Comparing Your Four Choices -- $200 and less!

Sep 21, 2001

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The Bottom Line Get the facts here, and buy the one that's right for you.

If you're any kind of student or professional, you should probably get yourself a PDA. They're worth their weight in dimes and very fun to use!


You should pay at least $100-$120 for a PDA, because PDA's cheaper than this (unless you find an AMAZING bargain) are very oudated and lack a lot of functionality. However, there are three reasons why you should pay a maximum of $200 for a PDA. All three applied to my PDA shopping.

1) You can't afford more than $200!

2) You're relunctant about making a huge investment into a PDA because you don't know how much you'll use it.

3) Good lower-priced PDA's don't become obsolete as fast as new-fangled top-of-the-line PDA's. For example, the Visor Deluxe was released 2 years ago and, since then, the retail price has dropped from $249 to $169, and is still a good seller. The Palm IIIc was released 1.5 years ago and was originally $449. You can now find it for $199 and very out-of-date (it has poor color, horrible battery life, and is a bulky device).


Aside from the Palm IIIc (which I don't really recommend), you won't find a decent color PDA for $200 or less. So, you're stuck with monochrome. This isn't all bad: Most color screens are currently less-than-perfect, they still drain battery life much more than monochrome PDA's, and most users won't find the need for pictures and movies on their handhelds. Monochrome PDA's have all the functionality of color ones, and they still look nice! If given the choice (for free), I'd get a color PDA, but for $200+ less, I'll get a monochrome one.


The two major PDA operating systems are Palm and PocketPC (Microsoft). There are many differences but the easiest way to describe them is that Palm is more of a "personal digital assistant" while PocketPC is more of a "handheld computer" or desktop computer shrunk down with fewer features. Palm also has much more support, accessories, and software, since Palm has about 80% of the userbase while PocketPC has about 20%.

Palm is like the Mac of PDA's, if the Mac had software/accessory/information support.

In the context of this article, though, the most important difference is that you won't find a PocketPC PDA for anywhere close to $200. So, we'll talk about Palms!


There are currently three major competitors in the PalmOS arena: Palm, Handspring, and Sony. (HandEra is a 4th, but it doesn't have a good PDA for less than $200)

Each of these competetitors has at least one PDA to throw into the ring here. All of them have 8mb of RAM, the standard for Palm OS (which is good for a PalmOS system -- Palm applications are very small compared to PC ones). The only Palm system that currently has more is the Visor Pro which has 16mb. Most of these systems are upgradable, read below:

-- Palm m105 --

This is the basic palm which the others should be compared to. Its downsides are that it has a small screen (but it has a small shape, too) and not as many expansion capabilities as the other options. The m105 uses 2 AAA batteries instead of a built in rechargable battery (which can be a pro or a con) and a serial cable connection to your computer. That means Mac users are out of luck and expect Sync'ing (transferring data) with your PC will take a longer time than normal.

However, the Palm m105 is the only PDA with colored faceplates! It has 2mb flash memory so you can update your operating system to newer versions (although this is a very minor feature; most OS updates do not add functionality to older devices). The m105 also has a rechargable battery (you put it in the cradle

The Palm m125 retails for $199 currently.

Note that as of this writing, the Palm m125 is coming out soon. It's mostly the same system but it has SecureDigital (SD) card access so you can use the Panasonic format cards to store data. It also uses a USB connector (yay!) and a rechargable battery. It will retail for $249 but you will be able to find it for cheaper if you're reading this in the near future! At $199 the m125 would be a more serious competitor in this comparison.

-- Sony Clie-S320 --

Sony is relatively new in the palm world, and this is a good start. This is the most feature-rich $200 or less palm, but it has some disadvantages.

The Sony's disadvantages are that (in my opinion) it is uglier than its competitors, although of similar size. Many people (including me) don't like the case or the buttons (which are poorly designed). Since Sony is new, it doesn't have as many accessories made for it as the Palm or, especially, the Handspring models. There is practically no third-party support for Sony accessories at the present, although that will change. It will take a while for them to catch up, if they ever do, though. If you own a Mac, you'll have to get third-party software to sync your Sony.

Sony has a lot going for it, though. What it lacks in design skills it makes up for with good engineers. It has USB support, a rechargable battery, flash memory, and a good-sized screen. It also has two unique aspects: first, a jog dial which lets you scroll up and down text. It's like the jog wheel in the middle of most modern computer mice, and it's very useful for many people. The jog dial probably sells PDA's by itself! The second unique aspect is Memory Card support. Sony uses memory cards for most of its new products and they are basically portable memory. You can upgrade the memory of your CLIE by just buying one of these. A 16mb memory stick is only about $30. There are also devices like portable cameras being developed to put on memory sticks, although these accessories probably won't be as prolific or nice as Handspring's.

The Sony's CLIE-S320 retails for $199, and you won't find it for much less for a while.

-- Handspring Neo --

The Handspring Neo is a couple days old as of this writing, but it's basically a minor update to the Handspring Platinum -- which is still available for a little while longer. The Neo is, in my opinion, the prettiest system of these four by far, but of course it's subjective. It comes in red, blue, or smoke (clearish black).

Handspring aims mostly for the consumer, not the tech nerd, although in their aim they've had lots of innovations (first true color PDA, first USB connections, first 16mb standard Palm). The Neo is very nice looking and has a nice feel, although the plastic attracts smudges. In their aim for a user-friendly PDA they haven't added the "flash memory" that almost all expensive PDA's have. However, this isn't much of a downside, in my opinion, as the vast majority of palm users will never use flash memory (and probably shouldn't). The Neo also uses 2 AAA batteries instead of a built-in recharger. Handspring also has a reputation for low-quality cases and screens, in that they look and feel nice but break easily. The new Handsprings (like the Edge) don't have this flaw and it's too early to tell if the Neo is fixed.

The Neo has the same look as most of Handspring's line (except the color Prism and the super-slim Edge) so the hundreds of accessories that are designed for the entire line will work with the Neo. All of Handspring's PDAs also has the unique, and great, "Springboard expansion slot." This is the most versatile expansion device of any PDA. It's like a Gameboy cartridge slot on the top of the PDA, and it's completely plug-and-play (stick in the cartridge, use whatever's in there). Examples of Springboard modules include extra memory (which is expensive unless you buy the $40 MemPlug module which allows you to use very cheap CompactFlash or SmartMedia memory), digital cameras, voice recorders, modems, cell phone adapters (to turn your Visor into a cell phone), backup devices (very useful!), large searchable eBooks (which are very useful for, for example, dictionaries and medical reference guides), MP3 players, and audiobook players. There's even one that keeps track of how fast you walk and how many calories you burn. These are relatively expensive ($40+, with the most expensive ones going up to $300), but, as you can see, potentially very useful.

The Handspring Neo retails for $199.

-- Handspring Deluxe --

Handspring has a 2nd addition to this category: the most popular PDA ever (I don't have the stats but I think), the Handspring Deluxe. It's another pretty device that comes in five nice colors and is the same size as the Neo.

The Handspring Deluxe is 2 years old but still a great seller and a good PDA. It's like the Neo, but has a few disadvantages. The backlight is weaker, the color is 2-bit instead of 4-bit (which means 4 grey shades instead of 16, which means it's less crisp, although many people don't notice), it has half the processor speed (although it's still pretty fast), and it's known to break easier than most PDA's. It also has no flash memory and

Why get this PDA then? Well, it has the functionality of the above systems (2 AAA battery usage, USB connect, 8mb of RAM, runs all the same Palm software, and Springboard modules).

Most of all, it's cheap! While it retails for $169, (and other places) sell refurbished Visors with a 90 day warranty (as opposed to 1-year) for $119! Almost half the price of the other PDA's.

Here's a quick recap!

Palm m105/125 - Smallest, Sleekest PDA Here
- Many Faceplates

Sony CLIE-S320 - Jog Dial
- Rechargable Battery
- Memory Stick Slot

Handspring Neo - Springboard Slot
- Pretty System/Nice Design

Handspring Deluxe - Springboard Slot

So which do I recommend? Well, it's up to you. I recently bought the Handspring Neo. It seems like it has the least features, so why? Well, I was most comfortable with it. If I bought the CLIE, I'd hate looking at the thing and pressing the buttons. If I bought the Deluxe I'd wish I spent a few more dollars and bought the up-to-date Neo. If I bought the Palm I wouldn't have an essential USB connection and limited expandability.

Check them all out, and see what you like. They're all good choices, but only one is made for you *wink*.

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