Technology Solutions Technology

Digital Dynamos

Analyze your tech style to find a PDA that's right for you.

A proliferation of feature-laden personal digital assistants and smartphones crowds today's market. Each successive model integrates more capabilities as manufacturers grope for the right combination of price, features, and form.

In addition to providing basic PDA functions, many of the latest converged mobile devices have built-in keyboards that eliminate the need to convert handwriting to text when inputting data. Some units incorporate global positioning systems and mapping software. Many offer audio features, such as voice recorders and MP3 players, and others even function as gaming consoles and remote controllers for home automation and entertainment systems.

Commercial real estate professionals can benefit from the many available choices, but to make a sound purchase decision, first determine how a converged device can help facilitate your everyday business processes.

Analyze Your Needs

Before researching products, examine your business communication style and requirements. Consider the following questions:

  • What percentage of your business communication is mobile? Do you require text messaging or e-mail? If you e-mail on the road, do you read only, or do you create, forward, and reply to messages? Do you need to open and forward attachments? Do you need to speak on the phone while reading and responding to e-mail?
  • Do you keep your contact and calendar information on your phone or PDA, or do you log onto your company's intranet?
  • Would the ability to send digital images or video clips improve your business effectiveness?
  • Do you require GPS and navigational capabilities?
  • While mobile, do you need to access Web-based commercial real estate applications, such as customer relationship management, property management, procurement, asset management, and project management software?

After giving some thought to these queries, you can narrow the field of products that are right for your business.

Choose Operating System, Then Device

BlackBerry, Microsoft Windows Pocket PC and CE, and Palm OS are the prevalent wireless device operating systems.

The BlackBerry operating system offers most basic PDA features but may not support other applications, especially commercial real estate ones. Before purchasing one of these devices, make sure it can handle your specific add-on requirements.

Choose a BlackBerry device if your primary mobile application is e-mail. BlackBerry products allow users to receive and send e-mails continually with their always-on capability. BlackBerry also provides an attachment service that allows users to view Microsoft Office and other documents, but it doesn't facilitate editing. The BlackBerry line offers a number of product choices, including models with integrated cellular phones. Prices range from $199 to $399.

The Windows operating systems allow you to read and edit Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Access databases, and PowerPoint presentations. With Windows Media Player, you can utilize video and audio files.

Consider a Windows-based device if you need to open, edit, and forward Microsoft Office attachments. It doesn't have an always-on feature, but some users may feel more comfortable with Pocket PC Inbox, which is similar to Microsoft's Outlook e-mail program. Windows-based PDAs include Hewlett-Packard's iPAQ series, Dell's Axim series, and Toshiba's e750 and 800 series. For a Windows-based smartphone, consider Samsung's i600 or Motorola's MPx200. Also keep an eye out for the new Sierra Wireless Voq smartphone, which should be available by midyear. Looking like a traditional cell phone, the Voq sports a fold-out keyboard and a secure, automatically updated e-mail function. Prices on Windows-based units range from $299 to $699.

Palm OS is a simple operating system; newer devices with built-in keyboards relieve users from learning the effective but tedious Graffiti writing system. Downloadable software enables Palm devices to handle Microsoft Office documents, and most accessories, including add-on GPS and presentation products, are available.

Lightweight and low-cost, Palm products are basic PDAs that handle contacts and calendar functions. The Zire 71 offers a built-in camera, and the Tungsten series incorporates a slide-out keyboard. For PDA functions combined with a smartphone, consider the Palm Treo 600 or the Samsung i500. PDA prices start around $199 and go up to $599 for smartphones.

Garmin's iQue 3600 is a Palm-based PDA that also includes built-in GPS and mapping capabilities. While a stand-out choice, it's a bit pricey at $599.

Don't Forget to Research

Conduct some research before making any purchases. Check out product Web sites (see resource box) and also visit for product specifications, editorial reviews, user comments, and competitive pricing information.

No matter which unit you choose, test-drive it first. Make sure it has rechargeable batteries and an easy-to-read screen and can accommodate add-on software, especially commercial real estate applications, you're considering. Also, before buying, check with your company's information technology department to ensure that the device is compatible with your company's databases.

Howard Berger

Howard Berger is director of technology showcases for the Realcomm conference. Contact him at (818) 548-1818 or [email protected] For Further Research Visit these PDA and smartphone makers' Web sites for the latest features and prices. www.blackberry.com www.hp.com www.dell.com www.toshiba.com www.samsungusa.com www.voq.com www.palmone.com www.garmin.com

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