PDAs and Planners: Perfect Together

PDAs (public displays of affection) are generally a no-no at meetings. But I learned during July's Meeting World conference in New York that PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) are a must-have for planners. Two-thirds of my audience had PDAs -- usually devices they'd purchased to organize themselves, defying the indifference of their corporate IT departments.

In fact, PDAs are excellent for planners: They combine the functions of their leather-bound ancestors (address book, scheduler, calendars, memo pad, and to-do lists) with 21st-century electronic applications like wireless e-mail and Internet access (Palm.net, $39.99 a month for unlimited use), meetings-centric software applications, and PC backup. And with appropriate add-ons, your PDA can control PowerPoint presentations or double as a cell phone or digital camera, as does Handspring's $149 EyeModule.

Yet PDAs are certainly not a PC replacement. Why? PDAs have small screens and limited storage, and entering data via electronic pen is tedious after a few minutes. As a result, most users type information into their PCs and download it via cable to their PDAs. Others, including one corporate planner I met at Meeting World, are so sick of carrying laptops that they pack only a PDA and lightweight folding keyboard (www.belkin.com, $29).

One point to remember is that some PDA manufacturers use the Palm operating system (Palm, Handspring, Sony), while others use Microsoft's Pocket PC (Compaq, HP, Casio, Toshiba). Pocket PCs have been making inroads with consumers lately, but Palm OS models still have more than 70 percent of the market. In addition, Palm devices are generally lighter, less expensive, and boast a longer battery life. And there are 13,000 programs for Palm; Pocket PC has around 1,500.

On the other hand, Pocket PC devices, based on the Windows OS, have a familiar interface and bright color screens, and come with pocket versions of Explorer, Excel, and Word. They're also more "corporate"; Toshiba's new e740 ($599) boasts a built-in WiFi receiver, so you can tap into your company's wireless network from a meeting room.

Whichever PDA you choose, there's plenty of planner-appropriate software available at www.palm.com, www.handspring.com, and www.microsoft.com/pocket pc. Other software sites are www.handango.com, www.avantgo.com, www.palmgear.com, www.zdnet.com and www.down load.com. Once you find a program, download it to your computer, and then "hotsync" it to your PDA.

The PDA has finally moved from toy to tool. In fact, I used one when my laptop crashed at Meeting World. To stay in control of your workday, a PDA goes a long way. By Michael Goldstein