Choosing Your Next PDA

Now that ultra-portable computing has truly caught on, you're no doubt being bombarded by marketing campaigns for this technology, and from every possible direction.

It's unlikely that you could open the Sunday paper, or visit any store that sells electronics (and that even includes Wal-Mart and Kmart) without being tempted by the latest digital organizers, Pocket PC's and PDA's.

While the opportunities these technologies offer and the new developments they embody are exciting, for most people the options are overwhelming as well.

The Most Important Feature

If you're in real estate, then the single most important feature you must focus on is the operating system of the handheld unit you're considering.

For the vast majority of agents, the right choice is the Palm O/S simply because any device that uses this software will be able to communicate with most any quality contact manager. This includes not only generic programs such as ACT and Outlook, but real estate specific applications such as the latest versions of Top Producer and On Line Agent, as well.

On the flip-side, if you were to buy a PDA that runs just about any other operating system, then you would not be able to easily transfer your contacts, schedules and other business information from real estate contact managers into the device, if you could do so at all.

While this may very well change in the future, for doing business today, you need to use a PDA that runs on the Palm O/S.

What To Buy

Committing to the Palm O/S does not mean that you have to buy a PalmPilot branded unit. In fact, there at least four brands to choose from that use the Palm O/S:

  • Palm, the original and dominant brand
  • Handspring, which offers the Visor line and many attractive accessories
  • Sony, which uses their proprietary "memory stick"
  • TRG Pro, which offers expansion with standard "compact flash" cards
  • Smartphones from either Samsung or Kyocera, which also double as Palms

The unique features vary for each brand. But, to be perfectly honest, which one you choose is simply a matter of personal preference.

As long as you purchase a PDA that runs the Palm O/S then the only other real technical consideration is how much memory (RAM) comes with the unit.

Most agents can function perfectly well with a PDA that has just 2 MB of RAM.

However, if you plan on running more sophisticated software (such as Top Producer For The Palm) or downloading your MLS data into your PDA, then you would be well advised to purchase a unit that has 8 MB of RAM.

Beyond that, whether you want spend the least amount of money or have the greatest number of extra features is entirely a personal decision.

As can be expected, PDA's that are either physically smaller, include more RAM or have advanced features such as color displays will cost more.

What To Avoid

The only feature I would suggest that most business people avoid is the wireless modem. For the majority of us, paying another monthly Internet access fee in order to slowly connect to the Web and email, only to have to view downloaded material on such small displays, will not be a feature that will make you more productive.

Of course, there are exceptions, and as the technology matures I'm sure my advice on this subject will change. But, for today, and into the near future, Internet access on a PDA just isn't ready for prime time.

If this point is not perfectly clear, then just imagine waiting several minutes to download this newsletter and then trying to read it on a screen that's less than three inches wide.

Another Caveat

Before buying any PDA, be sure to check with your local association first, to see if they are currently using, or have any intentions of installing, the Supra E-Key lock-box and MLS download systems.

If this is the case, then you'll likely need to buy a Palm Pilot, as they are the only PDAs that will fully function with this technology.

Finally, remember that as an emerging and quickly developing technology, your decision today is not a permanent one. You'll likely end up buying another PDA in just a few short years which will have twice the features available today and probably will cost half as much.

The content of this article is based on my seminars:
Technology Tools & Toys
Next Century Productivity
Stephen M. Canale
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