What is a Personal Digital Assistant? PDA Facts that Millennials Should Know

People who were born in the mid-1990s to early 2000s may have a slight to zero idea of what a personal digital assistant or PDA is. If you haven’t heard about PDAs before but you’re curious to know what it really is, then here are some facts that will make you understand how PDAs work.

1. PDAs are the predecessors of smartphones.

Long before smartphones ruled the digital industry, PDAs were the hottest items in the 1990s up to the early 2000s. Many of them featured a small virtual keyboard, while some better models had handwriting recognition capability—which made it easier and faster for users to input information or text into their device.

2. The term “PDA” came from Apple.

It was John Sculley, who was the CEO of Apple, who coined the term in 1992. However, PDAs had actually existed almost a decade before that.

3. PDAs were initially conceived to be a digital version of a daily planner.

Back then, PDAs were produced to be a digital organizer that could be carried anywhere and capable of sharing data with a computer. So think of a PDA as a daily planner and extension of a PC in electronic form. Originally, PDAs were mainly used as an address book, schedule tracker, and digital notebook. Over time, more and more apps were added to enhance the functionalities of PDAs.

4. The term got a makeover in the recent years.

PDA has taken on a different meaning since the 2010s. Familiar with Siri, Alexa, and Cortana? They’re now considered the modern-day personal digital assistants. But then, the classic PDAs the world loved in the past decades remain and are still existing.

Far from being just relics of the past, PDAs were a big thing in the past and continue to thrive in the present day.

3 Reasons You Need a PDA: The Benefits of Having a Personal Digital Assistant

Are you considering to get yourself a PDA but you’re not sure if you really need one? Aside from a smartphone, another great investment to have—especially for busy people who have a lot of things to attend to—is a personal digital assistant.

Here are the ways PDAs can make your life a lot easier:

Staying organized

This is the main reason people still go for PDAs. If you’re still in the habit of jotting down notes and your to-do lists, grocery lists, etc. using a pen and paper, it’s time you speed things up by going digital. A PDA gives you the power to do that and so much more in just a matter of clicks and strokes. It can save you from the hassle of having to go through piles of paper just to find a single note that you need to retrieve at the moment.

With a PDA at your disposal, you can do a lot in less the time, thanks to the following features:

  • To-do list
  • Sticky notes/memo pad
  • Email
  • Calendar/datebook
  • Calculator
  • Address book
  • Onscreen keyboard
  • Handwriting recognition


PDAs easily fit into the smallest of pockets, thanks to their lightweight and compact size. So rather than lugging around a bulky paper planner, you can just bring a portable digital planner with you. This feature makes PDAs ideal for people who travel, move around attending client meetings, or go on business trips often.

Entertainment features

During downtimes, it’s easy to get bored. To kill time, you can use your PDA to watch videos or listen to music. You can even use it to store images that you can view on the device later on.

A device as small and portable as a PDA can do so much and help you do things conveniently. So if you’re a busy person trying to juggle a lot of tasks and activities, owning a PDA is a wise move.

PDA Buying Guide: What to Consider When Choosing the Best PDA for Your Needs

Confused about which of the many PDAs out there is the best for you? To make your buying decision a lot easier, there are several factors you need to consider.

Your purpose for using a PDA

The first question that you must ask yourself before you check out the PDA options out there: “What will I use the PDA for?” Consider your lifestyle and needs—the PDA you choose must be able to match those.

For example, if you’re a frequent traveler and need to check your emails regularly, you need a Wi-Fi-enabled device so that you can access your emails in any place where there is Wi-Fi connection. On the other hand, you won’t need Wi-Fi connectivity if all you need is a digital version of an organizer or planner.

If you’re going to use a PDA as an extension of your computer, make sure that it allows for synchronization. A PDA must easily be synced with the software on your computer. For example, if you often use Microsoft Office apps such as Word, Excel, and Outlook, a Palm device won’t be able to deliver that functionality to you. Instead, look for PDAs that are compatible with MS Office programs.

Your memory requirements

Once you have identified your reason for buying a PDA, use this as a basis for choosing the right memory. Typically, PDAs come with 16MB, 32MB, and 64MB memory storage—the ideal one for you depends on the complexity level of your usual tasks. If you just need to record your appointments, events, and activities on a digital calendar and store the contact details of your family, friends, colleagues, and business partners, a 16MB memory will be adequate for your needs.

However, if you’ll also use a PDA for entertainment purposes, like listening to music, watching videos, and voice recording, you’ll need a bigger memory. If the internal memory of the PDA won’t suffice, you can opt to use an expansion card so that you can store more files in your PDA. But first, look for a model that has a slot to accommodate an expansion card.

Your preferred operating system

Pocket PC and Palm OS devices once dominated the PDA scene, but nowadays, people have more options when it comes to PDA operating systems.

  • Pocket PC – These devices operate on Windows, and as such, have versions of Microsoft Office apps such as Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. These applications on Pocket PC version can be synced with the desktop versions. Pocket PCs also come with built-in Windows Media Player for playing videos and listening to music.
  • Palm – If you’re not using any Microsoft program, then a Palm device makes a good choice because it runs on a streamlined OS—meaning it doesn’t use up much memory and so, it can run faster. If you need to use MS Outlook, you’ll need a third-party software that will sync your device with your Outlook email.
  • RIM Blackberry – These devices feature a speakerphone, keyboard, browser, and organizer. They also allow access to email from a compatible Microsoft Exchange server or Lotus Domino.
  • T-Mobile Sidekick – If you have one, you’ll get the best of both worlds: a PDA with a mobile phone capability in one small package.

Now that you know the important considerations when choosing the right PDA, the next step is to look for one that meets your budget. Expect to spend more if you’re looking for higher-end models.

How Does a Personal Digital Assistant Work? Top 5 PDA Questions Answered

PDAs have been around since the 1990s and became the precedent for what we know today as smartphones. Yet, they still exist and remain relevant and significant up to this day. If you’re looking for more information about PDAs and how it can help make your personal and work life a lot easier, here are some frequently asked questions and some short answers for your reference.

1. What is a PDA?

Also known as a palm top or a handheld device, a personal digital assistant is a digital version of a daily planner, making it ideal for busy people who are always moving from place to place such as professionals and business owners. It’s meant to be an extension—not a replacement—of a computer.

2. What can it do?

Most PDAs combine the following basic multimedia and wireless functions:

  • Use of Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
  • Wireless connection via Bluetooth with other Bluetooth-enabled devices such as desktop computers, headsets, and printers
  • Wi-Fi capability for internet connection
  • Speaker and headphone jacks, microphone, and audio support for music files
  • Memory card slots that can accommodate flash media for extra storage space

High-end PDAs feature more security and multimedia functions besides the basic functionalities:

  • Built-in camera for taking photos and short videos
  • Integrated GPS capabilities
  • Built-in security features, like a fingerprint reader
  • Secure Digital Input/Output card slot for peripherals such as a Wi-Fi card, Bluetooth card, and GPS card

3. What are the options available for people who want to own a PDA?

PDAs come in different types: conventional, pocket PCs, Palm, and smartphones.

  • Conventional PDAs – These devices are mostly Microsoft Pocket PCs that operate on Windows Mobile and Palm devices that run on Palm OS.
  • Pocket PCs – These are pocket versions of Microsoft programs like Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Excel. They can sync on a Windows computer with MS Outlook and have a virtual writing area with apps that can recognize handwriting (such as Transcriber and Block Recognizer)
  • Palm PDAs – The easy-to-use Palm PDAs sync with Mac and Windows computers and feature over 20,000 third-party apps that can be downloaded and installed. Most of these devices, though, have integrated productivity, email, and multimedia software.
  • Smartphones – These mobile devices can be either conventional PDAs with extra mobile phone capabilities or mobile phones with PDA functionalities.

4. How much is the average cost of a PDA?

Depending on the features of the PDA, the price ranges from as low as $50 to as high as $1,000. On average, the costs of PDAs can be somewhere between $300 and $500.

5. How can personal data on a PDA be protected?

So that you won’t lose data even if you lose your PDA, sync your PDA data with a desktop computer. This will serve as your backup in case something goes awry with your PDA. Some PDAs offer data protection in the form of security programs, encryption features of some apps, and password protection. These security features are meant to prevent someone from gaining access to your data stored on a PDA.

PDA vs. Smartphone: Which is a Better Choice for People on the Go?

Choosing between a personal digital assistant (PDA) and a smartphone for your personal and business use? Although the smartphone seems to be the obvious choice for many, the good old PDA’s value should never be underestimated. Pocket PCs and PDAs, in fact, are not completely obsolete. You can find some great models on online stores that sell mobile devices.

Deciding on the better device can be a bit tricky because of their subtle differences. To make things a lot easier for you, here’s a run-through of the basic differences between PDAs and smartphones. From there, you can distinguish the specific features or functions that match your needs better.

Main difference between PDAs and smartphones

The smartphones of today are capable of making and receiving calls and messages, plus some functionalities of PDAs. But before you dismiss the PDA as an inferior choice, read on the factors below that set it apart from the smartphone.

Dependency on wireless providers

PDAs work independently regardless of the wireless carrier you use. When you use a PDA, you won’t have to change wireless networks. In contrast, smartphones are usually limited to just one carrier, so it’s hard to switch between two networks, and you might have to buy another smartphone just to accommodate a second wireless network.


It’s more expensive to own a smartphone than a PDA. Smartphones may be cheaper than PDAs when you first buy one, but the long-term costs involved in using a smartphone outweigh the initial differences in the purchasing cost. Just consider the monthly fee you’ll have to shell out for your phone’s wireless data plan.

Two can be better than one

When you own two separate mobile devices, the advantages of using the full functionalities of two individual gadgets can be greater than that of just one converged device. While a smartphone allows users to multi-task, doing two tasks at the same time on one screen is next to impossible. When you have both devices on hand, you can call your client on your phone while checking your notes or memos on your PDA.

Also, the bigger screen of PDAs is easier to use than the tinier screen of a smartphone—no need to zoom in or scroll the page.

Most importantly, when you own only a smartphone, all your information in it will be gone forever once it’s lost or stolen. But with a back-up device like a PDA, you’ll still have the details of your important contacts.

Thus, two mobile devices are sometimes better than one.


Smartphones offer a variety of connections, such as a cellular network, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. PDAs are also Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled but don’t connect to any cellular network. However, you can still use a PDA to communicate with family, friends, and business contacts through its Wi-Fi connectivity using apps such as Skype and Slack.

Final thoughts

So, which of the two mobile computing devices makes a better digital companion? The answer depends on your priorities. Each of these two devices has its own pros and cons. Decide on which features and functionalities matter to you the most, and see which of the two can better serve your needs.