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Great PDA vs. Laptop Comments

Hey everyone, apologies for missing the past few days of posts -- I've not been feeling that well following my return from California, so time for rest overruled time for blogging.

I'm feeling a bit better today, so I've decided to post bits of many great comments from Monday's post, Apple PDA Rumors and The PDA vs. The Laptop. I'd love to keep this topic alive. I was very happy to see so many readers really thinking about how they use their tools, and if they're doing things with a tool because it's effective or just because they can. I was even happier to see them leaving comments. :-)

Here are some of my favorite quotes and some responses/comments of my own:

"There is one thing that you can do better and more comfortably with a PDA: walk. I tried a laptop, and chucked it after about two weeks. Now my PDA slips in the (front) pocket of my jeans. And I wear tight jeans." -- rene carlos

"Take it easily with you where ever you go by putting it in your pocket (if you don't have your laptop with you, what good is it?)" -- kpr

This is an excellent point! One thing the PDA certainly excels at is mobility. There are certainly times when a laptop would be unusable in a mobile situation, like going shopping, where a PDA works very well.

"Lasts all day on a single charge (no laptop can do this!)" -- kpr

The battery life of handhelds is often better than a laptop, though I have to say, it is less than it once was (e.g. 4-6 weeks on a pair of AAAs). Judging by my Tungsten E's battery life and stories of short T3 battery life, the addition of color screens and powerful processors hasn't been matched by increases in battery life. I do hope this changes soon, whether by improvements in power savings or better battery technology.

"Web browsing on a T3 is very nice, especially with Web Pro 3.01 in landscape mode with full screen turned ON and in Handheld view. My thumb fits perfectly on the T3's 5-way navigation pad for easy page scrolling. Mike Rohde's weblog looks perfect on it too, as do most of the other web pages that I read daily." --kpr

"Some statistics say that over 90% of a computer's use is reading the internet and email. PDAs are already good at this, and getting even better and better all the time" --kpr

This was actually very surprising to me and encouraging. I found web browsing on a Tungsten C very painful as well as my experiences on the Dana Wireless. I tended to favor Blazer on both devices because it didn't force me to scroll right to see pages. But it sounds as though Web Pro 3.01 may be doing some good things.

I should note however, that not one Palm OS browser could manage to log into the Fairmont hotel's WiFi network at the PalmSource conference... so there is quite a ways to go in browser technology and web designers building compatible websites.

As for email, I think tools like SnapperMail and VersaMail make email on a PDA much more attractive, but unless you have server-side spam processing or great filters setup, dealing with the high percentage of unwanted email seems to be a problem, especially on a small screen.

"I shake my head in wonder at all the new models boasting of browsing and emailing and wonder how PDA manufacturers can continue down those lines instead of making these uber PIMs." -- Gary

While I do think there are a chunk of people making use of internet and wireless technologies in PDAs, I also wonder why more emphasis hasn't been put on improving the PIM tools. PalmOne made some steps in this direction, and Cobalt seems to be doing so as well... question is, why did this small step forward take 7 years? Arghh!!

"Also one of the big pluses has to be the speed that I can be up and running on my PDA. I can confirm the details of an appointment, add an item to my expenses spreadsheet and write a couple of to-dos before my laptop has even powered up!" -- Jo T-C

This is a very nice feature of a PDA vs. a Laptop, though speedy power up can be achieved by never shutting down and sleeping the laptop instead.

"When I do carry my laptop, I seem to have a pile of extra required paraphernalia – cables, and power adapters etc. And also there is increased vulnerability when carrying such an obvious laptop shaped bag, they are such a target for thieves!" Long live PDAs, I say. I think both my life AND my back has improved since purchasing one. -- Jo T-C

This is a good point -- I too find myself almost over-planning when I carry my laptop along. I want to have any possible cable along, just in case. Often, because my PDA is a little simpler, I can get away with a power brick, folding keyboard and an SD card.

Usually though, this happens only when I do local visits to the cafe or maybe a short weekend away. If I'm expected to do work on the road, my Powerbook is really a necessity, because as a web designer I can't develop graphics and websites without it.

"If you need mobile access to mail, streaming Internet audio, etc., then the Treo 600 is and excellent choice. If you'd rather wait until you're back in your office, or at the hotel, then by all means wait until you can use your laptop. The PDA works best in a mobile space and if you need technology for when you're mobile, then you can't do better than with a Palm OS device. :D -- Mashby"

This is an excellent point (Mashby's entire comments were great) because it gets to what you really want to use a device for. Each device can do something the other cannot and that's where their values lie. It's always a tradeoff and is up to each person to decide where that line is.

However, this still leaves open the problem of how many people will actually trade off the laptop full-featured experience for the minimalist PDA approach. I still think this is a small percentage of the overall population of computer users and I wonder if that percentage wil grow or not... will semi-smart phones be enough for anyone not interested in $500 smartphones or PDAs?

And finally, resonanace makes great points-o-plenty in his comments and description of hauling a PDA or Laptop on a trip. I really like his closing statements:

"The error most power PDA users and uber geeks make, however, is that everyone wants or should want to download maps from mapquest into a portable device. For most people, printing said maps out makes much more sense. That sort of sensibility seems to escape technophiles."

This is really where my questioning focused... are we as technophiles, über-users and geeks expecting that just because something can be done that everyone should do it that way? I long for both the vision of what can be done but the practicality to say "hey, you can do this but why the heck would you when that thingee works better?"

It's related to a story I'd heard in my design school days about an art director who needed a quick n' dirty layout done for a hot deadline. She gave the job to a young, recently graduated designer who, instead of manually putting pictures and text on paper with a photocopier, spent hours in photoshop creating a masterpiece. The art director was frustrated with this, because while the Photoshop layout was nice, it was complete overkill, taking four times as long to create. That's not even mentioning how the layout would probably get shredded to bits in the client meeting.

That gets to the heart of using a tool for what it does best. I think PDAs are moving closer to laptops, but there are many tradeoffs. There are also things laptops can't do well (like fit in a pocket, or last a day on a charge) but there are things PDAs can't do well (like let me design graphics or build web pages comfortably).

Our job as users is to be realistic about what the best use is for each device, to suit our needs. To make a device do something another tool does better seems to me a waste of energy, unless there's some compelling reason to push those limits.

Wow, this one got kinda long, but I'm very happy to continue the discussion. It's good to challenge your notions now and then, especially if it brings you to better decisions that you had begun with. :-)

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