In recent years, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) have become increasingly available and more popular. There is now a wide range of products that come under this category, including devices that serve as little more than a glorified calendar and organizer, to top of the range tablets and “Palm PC’s”. Miniaturization has taken leaps and bounds as developments have progressed, and PDAs continue to grow more powerful. For some people, a PDA is something of a hobby, and the features, gimmicks, and novelties, whether they use them or not, are the most important part of the fun. More often, however, they are put to use in business, across almost every modern industry, at nearly every level, to varying degrees. PDAs now feature massive amounts of storage space, whether on-board, or via flash cards which keep growing in size, wireless networking, web browsing facilities, telephone-PDA hybrids, and ever more advanced software. One other feature that has raised some attention is the integration of digital cameras into Palm PCs.
Digital camera PDAs are not really intended for photography enthusiasts. They are intended more for people who depend upon and always carry their PDA. Integrating a camera into these versatile systems has so far been a matter of convenience and entertainment. The digital cameras combined with modern PDAs do not have particularly advanced camera features, and tend to be relatively poor in quality compared to a separately purchased digital camera. While a $200 digital camera may produce photographs at as high a resolution as 5, 6, or 7 “mega-pixels”, the cameras found aboard a similarly priced PDA will be less than half a mega-pixel, and even more expensive PDAs rarely boast a camera with a resolution as high as 2MP. Digital camera PDAs are not just a trivial toy, though, and have many useful applications. And of course, no-one ever knows just when they might need a camera.
The Hewlett Packard HW6515 iPAQ is a fully featured PDA featuring a 1.3MP camera, with an LED flash. PDA cameras often use a high powered LED rather than a conventional strobe because they use significantly less power. Unfortunately the intensity of the flash is also much lower, but using an LED is the most efficient tool for the job. In addition to its camera, the 6515 has a 312MHz Intel CPU, 320×240 TFT display, and 128 MB of on-board memory, of which, 55MB is available for to the user. It is Bluetooth enabled and has all common digital cell network compatibility (GPRS, GSM, EDGE.) Data cable is USB, and it uses Secure Digital removable media. It comes with a very full bundle of Microsoft mobile software, and runs the Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 (Phone Edition) Operating System. Weighing in at 5 ounces, it will set you back a little under $700.
If you are more interested in the camera capabilities themselves, then you will want to consider external cameras designed to be used in conjunction with an existing PDA. These offer much better camera quality, resulting in better image reproduction. Another 1.3MP PDA camera is the Lifeview Flycam. This small digital camera plugs into your existing PDA by way of the CF card attached to it. This is inserted directly into the CF slot of your tablet or PDA, and you have almost immediate camera functionality. It offers a few more features as a camera, and it is the camera aspect itself that is important to you, it makes a lot more sense to buy your PDA camera and PDA separately. As better PDA cameras are developed, you will be able to upgrade the camera without having to replace the whole PDA, which – as can be seen by the above example – can be quite an investment. The Flycam retails for as little as $130, making it a very appealing way to retrofit a camera to your PDA.
The HP Jornada is another retro-fitted PDA camera, also installed by way of an attached CF card. At a maximum resolution of only 640×480 (0.3MP), this camera retails for about $60. If you have an existing PDA, and have no desire to upgrade it yet, and you only need a simple camera, then this could well be the option for you. With an auto-focusing lens, this is a very easy camera to use, however, it will not appeal to more astute photographers. If all you want is to be able to take pictures of your friends whenever you want, then this is a great purchase.
Choosing a PDA camera is a matter of weighing up what you need. If you mostly just need a good camera, you are best off buying a normal digital camera, completely independent of your PDA. If it’s a PDA-camera hybrid you need, along with all the other functionality of a top shelf palmtop, and you can afford the considerable outlay, but you don’t need absolutely top notch photography, then consider an integrated option. If the idea of being able to swap the camera between different PDAs, and you like having the option of progressively upgrading as newer and better technology comes out, then you may wish to consider one of the retro-fitting options. They’re an ingenious solution that promises to stay within budget, and allows you to upgrade at will.