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By Chris De Herrera 
Copyright 1998-2007
 All Rights Reserved
A member of the Talksites Family of Websites

Windows and Windows CE are trademarks of Microsoft
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CEWindows.NET is not
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The Great PDA Hunt
By Justin Yu , Copyright 2000
 Revised 10/10/2000

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What’s the difference between Palm and Windows CE?

As I stood in front of the PDA section at Fry's, I was bombarded with a million different questions. Which one to choose? How do I know which one is right for me? Do I need color? Windows CE or Palm OS? I had no idea what to do, so I did the one thing that I knew for sure would help: I went home and researched online. I studied the different types of digital organizers for a good month before I finally decided to buy a Palm IIIe for a couple of reasons. First and most important, I loved the simplicity of the OS (Operating System). The layout was super easy to navigate through, and setting up the software was a breeze. Next I liked the fact that the unit was small enough to fit in my pocket and not produce a lump. I must admit, that after a year of using my Palm IIIe, I'm still completely satisfied with it. Satisfied being the key word. The grayscale screen and simple games aren’t exactly blowing up my skirt. I want more! After reviewing my first Windows CE unit, the Jornada 690, I understand that there are major differences between the two.


Of course the biggest change from the Palm to the Jornada is the COLOR SCREEN! My eyes literally said "Thank You!" when I first turned it on. The 6.5 inch screen screamed hundreds of colors towards me. To all you Palm users out there: If you have yet to witness the beauty of a color screen, you haven't lived. This is not to say that I'm taking sides. Some people enjoy the simplicity that the Palm's grayscale screen provides. I suppose the best of both worlds comes in the Palm IIIc. The only problem with the IIIc is that a lot of the older and efficient programs will not show up in color, instead showing up as a "gray color." Take your pick, color or grayscale, but don't knock either one until you've experienced each one. In this reviewer's opinion, I'd choose color over gray any day, simply for the "Eye Candy" factor.

Hardware Design

The design of the unit of course depends on the Palm-size PC that you're using, but I'm assuming that most Windows CE Units are about the size of an average Palm (hence the phrase "Palm-Size PC"…duh!) When holding a Windows CE PDA and a Palm in both hands, it's obvious that there is a significant difference in the weight of the two. The Windows CE PDA's have more multimedia features and other hardware add-ons that contribute the rather heavy form factor. Thickness is also an issue. The majority of Windows CE running organizers measure 15-25 mm thick, compared to the Palm IIIe's thin 12.7 mm casing. The Palm V series is even thinner than that, but I feel that this defeats the whole purpose of a Palm-Size PC. I tested a Palm V at the store, and I could barely hold onto the little thing, and I have rather small hands! Bulk and weight should be a huge factor in deciding whether to choose Windows CE or Palm OS, but a safe alternative would be to go with the Compaq's new iPAQ, which combines the best of both worlds: Windows CE and a thin form factor.

Battery Life

If 3com crushes Microsoft in one area of PDA's, it would definitely be battery life. Even the latest Pocket PC line's batteries only last a day or two, tops. That also includes mediocre usage of the media player and third party software. The Palm series, on the other hand, will last on average two months before new batteries are needed. Owners of the Palm V series don't even need to worry about buying new batteries, because their rechargeable will also last two months and up. I believe convenience is most important in a Pocket PC, because the point is to be mobile. I don't want to have to worry about losing all my information because I forgot to recharge my batteries last night. With the Palm, I just check the life every two weeks or so, and change accordingly.


I've been looking around on different websites and reviews, and I've found that the fastest Windows CE running Pocket PC has a 206 MHz Intel StrongARM 32 bit RISC processor. This is definitely a vast improvement of the older 32Mhz PDA's. But even with a chip that is supposed to "blaze," the Palm's 16 Mhz processor is still a lot faster. Microsoft should be ashamed. To quote another review, "That is like an Olympic runner being beaten by a snail in a 1 meter race." Don't believe me? Head on down to Fry's right now and test both out for yourself. Although you hardly ever see the hourglass turning on the iPAQ, it is definitely still there. On the Palm series, there is absolutely NO wait whatsoever. Press the memo button and the memo will pop up in a millisecond, no fuss. Come on Microsoft, what's the deal?

The OS

Windows CE crashes. That's a fact that everybody knows. In the two months when I tested out the Jornada 690, it crashed on me five times! Twice I had to do a hard reset and lost all my information, and the other three times I had to perform a soft reset and had to recalibrate all my settings. On the other hand, my Palm IIIe has crashed one time in the year that I've been using it, and that was my fault since I tried to perform an operation that I know would freeze it up. The point is, Windows CE is very unstable, no matter what people say. A user should be able to fully trust his PDA companion, but when I was using the Jornada, there was always that thought in the back of my mind that said "gosh I hope this doesn't make it crash like it did last time." (Editors Note: There is a bug in the Jornada 680/690 that may cause it to freeze if you close it while it is on.  I recommend that you disable this function)

Software (Overall)

Windows CE and the Palm OS are completely different, so it's a bit difficult to make an accurate comparison of the two. 3com's motto is "simply Palm." This motto fits the line perfectly. Simplicity is definitely the word to describe Palm Pilots. The software is a breeze to install, and the OS is as easy as pressing a button. Windows CE is well….WINDOWS. Yes I know, everybody has their own opinion on Windows and their competitors (mainly Linux), but for some reason I believe a smaller form of Windows on a Palm-size PC is pointless. Why would I want to go through a start program to get to a calculator!? Ideally, I should be able to just press a button and have it pop right up in no time. (IE. Palm) Constantly tapping the screen becomes cumbersome very quickly, as I found with the Jornada. Luckily, the start bar is now eliminated in the new Pocket PC OS by Microsoft, but I have yet to experience this new OS. I will cover the Pocket PC software in my upcoming review of the Jornada 548. Basically, if you are a daily user of Windows 95/98/ME, then using Windows CE will be a breeze. For all you Linux users, I suggest the Psion OS, which might suit your needs a bit better.

Software Availability

Palm also excels over Windows CE in this area. If you want proof, just go to any search engine and type in "Palm Freeware." Literally millions of websites will come up offering any kind of software you need. Hacks, utilities, games, debuggers, they're all there just waiting for you to download and install the zip file. They're easy to set up in your Palm, and are about 10-50k a piece, which lets you have many programs in the Palm at once without having to sacrifice precious memory space. Whatever you are looking for you can find for the Palm. Here are a couple of examples of what I have on my Palm IIIe

Software Title

What It Does

"Formulas" by Stand Alone, Inc. Calculates area codes, computer
formulas, performs currency exchanges, contains a date calculator,
calculates loan payments, executes metric conversions, and is a tip
calculator for eating out.
"Stopwatch" by Jay Fuller, PlushWorks, LLC Handy while running or
timing anything you can think of
"Ebony Ivory" by Tony Leung, Arcosoft Inc Displays piano keys that,
when pressed, produce the tones from the corresponding note.

You get the point. There is a lot of useful software out there for the Palm, there's no doubting that. Windows CE has software, but definitely not as much as the Palm. The problem is that you have to make sure if the software you are downloading is for your SH3, MIPS or StrongARM processor, and if you download and try to install the wrong one, it will not work on your Palm-size PC or Handheld PC. There's also not as much freeware for the Palm, probably because it takes more time and effort to program a color game for CE. Most popular software titles cost upwards of $20, depending on where you buy it. Best Buy, Fry's, and most other computer stores should carry Palm and Windows CE software. Of course, there's always the argument of quantity vs. quality. The Palm has more software, but each program is by far less advanced than one of the titles on Windows CE. So the question is, would you rather have two games on the iPAQ or Jornada that are excellent in graphics and gameplay, or 20 Palm games that are in grayscale and off average-at-best gameplay? The answer is up to you…


Ahh yes. How much dough are you willing to spend on electronics? Take this short quiz:

A. $100, B. $200, C. $300, D. $400, E. $500+

If you answered A, B, or C, expect to get a Palm Pilot. Right now the cheapest Palm, the M100 is retailed at $149. Not a bad price, if you're willing to sacrifice the screen space of a regular Pilot. The most expensive Palm, the VIIx, is $449. Too much to spend on a Palm, in my opinion, if even if it does have wireless Internet. A $9.95 monthly fee is charged also for the service. The best bang for your buck in the Palm series comes in the Palm IIIe. For $149, you get the basic Palm Pilot with no rechargeable batteries. This is the Palm that I finally decided to buy, and I'm still happy with it. If you answered D or E in the quiz above, then you might want to buy a Windows CE unit. For about $500 you can get an excellent Windows CE PDA with all the features you need for an organizer and more! Multimedia is also included with most of the latest Pocket PCs, along with the color screen and rechargeable batteries. $500 is a lot of money, but if you think about it, if you bought an MP3 player, a Palm pilot, and a color TV, it would cost well over $500. The beauty of Windows CE devices is that they combine many electronics into one useful little gadgets. Whatever your choice is, make sure it's the one that you think is best for YOU. Many people make the mistake of buying a "wizzbang" Windows CE device with all the fluff, but only to impress their coworkers. If all you need is an organizer, then go with an organizer from the Palm series. If multimedia, such as small .mpeg movies and mp3's are important to you along with organization, expect to pay a lot more for a Windows CE machine.

Break it Down!

Windows CE

Plus (+)

Minus (-)

Color Screen Prices range from $300-$550
Multimedia Capabilities Windows CE sometimes crashes
More Features Battery life is usually only one day (continuous use)
Rechargeable Batteries Slower than the Palm OS
Almost Exactly Like Windows Almost exactly Like Windows

Palm OS

Plus (+)

Minus (-)

Simple to use Grayscale screen gets plain
Freeware is readily available No multimedia whatsoever
Prices are substantially cheaper than the Windows CE machines Infrared capabilities are have limited distance
Software installation is a breeze to download and install Can be considered "Just an organizer."


The trek towards choosing Windows CE or Palm OS is an extremely difficult process. It takes weeks of research and hands on comparisons, and no one can really be sure which PDA is right for them until they’ve tried both for at least a couple of days. The decision really boils down to what you specifically need. Are you a business professional? A student? A secretary? Whatever your profession is, a PDA can simply your life. When people ask me what I think they should buy, I always answer with a question. “What are you going to use it for, entertainment, organization, or both?” If the person answers entertainment, I’d say go with Windows CE all the way because of all the multimedia capabilities. If organization is their main focus, then the Palm would benefit them the most because of its simplicity. The dilemma is when they’ll use it for both, and there’s no right answer. The choice is up to you! Happy hunting…

(Editors Note: Another comparison of the Pocket PC, Palm-size PC and Palm is available as well. The Pocket PC and Handheld PC, Professional Edition both ship with Pocket Excel, Pocket Word and Internet Explorer.  This functionality is not available in the Palm units. Also, the Pocket PC supports Pocket Money and Microsoft Reader as well. For details on the features, see the PC Companion Feature Comparison)

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