These days, a growing number of gizmos contain both a cell phone and a PDA

With help from a private eye, Dwell tests out a few "converged devices."

Once upon a time in the U.S.A., the popular acronym PDA meant only "public display of affection." But in 1992 there came a rival meaning. For any hapless soul who doesn't already know, it's the more solitary and clean "personal digital assistant." Here in our puritanical, capitalist culture, the first kind of PDA is an object of scorn, while the second is expensive.

In keeping with the entropy of communications technology, another change has complicated things since the rival's arrival: PDAs now engage in PDA. That is, your personal digital assistant can be a cell phone, too. It can make a booty call on the bus and—if it's fancy—beam over some booty for viewing pleasure (sadly, the Transporter is still relegated to Star Trek, though maybe not for much longer). PDA and PDA are coming together in what techies would call "converged devices."

A note on our expert: Miriam Ponzi, whose father Tom Ponzi, was a famous private investigator, has always been on the cutting edge of technology. "I grew up playing with gadgets," she says. Ponzi now runs Tomponzi investigations, an international outfit with over 2,000 employees. She is a fan of PDA-phones. "Their two-in-one capacity is irresistible," she tells us. Her profession sometimes requires more devious communications equipment, which she didn't tell us much about; suffice to say, she's "always in search of the latest infernal gadget."

Lorenzo Pesce

But according to industry analyst Todd Kort of Garner, Inc., an information technology consulting company, fewer than 0.5 percent of the U.S. population are early adapters to these converged devices. Why? As Kort explains in Luddite-friendly words: "The functions of the PDA are still making sacrifices for the cell phone's, or vice versa. Smaller screen size, apt for the cell phone, isn't big enough for quality PDA activities, while combining cell phones with operating systems taxes battery life."

Nonetheless, Kort sees improvements afoot. Last year, telecommunications companies invested billions to improve PDA-phones—and Kort expects the market to double next year (to a whopping 1 percent). Eager to keep up with technology's wild run, Dwell tried out a sampling of converged devices, in consultation with Miriam Ponzi, an Italian private eye. Ponzi has been tracking the role of converged PDAs in PDA. In other words, she's seen affection displayed between adulterers through text messaging. A technology aficionada, she believes that converged devices might be ubiquitous in as few as five years.
Treo 600 Smartphone 

Includes speakerphone option, organizer, built-in camera, backlit keyboard, five-way navigation button, wireless We and email. Operates on Palm OS 5.2.1. 6.2 ounces, 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.9 inches. Starts at $499. 

Peter Belanger

Expert Opinion: This one's my favorite. It has a good phone, a simple camera, and an excellent calendar with memory storage. It contains the latest Palm operating system, which I think is the best. All the functions integrate gracefully, and the whole device fits into a solid, sturdy package. It looks like it will last a long time—it won't break easily, because there aren't any moving parts. 

What We Think: Once you get past this thing's silly name (why must tech branding be pointlessly oblique?) the Treo presents no further challenges. The user interface is so intuitive that we didn't even have to read directions. Though the keyboard is the smallest in our test group, the lentil-sized buttons have magic ergonomics that make them easiest to type on. And that design manages a compact nuance that means we wouldn't be embarrassed to use the camera at a party.
Siemens SX56

Touch screen and stylus, organizer, wireless web and email capability, memo recording, and MP3 capability. Operates on Microsoft Pocket Phone 2002 software. 6.93 ounces, 0.70 x 2.86 x 5.08 inches. Starts at $499.

Peter Belnager

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