A personal digital assistant (PDA) is a handheld device designed to help people organize their lives while on the move. While the original PDAs were somewhat limited to storing addresses, phone numbers, calendar appointments, and task lists, modern PDAs often work as a cell phone and fax, provide Internet connectivity, and much more. There are many different types, but almost all models can connect to a computer to sync information and access other optional features.
Nearly all PDAs include standard organizer features, such as an appointment calendar and task list. Some models come with a broader suite of software programs already installed, while others offer optional additional programs, often for an additional price. Many PDAs can even function like a mini-computer, allowing users to make last minute changes to documents or other files while traveling. There are mobile versions of some of the most popular office productivity software, as well as a number of applications (apps) specifically designed for mobile use. With flash memory card capability, a PDA can usually store, access, and transfer virtually any kind of data, including maps, spreadsheets, presentations, and more.
A large majority of PDAs also incorporate cell phone functionality and wireless local area network (LAN) capability. In fact, the line between the smartphone and PDA is not very clear in many cases, with the phone taking over the role of digital assistant for most new users. Even without phone functions, many include WiFi® or another form of Internet connectivity, and can typically be used to check email, send messages, or get stock market quotes.
How information is put into the PDA depends on the model. Some feature a touch screen and work only with a stylus, while others allow fingertip input. Still others incorporate a miniature keyboard. Stroke recognition software that allows the user to put in pre-defined patterns to input characters and access functions is also common. A device might also include handwriting recognition software, voice recognition, and a digital voice recorder.
Especially when combined with smartphone technology, PDAs can often do much more than just help a user be more productive. Many models include games that can be played alone or with other people online. They often can store and/or stream music and video files. Devices with built-in global positioning system (GPS) features can help a user find a location or provide driving directions. In many cases, new applications can be downloaded to expand the PDA's usefulness even further.
Choosing a PDA
People who are in the market for a PDA should consider all of the models in their price range before choosing one. If only organizer functions are needed, it may be far less expensive to by a stand-alone model than one that is part of a smartphone. Alternately, many users are finding that combining phone and productivity features allows them convenient access to all of the data they need without the requirement of juggling multiple devices. Consumers should also consider how easy it is to use the PDA as well as screen resolution, size, and brightness.