PDA Manufacturers Need to Clam Up

by Reads (8,883)

The mainstream PDA is a slate form factor. But just because that’s what most of them are, doesn’t mean it’s right. Sony brought some great clamshell models to market; in fact their NX80 is still regarded by many as the best designed PDA ever. While that topic can be debated, it’s my claim that the clamshell is the best form factor for PDAs and should be adopted by every manufacturer going forward.


Let’s face it; PDA adoption isn’t growing much, even declining depending on whose numbers you look at. But the ones that are succeeding the most are data oriented devices with keyboards. That’s because as much as many of us love notebooks, there are places where even the most ultra-portable notebook can’t or shouldn’t go. Because we’re so comfortable with keyboards and notebooks, the best design for data input is a PDA with an integrated keyboard that doesn’t take up much space; enter the clamshell.


Sharp SL-C3100

The problem of course is that there are few options, even fewer when you rule out Linux. Recently Sharp announced the SL-3100, a minor upgrade over their prior model. It’s quite notebook-like with a 4GB hard drive, full keyboard and plenty of extra input buttons and hot keys. The SL-3100 also has a CF and SD slot, with a very cool swivel screen, but no WiFi. It looks just like a mini-notebook though, making it easy to get comfortable with.


Unication Linux PDA


Also on the Linux front, we recently spotted a product from Unication at Computex in Taipei. It features a similar clamshell design with swivel screen, and though it’s ugly, made of plastic and has no hard drive, it does bring new features to the tablet like an integrated FM transmitter to send your music to a nearby stereo.


HTC Universal


Due out later this year is the only clamshell that features a mainstream operating system. The HTC Universal offers a flip screen, runs the new Windows Mobile 5.0 and offers rapid data speeds on 3G networks. It’s supposed to be released later this year, but there’s no indication as to whether or not it will see a US release, much like the other two devices. Motorola had the MPx, based on Windows Mobile, but it was cancelled, largely because the hardware was outdated by the time they got to production.


All of these units are appealing for different reasons, but they all have a great clamshell design, flip screen and QWERTY keyboard in common. These features make it easy for anyone to pick up the PDA and feel comfortable working with it. As much as I enjoy my LifeDrive, I would prefer to not carry a keyboard with me or give up screen real estate to use the virtual graffiti area. The clamshell is the best PDA design for those looking to either temporarily or permanently replace a notebook computer, and should see greater acceptance by PDA manufacturers.



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