Is That a PDA in Your Pocket, Or…

palmOne LifeDriveI spent a good forty-five minutes this morning debating over whether or not to buy myself a palmOne LifeDrive Mobile Manager, the latest hardware incarnation of what’s still colloquially known as a ‘Palm Pilot.’ It’s bigger, stronger and faster than the Palm OS device I used to carry, and sports a 4GB micro-drive that offers the promise of a deep and vast repository of teeny tiny documents that I need desperately for some reason or other. There’s something sexy and alluring about its metallic form factor, and an unexpectedly good deal on it at led me to start rationalizing new reasons why I really need one.

Ultimately, after doing some consumer research at Cnet, I came to my senses and remembered the reasons why I’ve stopped using a PDA entirely. First, I always found synchronization between Palm devices and my Macs to be rather unreliable and lackluster. Even with the availability of Markspace’s The Missing Sync third-party ‘bridge’ software, I’m not convinced that there will ever be completely seamless and reliable PDA synchronization — at least until Apple releases its own, Apple-branded iPDA.

When’s That?

Below: The palmOne LifeDrive. A great looking PDA, if you’re into that kind of thing.

That means never, probably, as Apple is unlikely to ever enter a market that’s so clearly in decline. The PDA market has taken a significant hit these past few years as more and more people come to the realization that I did: as much as I used to think that these devices were absolute necessities, must-have companions for simply getting by in modern life, they really are not.

palmOne LifeDrive Profile

It’s been about four years since I stopped carrying around my Palm Vx, and to be honest, I rarely ever miss it. Forgetting even the headaches of synchronization, I’ve found that the convenience that a PDA offers is not truly all that valuable; being caught out in the real world without every contact, appointment or text note that I ever collected is rarely a problem, and not even much of one when it is. Put simply, I’ve been getting along perfectly fine without one.

The Hidden Value of Nothing

It’s not just a matter of PDAs offering less value than advertised, either. In fact, I’ve come to believe there’s an unquantifiable value in not having them at all. Over the past few years, I’ve come to value, more and more, the idea of having fewer devices: fewer expensive gadgets to carry, to care for, to synchronize, to fret over when they’re dropped unceremoniously on the sidewalk. It just means less to think about, and more time to devote to things I actually care about.

Naturally, as devotee of technology, there’s only so far that I’ll take this. It᾿s not unreasonable to guess that, if something about my work duties should at some point dramatically change, perhaps I could warm up again to the idea of a PDA. And every morning, I still leave for the office with my iPod and mobile phone faithfully in tow — both devices do in fact carry PDA-style data to some extent. But on the days when I absent-mindedly leave them at home, it’s kind of a nice to be free.

  1. I’m glad to say that my geekish side (which thinks this device is the fucking business), hasn’t been able to control the logical side of me, and thus I’ve never owned a PDA.

    I got a 3G phone for cheap, but it has just confirmed me in my strong belief against PDA-like tools – they only complicate things and never really help.

  2. Why not get a Treo? I still don’t know why people even consider straight-PDAs with devices like the Treo around. It’s my phone, my PDA, my e-mail sender/receiver, my browser-in-a-pinch, and my MP3 player… and it syncs seamlessly with iSync, iCal, and the Apple Address Book. What’s not to love?

  3. I’ve thought about getting a Treo, but for some reason, I have it in my head that if I’m going to get a PDA-style device, it’s got to have 802.11x built into it. Maybe I’m just being stingy, but I really dislike the idea of surfing the internet on a cost-per-minute basis or to pay yet another monthly fee for a net connection. But yes, you’re right, if there’s any PDA that makes sense for me, it’s probably the Treo.

  4. I got one last week… (J&R @ $450) – I am not a PDA fan. I had one of the first palms in 1998-9 (B&W screen, can’t remember what its called) and I always thought its a stupid concept. Syncing was always a tense moment, is it going to work or not…

    Why is it different this time? only because it has WiFi. I like reading/replying to email and thought this can be a nice solution when not carrying a laptop. I’ve synced it a couple of times (actually works OK with entourage conduit) but I don’t think that’s that important. The browser/email combination works very well. I also put a couple of mp3 files on it and since I don’t have an ipod it fills that niche too. The 4GB HD is now used instead of my 128mb flash card so thats nice too. I do think its too expensive but at least they finally got the right features in it. (also I don’t see it advertised anywhere but it’s charging via the USB cable just fine so no need to carry the power cord at all). So I guess for me it actually fills a niche.

  5. I have a Treo, and I think the lack of 802.11x is very much an overstated concern with the 650. Sure, hopping on the Internet is extremely handy, but I basically check mail and use Google SMS (which, admittedly, you don’t need a Treo for) and a few other web-service programs. The mail checking is inexpensive and pretty fast on an EDGE network. So what would I need 802.11x for? Checking mail faster? Surfing the web? You’ll have to take my word for it–surfing the web on a 320×320 screen is an extremely disappointing experience. I have an RSS reader on my Palm if I really want to use it, but I spend enough time on the web. More than enough time. And how often am I more than a few feet from my PowerBook and a few feet from a wireless connection? The answer is quite sadly–not often enough. I feel bad for people with Blackberrys. The tether to work just gets longer. At least with the Treo I can turn the phone off and I manually check email (which I intentionally don’t allow work to send to my phone).

    I used to carry around both a Palm and a phone, and neither was much help without the other. I couldn’t be happier with my Treo, and can’t imagine going back.


  6. Yep. What Narayan said.

    The amount of times that I’m not near my Powerbook with a high-speed connection are low. In a car, in an airport, on the beach, on vacation somewhere. That’s about it. For those times, checking e-mail or using Bloglines’ specially-formatted mobile site are plenty good enough. 802.11 in those occasions might speed things up just a tad, but it’s of very little consequence. The screen size of signficantly less than 800×600 (the minimal acceptable rez for serious web browsing) is 100 times more of a limitation.

    Incidently, I pay $4.99 a month for unlimited data on T-Mobile. Half the cost of a New York martini!

  7. My laptop is my PDA. Serves me fine, there is no synchronizing, and it helps me draw the line between work and life — if I can’t use my laptop, I probably shouldn’t be.

  8. I wholeheartedly agree with you on the “less gadgets” thing. I slimmed down on my gadgets a few years ago, holding onto my iPod and cellphone. Even the hardware in my office at home has diminished. Less things to clutter up my life just makes my life simpler and more productive.

  9. Me too on the “fewer gadgets” thing. The problem, it seems to me, is that one gadget can beget many.

    For example: my parents gave me an iPod Shuffle for my birthday. I haven’t felt the need for any kind of personal music device for years, but naturally I want to play with this new toy. So I rip a CD or two, and then go off to the iTunes Music Store (a virtual gadget?) for the first time. There I find an album I lent to somebody and never got back, so I buy that… only I’ve never felt the need for a CD writer before, so I go and buy one of those (except it makes more sense to get a DVD writer, of course), persuading myself that it’ll be good for making backups… which reminds me that I should backup all my vinyl LPs (several hundred) so as not to wear them out, so I get a Griffin iMic to record them to the Mac… but I don’t have much hard disk space left, so I’ll get a new drive… and so it goes on.

    If I’ve managed without all this stuff for so many years, how come I suddenly have a burning need for it all in the space of a month? Answer: I don’t; it’s just that one gadget sucks you in, and suddenly you’re hooked.

    So when it comes to gadgets, Just Say NoЎ.

  10. i also stopped carrying a PDA at some point. my husband had a treo 600 and i thought the darn thing was just too big. it froze up a lot and if you dropped it, well, sorry charlie. i now have a motorola flip phone (the one right before the razer) which has a calendar in it and my ipod. it’s all i ever need.

  11. I stopped carrying a PDA. Instead I’ve adapted a small Moleskine notebook and a Fisher Space Pen. No batteries that need charging, no LCD to crack (and not be covered by warranty). I’ll say I’m happy.

  12. I got a PDA to keep myself organised, and since then I’ve not missed anyone’s birthday!
    But the best use I’ve found for a PDA is as an eBook reader. I found I prefer to read books on my PDA than in paper format. However, you don’t need to spend big bucks to get the latest PDA, mine cost only a few quid, and it plays MP3s too.

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