The Day that I Will Buy a New PDA…

I already have a PalmV PDA with PalmOS 3.5. I never use it. I practically have absolutely no need for an organizer. Yet, I wanna buy a new one. That geek gene in me (that my mother unsuccessfully tried to kill over the years) what really wants is a “truly mobile PC” that just isn’t a laptop. So, for the last few days I was shopping around the Internet for a new PDA (preferably a PocketPC this time) that would fit the kind of thing I am looking for. I was… horrified to find out that what I need isn’t… invented yet.First of all, let me just say that there are a few interesting Linux-based PDAs (notably Zaurus) and Palm ones, but I want a PocketPC. They seem to have enough software and generally to look better than a stock PalmOS 5 (OS6 PDAs are not out yet). My husband already has a SONY Clie anyway, so I wouldn’t want a third Palm in the house. I am in the mood for something different.

PDAs started merely as organizers back in the ’90s. But they have come a long way into adding functionality and power over the years, while users have come to expect more and more out of them. I am no different, today I see PDAs as “mini-PCs” or as “ultra mobile phones” — depending on the actual needs.

After some soul searching on why I had this urge to get a PDA, I realized that what I really need is a mini-PC that is expandable and has good connectivity. I need a device that let’s me browse the web, listen to music, grab pictures and movies or play a game when I am laying down to San Francisco’s green parks on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Instead of carrying with me a wireless laptop, a Gameboy, an iPod, a digital camera and a camcorder, I need a device that does everything in one. Surely, there will be trade-offs: the screen resolution won’t be ideal to browse all sites on the web, the controls to play games will be questionable, the storage or sound quality won’t be as good as in a real mp3 player and the camera’s capabilities will be well-bellow compared to a real digital camcorder/camera. However, it will be good enough to carry out all these functions and to free me from having to carry with me all these individual devices I mentioned earlier.

A PDA would never truly replace the above devices, however it would be an invaluable companion to offer comparable functionality when in need or when you didn’t happen to get these devices with you. Some scenarios:
1. You wait in line on your dentist for too long. Use your PDA to play some games and relax before the Big Pain (TM) takes place.
2. You are on a bus. Its tire needs changing. Because of the unforseeable event you didn’t got your iPod with you, so use your PDA and its earphones to listen to some music.
3. You have an important meeting and you are lost in NY. Use your PDA to connect to or use your GPS to try and find the address of the building that the meeting takes place.
4. You want to know the outcome of the NBA final game. Use your wireless PDA to connect to the net.
5. Linus Torvalds runs over with his BMW on your Mini Cooper. Use your camera to get shots of Linus and you, erm… I mean of the damage in your car.
6. Use your PDA’s camcorder to get video clips of that UFO hovering above your head…

That’s the real value of the “mini-PC” and that’s why it would eventually matter: a PDA would be good enough to carry over such functions.

So, I have some very specific “demands” before I actually go shopping:

  • 400 MHz Intel XScale CPU
  • 128 MB (but faster) RAM
  • 1MP color still camera & 320×240 DV camcorder/web-camera (with recording capabilities)
  • Bluetooth and Infrared capabilities (to synchronize my… phone ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Good built-in Wi-Fi support (this is an absolute must)
  • 8 MB ATi Radeon with hardware 3D capabilities (poor man’s gaming console)
  • 16bit sound (good quality speaker, earphone jack, built-in Microphone (Line-In?))
  • Jog Wheel (to scroll web pages!)
  • Handwriting recognition, basic voice command/recognition, Voice-recorder capabilities
  • Upgradable OS feature with good such support from manufacturer
  • 1-2 built-in expansion slots (whatever’s best, might be an idea to include a real hard drive)
  • 2 USB ports (including support for USB key external drive)
  • 24bit color VGA 640×480 backlight TFT (or 320×320 in worst case)
  • FM/AM Radio receiver capabilities
  • Good software/hardware Mp3/Ogg capabilities (poor man’s iPod)
  • Reasonable battery life (I realize that all these features will drive battery life down)
  • Up to 300 grams and with size similar to today’s PocketPCs
  • Bags of software and some shareware apps/games pre-installed
  • [If phone capabilities are doable, that’s good. If not, that’s ok too, for now]

    All that for no more than $599 US.

    I checked all the new PDA offerings from HP, Toshiba, Asus, Mitac and others but they always seem to miss some of the features found on others. For example the Toshiba Pocket PC e800/e805 Wi-Fi has a VGA screen, but it doesn’t have a Camera. And none seem to be able to offer a 3D graphics card (possibly Microsoft needs to port Direct3D & drivers first to the OS?) or have full expandability and networkability.

    The day a trustworthy hardware manufacturer can offer me this kind of a PDA for that price, we will have a 3rd PDA in our house. And I am sure this time, I will be daily using it (especially with rendering even better on the IE/Netfront/Opera/etc mobile browsers by then).

    I don’t believe that any hardware manufacturer today would be able to pull through such a device as described above for less than $1500, let alone to be able to pull it through altogether: possibly the world is not in such a technological stage yet.

    I expect such PDAs to be common place in two years time, they might even be able to include phone capabilities as standard by then, who knows? What I know, is that the PDA and mobile computing market in general is not offering me today such a product. Do I really ask for too much? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Update: The FlipstartPC might be something to look forward to (read our comment’s section about its pluses and minuses).


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