PDA vs. Smartphone

Which organizational tool is right for you.

Man using smartphone for organization

Betsie Van Der Meer / Getty Images

A personal digital assistant (PDA) is a handeld 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. We looked at the differences between PDAs and smartphones to help you decide which is best for you.

PDAs

  • Cheaper than smartphones.

  • Don't have smartphones' range of connectivity.

  • Can be Wi-Fi enabled.

  • No need for wireless carrier.

  • Larger screen than some smartphones.

  • If you have a PDA and a smartphone, losing your phone isn't as critical.

  • Manufacturer support is dwindling.

Smartphones

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

  • Need 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 seem to be everywhere, with many users relying on them for far more than voice and text communication. But the venerable PDA is still around, with some users enjoying their digital day planner-type of functionality. Since the earliest PDA adopters were business users, there's still some good business software available, as well. Still, the range and compatibility of apps available for smartphones is astounding and the PDA's best days appear to be behind it.

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Why Are They Called Smartphones?

Price: PDAs Are Cheaper

PDAs

  • Less expensive overall.

  • Range of prices available.

  • Costs don't add up over time.

Smartphones

  • Monthly costs drive up actual cost.

  • Prices vary wildly.

  • 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, due to wireless carrier subsidies you’ll often pay more for a smartphone over one or two years than you would with a PDA. For example, your wireless data plan fees will add up over time, making smartphones more expensive in the long run.

Consider a PDA that costs $300 and a smartphone that costs $99 plus an additional $40 per month for data service. After just one year of service, you will have spent a total of $579 for the smartphone and data service.

Connectivity: PDAs Aren't as Connected

PDAs

  • Don't connect to cellular networks.

  • Can use Wi-Fi for connectivity.

  • Can use Bluetooth for connectivity.

Smartphones

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

  • Can use Wi-Fi for connectivity.

  • Can use Bluetooth connectivity.

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

PDAs and smartphones also use other forms of connectivity, however, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. With a Wi-Fi-enabled PDA or smartphone, for instance, 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 a hassle for smartphone owners, while this is a non-issue for PDA users.

Functionality: Some Prefer Two Devices

PDAs

  • Some people like having two devices.

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

Smartphones

  • 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, there are users who prefer the kind of functionality that only two separate devices can provide. For example, a PDA may offer a larger screen than some smartphones, which is very helpful for users who want to review spreadsheets or other documents without excess scrolling. Memory and processing power can also vary among devices.

With a smartphone, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. If the smartphone breaks or gets lost or stolen, all the information you’ve 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 help them stay organized, take notes, store phone numbers, manage to-do lists, enjoy entertainment, and keep track of a calendar.

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

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