One of the increasingly popular options buyers want in a new PDA is Wireless Data access. For many people who are looking at a PDA, the idea of using it to get online, read/write email, instant messaging, or light browsing sounds good, but what is out there? And of what is out there, what works? Well, the good news on both fronts is that there are many options towards making your PDA wireless. Chances are if you are considering any PDA, it already has some form of wireless built in. Below, BargainPDA will outline a guide of the four wireless categories that PDAs fall under. All PDAs will fall under one category, though there are fewer that qualify for the others. Some even have more than one form of wireless built in. But that is the reason for this guide, to make your looking for a PDA much easier.
Infrared, or IR, is the most common form of wireless technology used with PDAs. IR is a short range (about 3ft/1m) beam of invisible red light (not a laser, but not enough to cook food either) that can be used for communication between devices. For the most part, it is a one way form of wireless communication that requires line of sight (meaning it cannot penetrate objects). All PDAs have IR ports, and most can transfer information of any kind from one device to another. The key thing to remember though, when using IR or any wireless communication, is that the wireless device has to be able to read it. Your laptop or mobile phone may also have IR ports and therefore would be able to transfer information in the same way. It is a low power, but slow, means of moving data. If you are looking to use your PDA to get online with just IR, you will need a phone that has IR as well so that it could serve as your modem. But because you have to have line of sight with the phone, you will need a flat surface to sit the phone and PDA on so that the connection remains consistent.
Bluetooth (BT) is one of the newest forms of wireless communication. It is mainly looked at as a cable replacement type of wireless communication. But it can also be used in what is called a Personal Area Network (PAN). Bluetooth is a radio frequency technology that requires that devices be paired with each other so that they would be able to communicate securely. This pairing makes it so that multiple devices can be paired to another. For example, you can connect your phone to your laptop to use the phone as a modem to get online, while your laptop is connected to your printer to print that flight schedule, and have a BT headset paired to your phone so that you can talk on the phone; all at the same time.
Though BT can do all of this, it comes with a limited range. Many BT devices will only work up to about 30ft in optimal conditions. There are BT dongles that you can purchase that will extend that to 100ft, but if you need wireless networking over that large of an area, WiFi may be a better route to go. BT is a tool for PAN and is best served in small areas where using cables would be cumbersome.
How does this effect PDAs? PDAs equipped with BT radios will be able to connect to other BT devices such as other PDAs and printers. You can also use a BT-enabled mobile phone with your BT PDA to get online. PDA makers today have made it fairly easy to connect BT devices with other devices, so it makes for a good option for connectivity. The core drawback is the slow speed (though faster than IR) and the fact that many mobile phone service providers have few Bluetooth enabled phone options. For best performance, you’ll also need a data plan with the phone that can cost $20 or more depending on the carrier.
Wireless Ethernet (WiFi)
The most frequently looked for wireless option is wireless ethernet, or WiFi (short for wireless fidelity). WiFi is basically a powerful radio technology that uses radios to provide secure, wireless Internet/networking technology. In contrast to Bluetooth (a PAN technology), WiFi is a wide area networking technology (WAN). Therefore, instead of just being able to talk to other devices, WiFi can also be used to get online.
WiFi networks have grown in popularity because of how easy it is to setup and maintain. Public areas where you find WiFi radios are called hotspots. Hotspots use access points and routers to take a broadband wired network connection, and make it wireless. The range of many of these hotspots is about 300ft in optimal conditions.
How does this effect PDAs? PDAs equipped with WiFi antennas will be able to go wireless anywhere they have access to a hotspot. They will also be able to network with other PDAs and computers to share files. Because WiFi is so powerful though, it can be a drain to a PDA’s battery if used continuously. Some models have large or replaceable batteries so that the browsing experience is not limited by battery life. Overall, WiFi is a great option for the mobile professional who wants to use their PDA to replace the functions of a laptop computer while on the go. Aside from being very common in larger cities and most workplaces, WiFi is also very fast, enabling quick downloads of email and a more reasonable browsing experience.
Featured Wireless Chart
Though all PDAs have IR, not all have BT or WiFi. Some models have both WiFi and BT. The chart below will highlight all current models that use these wireless technologies so that if you are making a decision on a PDA based on wireless ability, you will have an easy access list.
All PDAs have an IR port
Although they no longer sale new units within the US and European markets, the Sony Clie PalmOS line features the UX-40 with BT, the UX-50 with BT and WiFi, and the TH55 with WiFi (BT comes in addition only on European models).
This holiday season presents many choices of PDAs with each model offering something different for every user. If you, or someone on your list, has a need to be mobile with the best of them, getting a wireless PDA may present a good choice. Merry choosing and happy wireless surfing.