April 2003  Volume 29, Issue 3
April 2003 Issue
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Technology / Innovating
Feature: Pocket PC vs. Palm PDAs: Point-Counterpoint
by Larry Bodine and Meg Spencer Dixon
It's tough to stay on top of the rapidly changing market for handhelds. Two users offer up their arguments for their choices.

Should you renounce your Palm citizenship and go over to the other side-the Microsoft Pocket PC world? Or does the Palm operating system offer so many advantages that you'd be foolish to relinquish them? Larry Bodine proposes that it's time to dump your Palm handheld and buy the better technology offered by Pocket PC devices, such as the Compaq iPaq he owns. Meg Spencer Dixon begs to differ with that proposal-she maintains that PDAs running the Palm OS remain superior. Here's their dialogue on chief features of these competing devices.

More Upgrades Earlier
Larry Bodine: Palm and its partisans at Sony and Handspring have dropped the ball and fallen behind in technology. Pocket PCs are for tech-savvy users who appreciate the latest improvements and newest developments. If you're in no rush to have the latest features, then Palm is the way to go. In the past two years, Palm established a reputation for coming out with less-attractive products at a slower pace.

Meg Spencer Dixon: That argument doesn't address the superiority of the Palm operating system versus the Pocket PC operating system, but apparently only Palm-brand products. The Sony Clie, which runs the Palm OS, incorporates advanced improvements, as do the Handspring Visor and Treo.

Familiar Software
LB: "Software matters," as Microsoft asserts. My Pocket PC, a Compaq iPaq, gives me the familiar Start icon and a pull-down menu that includes my Microsoft Outlook calendar, contacts, notes and tasks, inbox and Internet Explorer built in. I can read, edit and spell check Word and Excel files, open Word and Excel attachments in e-mails, plus view and edit PowerPoint presentations.

MSD: You can easily sync the Palm OS applications with Microsoft desktop software, including the Outlook calendar, contacts, notes and tasks, using the software that comes with every Palm OS PDA. Also, add-on programs for the Palm OS allow you to do all the things in Word, Excel and PowerPoint that were just discussed. More recent PDAs, such as the Palm m130 and m515, come bundled with software to support Outlook e-mail, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.

Faster Operation
LB: My iPaq is fast. It has a 206-MHz processor that instantly switches from one function to another-and it immediately loads my New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LawMarketing Portal articles, which are downloaded via AvantGo. With the Palm, my screen would go blank while loading one of those applications, making me wait until it returned to life to show my selection. New Pocket PCs are even faster and have 400-MHz Intel XScale processors. In PDA time, seconds can be days. Speed matters.

MSD: Recent Palm OS PDAs have a Dragonball processor that runs at 66 MHz. For most applications, the difference in speed would be imperceptible. For larger applications, the difference would be a matter of a few seconds, if that. Plus, the marginally faster speed makes the Pocket PC's battery life much shorter.

More Memory
LB: I used to have a Palm VII, which had a memory that kept filling up. I had to delete applets, graphics and documents to make room for new ones-I hated that. That's what led me to buy an iPaq with 64K of memory built in. I've never had the memory problem again.

MSD: Recent Palm OS PDAs have expansion slots that allow you to insert up to 64K of memory in a module the size of a postage stamp.

Better Screen
LB: The black-on-green screen of my Palm was always hard to read. The iPaq color screen is wonderful. It reminds me of the days when people began changing from black-and-white TVs to color sets. The iPaq can display 4,096 colors, which is plenty good for me. Plus, a little light sensor adjusts the picture so you can see well in an office or outdoors. You can also adjust the brightness to five different levels.

MSD: There are many Palm OS PDAs with color screens. The choice is between color and gray-scale, not between color and Palm. But apart from that, I also know of people who have been quite happy with their simple, non-battery-hungry gray-scale screens. (I've been reading my gray-scale screen easily for almost two years.) As for number of available colors, the Palm m130 displays 58,621-more than 14 times as many colors as the iPaq-which is plenty good for me.

Rechargeable Batteries
LB: With the old Palm VII, I had to become a quick-change artist with the AAA batteries. I kept supplies of them in my downtown office desk, briefcase and home office. If the batteries died in the Palm VII, I'd lose all my data. The iPaq came with a rechargeable lithium battery so I don't have to swap out dinky batteries. It lasts about a day per charge. Granted, most handhelds come with rechargeable batteries now, but my iPaq had one earlier.

MSD: Most Palm OS PDAs now come with rechargeable lithium batteries, and the charge lasts far more than a day. My Palm Vx, after five days of heavy use without a recharge, usually has about 20 percent of its battery power left. (Color screens and triple-fast processors take their toll in battery life.) Also, do we really want to take the "earlier is better" approach? The Palm OS would come out way ahead of the Pocket PC on that one.

More Handy Helpers
LB: The iPaq does what it's supposed to. It keeps my appointments, stores my contact information, records my to-do lists and gives me reminders. The calendar can be set to an "Agenda" view that displays only appointments and not empty hours of the day. It can also be set to delete past appointments older than two weeks to eliminate clutter. Contacts can be viewed by name or by company.

MSD: You can say exactly the same things about Palm OS PDAs (except that "Agenda" view is called "Compress Day View").

Secure Stylus
LB: The iPaq stylus clicks into its storage silo securely and pops up only when I press a specific button to get it. This prevents me from losing the stylus. In fact, I still have the original one that came with the handheld when I bought it in August 2001. Few Palm users can make this claim. On the contrary, I constantly see Palm users tapping their screens with pens and other plastic objects because they've lost their stylus.

MSD: Secure stylus? Why do iPaqs all come with an extra stylus then? Palm OS PDAs also come with multiple styli. And the Palm styli also click into their storage silos securely. Although anyone could lose a stylus, I've never heard complaints about this being a problem with any brand of PDA. In fact, I still have the original stylus that came with my Palm Vx in December 2000; my husband still has the original stylus that came with his Palm IIIc in spring 2001; my stepmother still has the original stylus that came with her Palm m505 in December 2001 … I could go on.

Lots of Extras
LB: The iPaq has the Microsoft Reader, which allows me to read text and pictures and enables me to read a book on the handheld. Then there's the Media Player, which plays MP3 files. The iPaq's also got Microsoft Money to keep track of accounts, investments and payees.

MSD: Not only can Palm OS PDAs do everything just mentioned, they can do a lot more, because there are many more add-on programs for them (about 16,000 total, according to PalmSource, www.palmos.com). Plus, you have the option (it may cost you, but it's possible) of hiring a software developer to write a Palm OS program to do exactly what you want it to, since Palm shares programming information with its registered developers. (Would that Bill Gates would do the same.)

For more information on the Palm PDA and the Pocket PC, see
www.palm.com/us and www.pocketpc.com.

Larry Bodine ( lbodine@LawMarketing.com) is a Chicago-area marketing and Web consultant who advises law firms on marketing strategy, business development tactics and Web projects.

Meg Spencer Dixon ( megspencerdixon@aol.com) is a Washington, DC-area attorney and consultant who provides customized time and stress management seminars for lawyers and legal professionals.

Excerpted from an upcoming book to be published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section.