In past articles I have reviewed Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) as suitable alternatives to laptops however one special offer at the Carphone Warehouse grabbed my attention recently that I thought I should mention, especially considering that last week I talked about Global Position Satellites.

Basically, for £399 you can get a PDA and a separate GPS module that plugs in to the back of the PDA in order for it to be able to act as a tracking device. Once installed this allows you to be able to tell exactly where you are at any given time and the directions that you would need to take to get to a specified destination. We’ll discuss the GPS side of things next week but in the meantime, the two units can remain separately and so can function as a completely separate PDA so I’ll review that unit on its own merits today.

As you should all know by now, a PDA allows you to organise your life electronically so you can store all your contacts, appointments, notes etc all on a small unit weighing only a couple of hundred grams. The PDA included in the bundle is the Palm m130 and although it offers fewer features than products such as the Compaq iPaq PDA that I have reviewed in the past, it is also considerably cheaper.
The unit itself is easy to set up and begin to use, it is only when you start to try and enter any data in using the touch screen display that things tend to get slightly more difficult; this is because it uses a method known as ‘Graffiti’ to recognise the characters that you’re entering in. Graffiti is essentially a different alphabet that makes it quicker and more accurate to enter data in to the unit. For example, instead of scribbling ‘f’ into the unit, you instead enter the symbol ‘ſ ’ that is necessary as because of the size of the unit (roughly the same size as a wallet) there is no room for a keyboard to be included although one can be purchased as an additional extra.

The unit includes all the usual programs that you would expect – A calendar, note pad, calculator, world clock, address book, document reader etc. but of course many more applications can be downloaded from the Internet and put on to the device if you connect it to a home computer via the supplied docking station - when connected, you can also backup and manage the files on the Palm PDA.

There is an infrared port on the top of the unit that can be used to interface with a compatible mobile phone to provide access to text messaging, e-mails, the Internet as well as the mobiles phonebook memory. The unit also has a versatile expansion port which means that you can add on additional accessories such as the above-mentioned GPS device or external keyboard.

The machine uses the Palm Operating System that is quite similar to Windows CE although those that are already accustomed to one or the other of these OS’s may find the transition quite tedious. Also included within the box is a CD of bonus software, a hard plastic cover to protect the screen, the charging unit and a rather brief manual.

Overall, I would say for the money that the Palm offers good value for money for anybody whose life is somewhat hectic and wants to stay in touch and organised whilst away from home; now that we’ve established what this unit is capable of by itself, wait for next weeks article when we’ll look at using in conjunction with the GPS add on in order to plan journeys from one area of the country to another. This will hopefully put an end to tedious map reading and getting lost in the middle of nowhere once and for all.

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