A useful gadget for writers is a PDA or Personal Digital Assistant. The Psion 3a that I referred to in my Six Essential Gadgets for Writers post was my first PDA, and I have since worked my way through a Compaq palmtop and a Handspring Treo 600. I am now looking to upgrade to a new PDA within the next few months and thought it would be a good idea to identify exactly what I need from the new model, because many other writers will probably want similar things.
NOTEPAD – First, I need a notepad or memo facility so that I can jot down ideas, observations, possible plots for my fiction work and any snippets of dialogue that come to mind. Ideally, I would like to be able to secure individual notes where necessary, but it would be sufficient to be able to secure the PDA as a whole with a password to keep my data secure.
AGENDA – Being able to have my calendar, diary and to-do lists in the same place is another important feature. I like to plan my personal life as well as my work, so having everything together rather on a single device that I have with me at all times is pretty much essential.
TOUCH SCREEN – Although PDAs with physical keyboards are sometimes useful, unless the keyboard is of a decent size I find it much quicker to enter information using a stylus, touch screen and virtual keyboard. A touch screen device also tends to be easier to carry around – something that I didn’t fully appreciate until I switched from palmtops like the Psion and Compaq to the Treo.
FULL COLOUR – Monochrome PDA displays are perfectly functional, but in the 21st century there is no reason why I shouldn’t enjoy the benefits of a high resolution full-colour screen that can display images as well as text. Actually, there is one possible reason why I would still choose a monochrome over full colour and that is…
BATTERY LIFE – If an ASUS Eee PC had a battery that lasted several days then I would happily take it everywhere. Although the battery life of new-model ASUS netbooks is impressive as far as netbooks are concerned, PDAs still win hands down. I need a PDA that will serve me for at least a few days of average use before requiring a recharge, and if a monochrome device would give me 100% or more additional life between recharges then I would certainly consider skipping the full-colour features.
EASE OF BACKUP – No gadget for writers or anyone else is foolproof, and so I need to be able to back up any data that I input to my PDA with as little fuss as possible. Backing up to an on-board SD card or similar would be the most convenient option for me here.
There are other features which would be nice to have (the ability to play MP3s, play games and maybe even watch videos) but the above features are the ones that I consider essential.
Of course, other writers might well have slightly different needs. For example, a photo journalist might view a full colour screen as being far more essential than I do. And a music journalist would probably insist on MP3 playback.
The golden rule when buying a PDA is to sit down and identify exactly what functions you need your device to have. If you don’t do this you could easily find yourself being dazzled by sleek curves, high specs and bells-and-whistles features, only to discover later that your new gadget doesn’t actually do what you bought it to do. By all means enjoy bells-and-whistles if the PDA you buy has them, but make sure the essential features are there first. After all, gadgets for writers are meant to help us be more productive, and not simply entertain us!