Palm vs. Pocket PC - Which one is for you?

by Anand Damodaran, MD, August 2004

Folks often ask me which they should choose, a Palm OS PDA or a Pocket PC. I'm not going to tell you that one is better than another, they each have their strengths, and after all, I'm a PDA geek, I love them all. Instead I'm going to outline several key considerations that usually help folks decide which will suit their needs.

Palm OS PDAs are made by Palm and Sony and Pocket PCs are made by many companies, including HP, Toshiba and Dell. Palm OS devices tend to be cheaper than Pocket PCs, unless you want the Palm Tungsten C or T3 which start at 399$ or the Sony Clié UX50 which starts at 540$ are fairly expensive. Though there are now a couple of entry level Pocket PCs priced at $249 to $299 most of them are above 400$. Palm OS devices run from $99 for the entry level Palm Zire 21 and $199 for the Sony Clié TJ27 to $540 for the Sony UX50 with lots of RAM, Palm OS 5, WiFi, Bluetooth and integrated VGA digital camera. Our program reimburses only for pocket PC so if you buy a palm, its money out of your pocket. But still many of our colleagues have a Palm instead of a Pocket PC because they like it better (including me).

Palm came to market before Pocket PC so there are a lot more medical applications available in the market for palm than for Pocket PC and many of the Palm applications are free and easily beamable (can share via infra red with friends ).

I prefer to buy PDA’s from shops like Costco, Bestbuy or Circuit City rather than internet shops like eBay, Pricegrabber or Ubid, because although the machine costs less when purchased over the internet its difficult to return or repair whereas you can return or repair easily if you buy it in shops near your house. Off late I have heard complaints from my colleague about fraud and poor service in the internet purchases. Always buy additional warranty after the one year of manufacturers warranty as repairing PDA’scost as much as buying a new machine. Do look for clearance and special offers before purchase, some old models which are still good machines are available for low prices with discount.

Be careful when you download files from the internet, first go to the read me file in the software and see if its compatible to your version of Palm OS otherwise your Palm can crash and if you had not saved your files by synchronizing it to your computer you willloose them all. Also download one piece of software at a time to identify the culprit file if your PDA crashes. If you have any trouble with the palm go to the company web site and do a search before you call the customer service, usually the companies post commonly reported problems with there machines and also give ways to rectify it.

1-Use “to find” button and learn to use graffiti, it saves lot of time.
2- I would advice new PDA users to buy a low end Palm first and get used to it, before setting your foot on high end sophisticated PDA’s.
3-Download AvantGo and you can get driving direction, weather, movies and lot more or you could buy “maps and streets” and have the US map with driving directions in you hand.
4- There are cool accessories available for PDA’s like a portable wallet size keyboard (ask Eddie about this) which you can attach to your PDA and start typing anywhere.
5- If your telephone and the PDA can communicate via infrared then you could sms as well as call people directly from you PDA address book, so next time when you step out to buy a cell phone make sure it communicates with your PDA.
6- The coolest thing is being able to beam (share data via infrared) and share data without any paper or pen.
7- If you want you can print directly from the palm to the printer in the CMU via infrared, you can get that software either from me.

Very often when we travel we feel “How nice it would be if we have internet now”. Now with the Wi Fi technology you can access internet in key spots around Cleveland and many other big cities in the country. Cleveland is one of the best wired cities in United States, so you could go to Starbucks and browse internet on your PDA while having coffee or you could browse internet on your PDA in the airport while waiting for your flight.

In this website all that is priced at zero dollars are programs for free. It has all those commonly used programs like ABG pro, ePocrates, Medcalc, Med rules, Fluid analysis,ICU math, Palm EKG, etc. Also virtually every website has something to download for the PDA these days. PDA version of standard text books like Wash manual, Harrison’s, 5 Minute Clinical Consult and CMDT are available for purchase over the internet.

Also proliferating are free reference files on every conceivable subject, excerpted from authoritative sources. Examples include Normal Lab Values, Vaccine Specific Information (highlights from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vaccine Information Statements), and diagnosis and treatment guidelines from the Sixth Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation andTreatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC VI), the American Diabetes Association, the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III, and the American Psychiatric Association. (ACP supplies all of these titles)

Some useful Medical web sites to download journals, guidelines and interesting medical tools are:

Ask colleagues who own PDAs what their favorite titles are, and why. Request a demonstration so you can see how a given program works.
Find out whether you have to pay full price for the programs you want. PDA medical programs are available in one of three forms: freeware, shareware, or commercial software. Freeware, as the name implies, costs nothing. Shareware, which may offer more functions than freeware, has a modest cost. Commercial software, usually designed by professional developers, tends to be the most sophisticated and the most expensive. Some shareware works better and costs less than commercial offerings. If a shareware and a commercial program offer equivalent features and the shareware version is cheaper, try it first.
Try the software out before you buy it. Sometimes, you can download a full working version for a test period—typically 30 days—after which you either pay or the software stops working. Or you can download a partially disabled version that, say, won't let yousave or print out data until you pony up the fee. Or you can test a working model online, or pay for the software up front and receive a money-back guarantee. If you have a choice, try programs that don't force you to whip out your wallet first.

In sum, if simple, quick and easy contact management, calendaring and reminders are what you crave in a small and affordable package, go for a Palm OS PDA. If you have greater demands, and want to play MP3s, watch movies, connect to Ethernet or Bluetooth networks and record voice notes, consider Pocket PCs or the high end Sony Clié and Palm brand PDAs.

Anand Damodaran, MD

Additonal Resources:
Cleveland Clinic - Palm OS Based Handheld Computer Resource Page

Geriatrics At Your Fingertips
A handbook provided by the American Geriatrics Society

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) downloads for both PocketPC and Palm:
Interactive Preventive Services Selector. Find recommendations by patient’s age, sex, and pregnancy status
Pneumonia Severity Index - calculate the PORT score for CAP

Click for Programs for Pocket PC Users on this website

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