A doctor asks which portable computer/PDA/smartphone to choose

A colleague of mine recently asked me which gadget he should choose to replace his HP iPAQ hx 4700 PDA which suddenly stopped working. For those who do not know, iPAQ hx 4700 was a great PDA with the largest screen on the market, Bluetooth and WiFi, and was the top of the line HP model in 2005. He used his PDA for to-do lists, calendars and UpToDate (installed).

What are my friend's options for replacing his PDA? My answer is below. Disclaimer: This information is not comprehensive by any means, please double check the technical specifications and prices yourself.

Regarding the choice of PDA, those type of gadgets seem to be going out of fashion nowadays in favor of smart phones/mini-PCs. Dell stopped making their PDAs and HP reduced their product line to just 2-3 models.

There are several choices on the market right now and I will try to list the pros and cons of 2 of them below:

1. Apple iPhone, price $400.

Pros: easy-to-use, large fonts, zoom-in feature, always-on Internet.

Cons: requires AT&T subscription with data plan ($ 60), programs cannot be installed, small 8 GB hard drive.

2. OQO portable computer, price $ 1,200.

Pros: True Windows computer in the size of PDA, synchronization is very easy, all Windows program can be installed and work seamlessly, 30 GB hard drive.

Cons: relatively expensive, portable Internet requires Verizon or Sprint high-speed data plan ($ 70-80 per month).

Both are excellent options. If I were you, I would go to an Apple store and just see if iPhone works for you. BlackBerry is another alternative but I do not like their tiny screens. Ultra-mobile PCs (formerly known as Origami project) may work for some but they use a TabletPC OS rather than the regular Windows XP or Vista.

OQO seems to be the best option but is also the most expensive one.

Epocrates & iPhone. Link via Doctor Anonymous.

The New Pocket PCs, PC Magazine, 05/2008.

Updated: 05/12/2008


  1. Dear Dr. Dubecz Attila,

    ASUS Eee PC (link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASUS_Eee_PC) looks like an interesting product but it is significantly bigger than a PDA/iPhone. It definitely does not fit in one's pocket.

    Two other limitations of ASUS Eee:

    - it does not have a slot for EVDO/Sprint/PC card which limits the Internet connectivity to WiFi

    - Linus OS does not support UpToDate which my colleague wants to have installed

  2. I'd never get a Windows based PDA/smartphone. I've got the Treo 755p and use it for EVERYTHING. Blazer, Sprint's browser, is especially fast when you turn off the download images preference and reading the NYT daily alone pays for the $15/month surcharge. I also listen to my audible.com books, take photos of patients on the fly (not the greatest resolution, but it's nice to have), use Epocrates, synch to gmail and my work-based outlook account and I could't live without it.

  3. You should give Opera Mini a try -- it may work better than Sprint's browser and compresses the images so you will not have to turn them off...


  4. I think the new HTC Touch Cruise points the way technology is going: a 130gr. Windows Mobile celular phone with a 3MP camara and up to 6GB microSD memory.
    I´ve been using Palm PDA since 1998, but I´m now making the leap to Windows.

  5. sefer, HTC may be the technology path but let's all join hands and bow our heads at the thought that Windows Mobile will be along for the ride... please, for baby jesus, don't buy WM devices. The interface is torturous on levels only a psyche ward could mitigate. My partner is a nursing student and has had a lot of luck with a used Palm Treo 650. Palm's interface is nice, and a lot of her software works on the device. As an IT professional I'm an iPhone user, but it will take a few years before 3rd party software is available for use. Another option to look for is Google's Android phone operating system, which should be making an appearance on HTC devices in 2008.

  6. I actually made the switch from Palm to Windows Mobile in 2005 (called Pocket PC then) and I could not believe I was stuck with Palm for so long. WM is so much more advanced. The only drawback is the IE browser but if you install Opera Mobile (not Mini), it fixes that.

  7. apple iphone will release a SDK for developers to make 3rd party programs in 2008. wait for that and iphone will be the best there ever will be.

  8. The iPhone is now a phenomenal resource for medical users with new software coming out daily.

    Some of the most popular include a drug database from Epocrates.com as well as specialty specific medical calculators from www.QxMD.com (currently available Cardio Calc, Heme Calc and Neph Calc). Another popular app is an ECG reference/learning tool (www.theECGguide.com)