Evaluating a product for enterprise use involves several primary considerations: functionality, cost, ease of use, and support options. But when a company is eyeing a selection of products, it can sometimes get sidetracked by less valid considerations, such as brand loyalty—or brand hatred.

In his recent article “Pocket PC vs. Palm OS: Which is best for corporate use?,” TechRepublic contributor Ric Liang compared Palm OS devices to Microsoft’s Pocket PC for widespread use in the enterprise. Liang’s verdict: The Pocket PC wins. However, based on comments from TechRepublic members, comparing the two devices to one another is a useless assessment. To best evaluate a PDA’s effectiveness, you have to know how it will be used in the company. This article outlines the criterion some members think is most important when choosing a PDA: specific functionality.

Does it get the job done?
If a screw requires a flathead screwdriver, you’re not going to show up with a Phillips head, right? This doesn’t mean that one screwdriver is somehow superior to another—it’s just best for the particular job. TechRepublic member Jerry Pearson’s wife wanted a Palm IIIe. He bought one for her, but she uses it only as an address book.

“I could have spent $19.95 and gotten her an electronic address book,” Pearson wrote. “Which system is better? The answer is easy: It depends on how the product will be used.”

The MS Office shop
The same logic holds true when selecting a PDA for the enterprise. Walt Bobby works for a county police organization in Maryland that recently faced the task of choosing a PDA solution because of a new law requiring employees to record and deliver data to the state and federal governments. The department uses Microsoft Word and Excel for its reporting duties, and according to Bobby, the iPaq was the best fit for the department’s obligations.

“We just bought 160 iPaq 3135s with black-and-white screens,” Bobby wrote. “After carrying a Palm III for many years, I am impressed with iPaq and all its abilities. If fits our organization well….”

In Michael Salsbury’s organization, users need a PDA that will allow them to access their calendars, e-mail, and to-do lists, and it needs to synchronize well. So far, he said, the iPaq is the most effective at synching with Exchange and handling MS Office attachments, Outlook contacts, and to-do lists. When compared to the Palm m505 or the Pocket PC, “the iPaq is shaping up to be a better device,” Salsbury wrote. “But we still have a lot of evaluation to do.”

Thank you, but no MS
The iPaq is fine for staff members who use MS products. However, in Jim Huggy’s organization, 95 percent of the 300 PDA users don’t use Excel or Word. Huggy wrote, “During evaluations, [users] wanted ease of use and ease of sync, and corporate wanted a low total cost of ownership. Palm matches all of them.”

Although Dan Vogel works in a Microsoft Office environment, there’s little need for employees to access Office attachments via handheld. If someone needs to work in Excel or Word, a laptop is the best choice. They have access to an actual keyboard and, he added, “memory is still an issue for PDA devices, and I don’t want to waste 30K of it for 1K of text, which Word forces you to do.”

On the move
The key issue in Chris Williams’ company is mobility. Traveling and remote employees need to stay in touch with their Outlook information as well as with customers while on the go. After shopping around, the company adopted three Kyocera 6035 Smartphones. “This is a Palm V/cell phone in one. It has many, many other ‘bells and whistles.’”

For road warrior Bill Beaton, the Palm he carries (complete with a Norton virus scanner) is enough to keep him in touch with his e-mail and calendar. Often working in reception areas, at client sites, or from the seat of a plane, the Palm satisfies his needs.

How do you select PDAs?

What criteria does your company use to select PDAs? Are there other considerations that are key in making good, cost-effective choices? Join the discussion and share your insights.