PDA vs. Smartphone

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. We looked at the differences between PDAs and smartphones to help you decide which is best for you.

PDA vs. Smartphone

Overall Findings

PDAs
  • Cheaper than smartphones.

  • Don't have the connectivity range of a smartphone.

  • Can be Wi-Fi enabled.

  • No need for a wireless carrier.

  • Larger screen than some smartphones.

  • With a PDA and a smartphone, losing a phone isn't critical.

  • Manufacturer support is dwindling.

Smartphones
  • 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. But the PDA is still around, and some users enjoy its digital day planner-type of functionality.

Since the earliest PDA adopters were business users, there's good business software available. Still, the range and compatibility of apps available for smartphones are astounding and the PDAs 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.

  • 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. Because of wireless carrier subsidies, you'll 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 smartphone that costs $99 plus an additional $40 per month for data service. After one year of service, it costs 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 a Wi-Fi connection.

  • Can use a Bluetooth connection.

Smartphones
  • 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, 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 offer.

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 difficult 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 and 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 functionality that two separate 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 these 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 only be a matter of time until the PDA is just a memory.

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