What is a Handheld PDA?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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The handheld PDA or personal digital assistant is not a new technology, though its features continue to expand. Also called a palm, palm top or sometimes a smart phone, when phone technology is included, these fit in the hand computers have proven a great method for organizing day to day events and, increasingly, for conducting online communications with others. There are a number of different features each handheld PDA might have and a few extras that only some models will offer.

Most types of the PDA feature a screen and either a way to type or write data directly on the touchscreen simply by using fingers or a stylus. Alternately, some come with a keyboard. Out of necessity, the keyboard is relatively small, about the size of a palm, but many people get very comfortable typing with a finger or two. A few handheld PDA models may have plug-in full keyboards for various adaptations, though these are not as useful for on the go input of information.


A handheld PDA may structure its information into various files, which are easily accessed with a touch or click. There could be files devoted to recording dates or appointments, which might then be set to alarm or remind at specific points. Useful additional applications could be available, such as calculators, access to a global positioning system (GPS), ability to get to the Internet, listen to music, or answer a phone. Many palmtops allow for downloading of information too, providing a second record of any data recorded or a means for uploading new applications that may increase functionality.

While it’s common to think of PDAs as being the province of those who love technology, these handhelds have other uses that may be practical and functional. They might be used in medical settings to record information on cases or they are sometimes used as part of therapeutic help to people with memory deficits. In this context they can be deeply appreciated.

Another potential use for a handheld PDA is in education, particularly with students who have dysgraphia. Any form of palm with a plug in keyboard might be useful for students who cannot read their own writing. Taking down assignments could be much easier and homework could stay more organized.

There are a number of companies that make a wide variety of the handheld PDA. These include Apple® and Palm® which were the originators of handhelds. Apple® has focused more on phones and Internet capacity with models like the iPhone&; and iTouch®. Other well-known brands include the Blackberry®. This continues to be an area in which new development regularly occurs, and people are likely to notice changes in most popular names or in companies, in addition to features, as time progresses.


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