PDA vs. Smartphone: Which Is Best?

Which organizational tool is right for you?

A personal digital assistant (PDA) is a handheld mobile device used for personal or business tasks such as scheduling and keeping calendar and address book information handy. Smartphones handle these tasks, as well, either through built-in functionality or apps. This article looks at the differences between PDAs and smartphones to help you decide which is best for you.

PDA vs. Smartphone

Overall Findings

  • Less expensive than smartphones.

  • Lack the connectivity range of a smartphone.

  • Can be Wi-Fi enabled.

  • No need for a wireless carrier.

  • Larger screen than some smartphones.

  • Manufacturer support has dwindled.

  • More expensive than PDAs over the life of the device.

  • Need a wireless data plan.

  • Tied to a wireless carrier's network.

  • Incredibly convenient.

  • Apps exist for every function under the sun.

  • Will be supported and upgraded for years to come.

Smartphones are everywhere, and many users rely on these devices for more than voice and text communication. However, the PDA is still around, and some users enjoy its digital day planner-type of functionality.

Since the earliest PDA adopters were business users, good business software is available for PDAs. Still, the range and compatibility of apps available for smartphones are astounding, and the PDA's best days appear to be behind it.


Why Are They Called Smartphones?

Price: PDAs Are Cheaper

  • Less expensive overall.

  • Range of prices available.

  • Costs don't add up over time.

  • Monthly costs drive up the actual cost.

  • Prices vary.

  • Costs add up over time.

PDAs are often cheaper than a smartphone over the life of the device, although the initial purchase price of some smartphones is less than the cost of a PDA. You often pay more for a smartphone over one or two years than you would with a PDA. For example, wireless data plan fees add up over time, making smartphones more expensive in the long run.

Consider a PDA that costs $300 and a low-priced smartphone that costs $150 plus an additional $40 per month for data service. After one year of service, the smartphone and data service costs $630.

Connectivity: PDAs Aren't as Connected

  • Don't connect to cellular networks.

  • Can use a Wi-Fi connection.

  • Can use a Bluetooth connection.

  • Data plans mean smartphones are always connected to the internet.

  • Can use a Wi-Fi connection.

  • Can use a Bluetooth connection.

With a wireless data plan, smartphones are always connected to the internet. Go online anytime and anywhere you have service. PDAs don't connect to cellular networks and can't provide the same range of connectivity that smartphones offer.

PDAs and smartphones also use other forms of connectivity, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. With a Wi-Fi-enabled PDA or smartphone, for example, surf the internet, check email, and download files wherever a Wi-Fi hotspot is available, often at much higher speeds than with cellular data networks.

If your PDA or smartphone has Wi-Fi, use internet calling plans such as Skype to connect to friends and family.

Smartphones are usually tied to a wireless carrier's network, while PDAs are carrier-independent. Switching providers could be difficult for smartphone owners, while this is a non-issue for PDA users.

Functionality: Some Prefer Two Devices

  • Some people like having two devices.

  • Can serve as a calendar and contact backup if your phone is lost.

  • Smaller-screened smartphones may be difficult to use.

  • An inoperable phone leaves you without your contacts and calendar.

While many users have left PDAs by the wayside in favor of full-featured smartphones, some users prefer the functionality that two devices provide. For example, a PDA may offer a larger screen than some smartphones, which is helpful for users who want to review spreadsheets or other documents without excess scrolling. Memory and processing power can also vary among devices.

If a smartphone breaks or is lost or stolen, the information stored on it may be gone if you don't have proper backups. If you have a PDA, contact information is readily accessible even if your phone is inoperable.

Final Verdict

Some people like their PDAs, finding them to be excellent tools to stay organized, take notes, store phone numbers, manage to-do lists, enjoy entertainment, and keep track of a calendar.

The reality is that PDA development has come to a halt, and it may be only a matter of time until the PDA is just a memory.

Smartphones, with a combination of internet and Wi-Fi access as well as cellular communication capabilities and a range of apps, aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

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