Recently I was in the market for a new personal PDA and after some research, I settled on the ASUS MyPal A620. Instead of writing a typical product review, I'll go through and explain the different criteria you should use when choosing a PDA for yourself since that's what seems to be the most popular, then say why I liked the ASUS PDA.
A Little History
So before I begin, I should probably say that choosing a PDA is probably even more personal of a decision than choosing a graphics card is. My first PDA was the HP 95 LX, the very first palmtop computer featuring 256KB of RAM and DOS 3.22! In fact, this was the first true PDA released to the market, capable of doing more than just the super-sized electronic organizers.
The first handheld PC was powered
by an NEC V20. My first PC was also
powered by an NEC V20. (8088 compatible XT clone)
This historically significant PDA was unquestionably ahead of its time. It still features the best in-ROM calculator to date, the most comprehensive spreadsheet (it had a 100% complete version of Release 2.2 of Lotus 1-2-3), and also the best integrated keyboard – by the time I stopped using the 95LX, I was actually regularly touch typing with the machine! If that weren't enough, battery life was a solid month or so on the two AA batteries. The PDA served me well although the major limitation was lack of synchronization between my PC and desktop. I had the transfer cable, but it was an Xmodem transfer – extremely slow. Worse, the transfer was a backup tool – there was no true "synchronization" of appointments or contacts.
My next PDA was the NEC Mobile Pro 450, a Windows CE 1.0 device. Compared to the HP 95 LX, it seemed like a revolutionary upgrade. Compared to the text-only screen of the HP, my new Windows CE machine featured a high resolution 420x240 screen with grayscale! If that wasn't enough, there was an Indiglo style backlight, a brand new technology at the time, and it was a touchscreen. The Windows CE PDA allowed me to synchronize with Microsoft Schedule+. Unfortunately, this PDA was limited by two factors. First, the keyboard was mushy and forced me to hunt and peck (handwriting recognition software was available, but it was too slow to be efficient.) Second, and more importantly, the batteries would drain extremely quickly, along the lines of a laptop.
I actually bought a 14.4 PCMCIA modem
so I could check my email at the library.
By this time, there was a new company making its stance in the technology world, Palm. I didn't buy the original USR models, and instead made the leap to the Palm III directly. For the first time, there was a PDA that worked nearly perfectly. It was small enough to fit in my pocket, batteries lasted for a month, and the "revolutionary" Grafitti input method was stunning. Instead of trying to get enough CPU power in the palm of our hand to do handwriting recognition, the trick was to use the processor power of the human brain to learn a unistroke-style of writing which would be much easier for the CPU to handle. Instead of writing an A, just draw ^. Instead of writing an K, write something closer to the greek alpha symbol. The end result was a mild learning curve for the user, with amazing productivity as the reward. Few things in technology are truly revolutionary, but without Grafitti, handheld computing technology would clearly be 10 years behind where we are today -- it was as if the input technology was something out of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center…
One of my Palm III's. I'm too
lazy to find my developer clear case.
I made a number of upgrades to my Palm III, going to the Palm IIIx. By the time I graduated from college, my Palm III had undergone aftermarket surgery to increase my RAM to 8MB, was running a German designed SmartMedia storage device, and had the coveted $100's-on-ebay crystal clear developer chassis. The machine served me well, and I happily ignored the PalmV and m505's.
Microsoft Pocket PC
Around 2000, Microsoft was about to release the Pocket PC operating system. This was going to be Microsoft's first true competitor to the PalmOS in terms of usability. At the time there were many rumors about this operating system, but fortunately for me, I had a friend who was about to graduate from Stanford. He was a die-hard Palm user and had done multiple internships at Palm Computing and had made plans to sign on with Palm permanently. When told Microsoft about his plans, they asked him to take one last trip to Microsoft so that he could see what was being developed in their PDA labs.
When he came back, he was a changed man. He would now be signing with Microsoft, and joining their "Pocket PC" division. Although he couldn't give me all the details, his impression of the new Microsoft PDA long-term plan and upcoming hardware was so positive that I knew it was time to make the transition back from 3 years on the Palm OS platform to Windows CE.
… but I couldn't afford any of the original Pocket PC devices and so I continued on with my hot-rodded Palm IIIx until Pocket PC 2002 was released. With Pocket PC 2002, I made the switch to Microsoft's PDA platform and never bothered looking back. PPC2002 was revolutionary at the time, completely outclassing the Palm OS in both performance and usability.
I went with the Audiovox Maestro (Toshiba e570). It featured the Compact Flash slot I much preferred and was available for a bargain price… then, after owning PDAs since the very beginning of PDAs themselves, I cracked my screen. Doh.
My broken Audiovox
For the next year, I went PDA-less, refusing to buy a new PDA after having so carelessly destroyed an expensive tool. I would not get a new PDA until I saw something that was notably better, available at a competitive price. That product was the ASUS MyPal A620 running Pocket PC 2003, officially known as Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC.
The Asus MyPal A620
The MyPal logo actually looks
much cooler than the name sounds