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Introduction

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PDAs started out as simple diary, address book and to do list repositories. Over the years since their inception almost everything about them has changed, apart from their ‘fit into the palm of your hand’ size. They’ve acquired colour screens, fast processors, longer battery life, wireless connectivity, the ability to support GSM and GPRS, competent facilities for viewing and editing documents produced by PC productivity tools, the ability to complement their features sets with hardware add-ons, and a range of software that can only be described as enormous.

While PDAs exist today running on a range of operating systems, including different implementations of Linux, two operating systems have come to dominate the market – Palm and Windows Mobile. Both are licensed to a range of hardware manufacturers who between them produce many, many devices offering different combinations of features at different prices aimed at different markets.

Every modern PDA retains the basic diary, contact and to do list management features which were part of the original concept, but there are vast differences between devices when it comes to their additional features. Some emphasise their multimedia aspects, with built in digital stills - and even movie - cameras, and digital audio playing capability at the fore. Others are tools for professionals, with biometric fingerprint recognition, 802.11b and Bluetooth built in, and long battery life. Some straddle both worlds, and do so competently. Many can be augmented by folding keyboards capable of being used at touch-typing speeds. Some incorporate SIM cards thereby doubling as a mobile phone for voice and data communications. Many can communicate with GPS receivers, to become navigation aids. And there’s much more they can do.

The bottom line, when it comes to choosing a PDA these days, is to decide what it is you want your pocket computer to be to you, and what kinds of tasks you want it to be able to perform. Armed with this list, go shopping. There is every chance you will find a device which can suit your own personal requirements.

Our group test should help you narrow down your search to find the perfect PDA for your own needs. We’ve chosen eleven of the top PDAs available today, five running the Palm operating system, six running Windows Mobile 2003. Between them they convincingly illustrate the range of PDAs available, and the variety of features they incorporate.

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