can leave your camera at home.  However, the PDA can’t take pictures with the same quality, size and variety that most cameras can.  A sketchpad does not compare favorably in this situation, particularly if you draw like I do.

What Mr. Glenn Drinkill of EDS in Edmonton, a confirmed gadget guy, really wants is a “PDA combined with a cellular phone, simple camera and MP3 player.  That way I only have to carry around one device instead of 2 or more.”

Surfing the Web

Surfing the Web on a PDA is tough.  The screen is too small and the download times are too long.  Further impediments include inconvenient technology and expensive usage plans offered by wireless operators.

However, services like AvantGo compensate for these difficulties by downloading Web pages that fit your interest profile and your PDA screen size for offline reading.  I wouldn’t sell the newspaper stock you may own any time soon.


With a PDA, you can read e-books.  The advantages over printed books include lower weight, the ability to search for text strings and the ability to adjust text size to what we find comfortable.  Microsoft Reader is a good example of software used to read e-books.

“I often take my Zaurus PDA to bed with me so I can read and browse the Web.” says Mr. Mark Sleeman, “While the screen is a little small, it is quite usable.  I really like being able to read in the dark without disturbing by wife with the noise of turning pages.”

However, a PDA can’t match the emotional experience of reading a paper book.  Also, a PDA can bring reading to an abrupt halt if its battery ends before the e-book does.

Specialty Applications

Software vendors offer a variety of applications that are well suited for PDAs.  Jiri Dvorak, an IT professional, finds his thought organizer software, a really neat collapsible outline tool, very useful.  One application I find intriguing is KeyBox from Supra Products.  It enables realtors to beam their contact information and access code to the lockbox hanging on the front door of the house they want to show to a prospect.  These applications sure beat filling in boring paper forms stacked on a clipboard.}


If some of these uses for a PDA appeal to you, then you’re ready to jump in and buy one.  If these uses sound too expensive, too complicated or too far-fetched, stick to your paper Day-Timer.