Q. Is it even worth shopping for a PDA anymore? I’ve been coveting a new Palm for a while, but a friend says they’re about to go the way of the pterodactyl and I’d best steer clear. Referee this row, Mr. Roboto.
A. It’s jumping the gun to say that PDAs are doomed, but your pal’s definitely onto something. Just last month, Sony announced it was no longer going to sell its CLIÉ handhelds in the U.S. or Europe, perhaps acknowledging that all-in-one smart phones are where it’s at. Mr. Roboto’s inclined to agree; he’s also inclined to note that now’s the ideal time for bargain hunters to swoop in on PDAs.
Seems like just yesterday that Mr. Roboto delved into the Palm-versus-Pocket PC debate (see “Palmistry,” Voice, January 1, 2003). Ah, those innocent days of yore, before it became bloody obvious that gadgets like the Danger Sidekick (danger.com) and Treo 600 (palmone.com) were gonna dinosaur the old-style PDAs. Why settle for a mere PDA, after all, when you can also get cell phone service, e-mail, and assorted other goodies?
Not that Mr. Roboto’s saying you should run right out and invest in a Sidekick, which T-Mobile’s now offering for $200 with a new-service activation (starting at $20 per month). Yes, it’s the sort of gizmo that makes geeks like Mr. Roboto slobber with uncontrollable glee. It’s also probably a wee bit more than most consumers really need, given its relative heft (six ounces, heavier than the new 20GB iPod) and awkwardness as a phone—sort of like talking into an eight-track tape. And if you want to take advantage of the e-mail service, that’ll cost you an extra 30 clams every 30 days.
But if you want to talk about where the future’s at, look no further than the just-debuted Sony Ericsson P910. Available in the U.S. this September, the thing’s a beast—styled like a traditional cell phone, but with a flip-down keyboard for note taking or e-mail, plus the ever popular Opera Web browser and 0.3 megapixel digital camera. Oh yeah, and it weighs in at five ounces—not a giant leap forward for smart phones, but you’ll notice the difference between the P910 and the Sidekick.
It doesn’t take a Lancelot Ware to figure out that smart phones are only going to get cheaper and lighter as the calendar moves forward, so Sony’s decision to drop the CLIÉ (except in Japan) is probably just a matter of some very smart folks seeing the handwriting on the wall. That said, the transition period between PDAs and smart phones could be a boon to cash-strapped consumers. Remember Mr. Roboto’s adage about budget technology shopping—if you buy a generation behind, you can get 80 percent of the power for 60 percent of the price.
The power-price differential may be even greater during this growth spurt. Keep an eye peeled for clearance sales on CLIÉ stocks, like the $130 PEG-TJ35 that cdw.com’s offering right now. Support will be spotty at best if you run into problems, but given Sony’s penchant for lackluster service, you may not even notice a difference.
Speaking of price drops, Mr. Roboto wonders how the fourth-generation iPod that debuted last week will affect the MP3-player field. Now that the 20 GB version retails for just $299, the budget competitors may be forced downward. Pay particular attention to what Dell does with its comparably sized Digital Jukebox 20, now priced at $251. Seeing as how the player’s whole raison d’être is to be a low-cost alternative to the iPod, the DJ20 may get even cheaper. The first sub-$200 20 GB player, perhaps?
A is for Action
There are those who argue that irony is dead, and that irony about bad ’80s TV action shows is particularly dead. To which Mr. Roboto replies, Nein! If you’re not entertained by the B.A. Soundboard (members.home.nl/jeroenwolsink), well, then you obviously spent the Reagan years doing something far less valuable than ritually following the A-Team’s well-written, completely logical exploits. Mr. Roboto is especially enamored of Mr. T’s vigorous defense of 18-karat gold as “the best.” Somebody send that man to metallurgy school!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 20, 2004