Help me pick a PDA to purchase

Howdy folks,

I’m looking for opinions here.

I think I’m going to finally break down and buy a PDA, but my conundrum is which one to buy.

Possibly pertinent factoids.

I’m a techweenie. I love to be organized, I hate to work at becoming organized.

My most likely need is schedule keeping, tracking addresses, brithdates, e-mail addresses, where I’m supposed to be on what date, at what time.

A PDA I purchase has to make it a pleasure to keep organized. I should be able to sort, sift and massage my data. I’ve gone through numerous paper systems because part of me resists the “toys” that have been on the market for electronic solutions in years (well, ok Decades) past.
My problem with paper is changing information.

I have no idea what other things I will want to do with a PDA once I own one.

So what do you know about PDA’s folks? What do you consider the most useful feature(s) of the one you have, if you have one?


I’ve got the Palm IIIxe, and I love it.

My first recommendation would be that you get something based on the Palm OS. Either a Palm (preferably), a Visor, or the Sony Clie.

Definetly sign up with AvantGo ( ). It downloads webpages for offline viewing to your PDA, and is amazingly helpful. The NY Times front page, movie listings, a new word per day, anything you want is available in one of their channels, and if it’s not, you can make your own.

Other than that, if you want the most customizability, the Palm is where to go, as most software has been developed for that OS. MS’s PocketPC just doesn’t have as much support, and the OS itself is considerably less stable.

I have a Palm IIIx that I have had since April '99. I love that it is simple to use, flexible, and there is enough 3rd party software to do anything you want on it.

AvantGo is great! I have several channels, including a few custom channels I have made from time to time.

I have several games, a spreadsheet program that syncs with Excel, the mail works seamlessly with my mail on my PC, and I have my calendar and address list synchronized with Yahoo as well as my PC so I can access it from anywhere.

My experience with the Pocket PC models has been minimal, but from what I have seen and read, Palm is more efficient and easier to use. I wouldn’t trade mine for the world.

Handspring Visor owner here. And a happy one!

The Visor Deluxe (the one I have) is comparable in performance to the Palm Vx (some say the Visor is somewhat faster, even). Both have 8 MB of memory. The Visor is slightly bigger and heavier, but compensates with a lower price. Also, the Visor needs normal batteries (AAA). This explains the size of the machine, but it also means the Visor travels more easily than the Palm - which only recharges on its synch module. The Visor, in addition, has a slot for storing extra hardware and software modules, the “springboard”. Check out their website.

In general, be weary of colour screens. They’re neat, of course, but your battery life will be severly limited. Hell, even using the backlight feature means a quicker run to the store. And it sounds like you want functionality above all.

I’ll fully second the Avantgo suggestions! It rocks. I’ll add another thing: incredibly good and free city guides!
Check out Vindigo. I use their London guide, and it’s nothing short of amazing.

There’s tons of more info. For more Visor info, check Visor Central. And before you buy anything, check out the always useful reviews of PDA’s at

I’ve just got a Visor deluxe. I’m highly impressed. Very easy to use.

I also have Avantgo, but don’t find it all that necessary. Few of the channels are all that interesting, though the ability to download any web page is a good one.

Flymaster, Meephead, Coldfire

Thank you, this is definitely the sort of information I am looking for.

Aditional questions your posts have brought to mind…

Fly master mentioned a third Palm OS type PDA that I’m not familiar with, the Sony Clie. Anyone have one of these and able to list the pros and cons of these in a manner similar to Coldfire’s quick run down on Visor vs Palm?

How much Memory should I be planning on getting? Does 8 MG get filled quickly, so I should plan on getting more immediately, or will it wait a bit?

What should I be expecting to pay, and are there any other accessories for the PDA I purchase that are so absolutely useful I should try and buy them right when i get the PDA?


Don’t know anything about that Sony, sorry.

There’s a LOT of things on my Visor, and the 8 MB’s are only used for about 60%. Most apps don’t take much space: it’s mostly the web-based apps like Avantgo and Vindigo that eat memory. When synching on a day-to-day basis, my computer needs about 6 minutes to get all my Avantgo channels updated! No problem, as you just fire up the Straight Dope and post away in the meantime, but just an indication of what is a burden. Definately get more memory than the 2 MB’s a Palm V or Visor (standard) deliver. But more than 8 MB’s? I personally don’t see the need. With a Visor, you can easily input an extra 8 MB’s through the springboard module. I hear there’s a way to update a Palm Vx too, but I don’t know how exactly.

A Visor Deluxe is USD 249. Maybe you can get it slightly cheaper somewhere else. A Palm Vx is typically about USD 50 more expensive, IIRC.
Accessories? Yes![ul][li]BackUp Buddy. A program that costs USD 30. It saves a mirror backup of your PDA everytime you synch. When you’re installing a third party program that causes a crash, there’s always a way to completely recover the state of your PDA just before synching. I’ve never had to use it so far (I’ve had my Visor for 8 months or so, and use a LOT of third party SW that occasionally calls for a soft reset), but it’s a safe idea that there’s always a back-up.[/li][li]Some people advise WriteRIGHT by Concept Kitchen. Basically a screen protector. It is said that especially Visors have screens prone to scratching, but mine is still spotless after 8 months. YMMV.[/li][li]A better stylus. I’m currently looking to replace mine (the standard Handspring one) because it has mediocre writing recognition. I’m interested in hearing suggestions myself! A good thing about the standard stylus is the built-in reset pin and phillips head screw driver.[/li][li]A protective and/or elegant case (getting the Visor plastic lid on and off is a real PITA after a while. Palms have a flip-open leather case standard, IIRC). Also looking for one myself currently. Here are the ones that grabbed my attention:[/li]Rhinoskin Aluminium Slider
Covertec Cobra Case
E&B Visor Slipcase
Vaja Leather Slipcases (These are REALLY pretty!)
Anyone have experience with any of the above?
[li]That’s about all I can think of. Well, the EyeModule Digital Camera, the Total Recall Voice Recorder, and the MiniJam MP3 Module are highly desirable, albeit rather expensive gadgets.[/ul]Of course, my info is somewhat Visor-oriented, so maybe a few Palm fans might weigh in as well.[/li]
Hope this helps!

Another Handspring Visor Deluxe owner here. I agree with the recommendation to go with a PalmOS machine; that’s the most fundamental decision to make, and the rest is just “what you want on that”. I bought the Visor Deluxe rather than the base-model Visor, because previous experience with the original Palm Pilot had taught me that while it’s amazing how much you can do with a little RAM on a PalmOS machine, there are limits to how far you can stretch 1 or 2 MB.

I broke the screen on my old Palm Pilot a couple of years ago, and was on the verge of buying a new one when I got wind of Handspring. Two facts about Handspring caused me to hold off buying a 3Com Palm unit: the original Palm executive team was behind Handspring, and they planned to develop a machine with hardware expansion modules. Now that I’ve finally taken the plunge, I’m glad I waited.

Handspring seems to control the pricing on the Visor pretty carefully. The $149/$179/$249 price points for the Visor/Visor with USB cradle/Visor Deluxe were the same from every source I checked.

I have a Visor Deluxe and I love it. I have my 8 Mb almost filled up, but only because I have the full version of Noah, a really cool freeware dictionary. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me, a frequent misspeller and compulsive new-word-looker-upper, to have a good dictionary with me at all times.

PalmOS is super easy to use, and there’s tons of freeware and inexpensive shareware that will do anything you want it to. To keep track of birthdays, I use a program called “Happy Days” which is a bit tough to get the hang of, but it’s free.

As for the Springboard modules, I haven’t found any use for 'em. I’m going to sacrifice the convenience of having a stand-alone unit to have to plug the damn thing into my Visor, shouldn’t it be cheaper or offer significant performance benefits? That doesn’t seem to be the case. I’m still waiting for them to come out with something I want.

I definitely recommend screen protectors. I didn’t use them, and the stylus that came with the unit (NOT the nice styli they ship with these days!) had a rough spot on it, so my screen is a bit scratched up. I suggest a flip-open leather case, too, so you don’t have to snap the cover on and off all the time. I have the ultra-cheapo Handspring one ($25, IIRC), and it has done a fine job protecting my Visor, despite the fact that I’m not too gentle with it.

If you get a Visor, I recommend some rechargable AAA batteries and a charger. You have to be a bit careful, because rechargeables get used up more quickly, and I’m told they can confuse the PalmOS battery monitor. I just replace them when they are about half-empty always, and don’t wait for the “Low Battery” warning.

Another interesting tidbit: my husband dropped his Visor and cracked the screen, and Handspring sent him a replacement unit for just $80. Not bad, I think.

Regardless of the PDA you go with, protecting the screen is a good idea. Someone mentioned Write right. I have never used them, but have read rave repots about them. I personally use RainX on my screen. It makes it nice and slick as well as scratch resistant.

Honestly, I’m not all that familliar with the Sony Clie. It’s just another alternative in the PalmOS market.

The specs that I’ve heard on it are:
Rechargable battery

8mb RAM

Sony Memory stick slot (which makes this unit a good choice if you’re going to be storing a LOT of reference material on your palm. Otherwise, 8mb is plenty of memory for damned near anything you’d ever want to do.)

Sony Jog dial. I guess this is like a scroll wheel, or something. It’s certainly not neccessary.

It’s also the size of the PalmV, so it’s the smallest of the Palm models.

My reccomendation would be that you make a decision about what’s most important to you, between quality of construction and expandability, and then buy either a Visor Deluxe or a Palm IIIxe.

Palms tend to be (in my experience) slightly better constructed. It’s not a huge difference, but they just feel sturdier and easier to hold, IMO. YMMV.

Visors, on the other hand, have a “Springboard” slot in the back that allows for expansion. I don’t really see a need for this in my usage, but if you want to add an MP3 player or cell phone at some point, then you’ll want a Visor.

I’ll third the recommendation for WriteRights. They make the screen much easier to read, and improve handwriting recognition.

A great site that I’ve found for Palm info is . They have buying guides and news, and some software, too.

Ok, sounds like I’m getting myself a Visor :wink:

So, tell me, what’s a platinum, compared to a delux, worth the extra fifty bucks?


Another Visor deluxe owner here. I’m happy with the thing-- I’m a grad student, and having something even smaller than a laptop to carry around and take notes on without having to really plan in advance is swell-- I have a Mac which I transfer the information to via the USB port. My life has taken a move toward the paperless. I also use the calculator quite a bit (numbers mystify me) and currency converter, and a downloaded map of the town I live in. With that stuff and a free drawing program called Dinkeypad I’m set for most of the things I need to do. I’m sort of tempted by the modem module. I do covet my sister’s Palm V for the size, though.
Have you seen the folding keyboard? Wow.
I don’t know much about the Platinum-- their web page has a lot of info, but i’m sure you’ve been there already.

Visor Platinum owner here. There are two main differences in the Deluxe and the Platinum:

1.) The Platinum is faster–50% so, if you believe the hype. Comparing it to the Palms and Visor Deluxes my buddies at school have, it is noticably faster.

2.) The Platinum has 16-shade grayscale, as opposed to the Deluxe’s 4-shade. I can’t say this has made a lot of difference to me personally.

Truthfully, a Deluxe would have suited my needs just fine, but I’m very happy with the Platinum.

8 meg of memory should be fine for most people. I’m considering adding 8 meg to mine (the Flash module), since I’m using a lot of space-hog medical references (5-Minute Clinical Consult, ePocrates, etc.).

I also purchased the Stowaway Keyboard, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is a full-size keyboard that folds up to about the size of the Visor itself. Now that we have IR printers around the hospital, this is a godsend.

Dr. J

Just wanted to add a comment about the add-on modules for the Visor. My boyfriend and I both had the Visor Deluxe, until he splurged and got himself a Visor Prism (color screen, with, I’m told, way more colors that the Palm IIIC). His birthday came up soon after so I got him the SoundsGood MP3 player-- he loves it, uses it all the time. It fits flush with the Visor, can be used even when the Visor itself is turned off, and holds 64mb worth of tunes.

Lest I sound like a commercial for SoundsGood, I’ll add that there’s at least one other MP3 unit available for the Visor-- I think it’s MiniJam or something like that. Also, a friend of ours has the GPS module and is in love with it, and my best friend got the digital camera unit for Christmas and seems happy with it. I personally think the camera would be more fun on a color screen model, but that’s just me.

I know I’m late, but I want to pipe in a “Me too” as far as Visor Deluxe goes (mine’s blue). Id’ like to see the color one, but haven’t had the chance yet. It looks pretty nice!

Invest in the tri-fold case, too. It’s worth it.

As an aside, I used to have a Uniden UniPro, but I couldn’t stand it. It’s features sounded impressive: 20 Mb, built-in modem, built-in voice recorder, FLASH slot and a few other things,but it ran on Windows CE and crashed a few times. Plus, it was about twice the size (thickness) of my Visor. Stay away from Win CE, IMO.


Former Visor Deluxe (Green) owner and current Prism owner.

I actually prefer the heft of the Visor over the Palms. But that is purely subjective. Baglady just bought an eye modual for her Platinum and has been madly photographing everything in sight (why she is doing this, I have no idea, our digital cameras take better pictures and upload easily).

My one comment about the Prism’s color screen is that it took some getting used to. Colors shift as you change viewing angle and this gave me a mild headache until I got used to it. Also, where the non-color Visors are hard to read at dusk (too dark for normal, too bright for backlit) the Prism is hard to read in bright sunlight.

If you are going to be using it outdoors a lot, I would avoid the Prism.

That said, unless you really need color, it isn’t worth the extra money (I got mine with a really good rebate).

I will reitterate…

Thank you people, this sort of information is just why I posted this here.

thinksnow Can you give me a link to the tri-fold case? I have seen a few case designs, but I don’t remember a tri-fold in the options.

DoctorJ I have seen a couple different keyboards offered for the Visor, what made the stowaway your choice?
obfusciatrist I think a color screen will wait till I get to the point this is something I can’t live without. I thought about the eye module, but I think I may invest in a digital camera first. (And you bet I’ll be posting a questions about them here when I get to that point ;-))



Baglady has the Stargus (I think that is the brand) stowaway keyboard as well. If you have a need to enter large quantities of text into your PDA this is certainly the way to go (I don’t have this need so I have only actually used it once). The features that make it so nice (compared to others):

  1. Light
  2. Folds into a footprint with the same proportions as the Visor, carrying both will double the thickness but not any of the other dimensions.
  3. Full-size keys. Unlike most of the stowaway keyboards, the keys on this thing are the same size as those on your desktops keyboard.
  4. Reasonably durable. The mounting point provides good support for the Visor, though I haven’t done anything to really test that.

If you want a new stylus, buy one on ebay. Handspring only sells them in packs of 5, and who needs 5?