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University: PDA vs. Laptop

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  • Jul 6th, 2005 11:02 am
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Nov 6, 2004
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University: PDA vs. Laptop

I'm a student so obviously I'm cash strapped and don't want to spend very much money. The lower the better and definately sub $1000. I realize I can't get much in the way of a laptop for $1000. (either bottom of the line or a used laptop)

I want to take what I get to school to take notes (most likely taking the bus). A PDA would be easier to transport. Then later transfer my notes onto a desktop computer at home. Also the thought of purchasing a memory card and using the PDA as an mp3 player is intriguing. Do PDA's have good sound quality (in general)?

Aside from its ease of transporting and cheaper price, a PDA gets beaten by a laptop in almost everything else (IE bigger screen, more powerful, better games (yeah :P), etc)


So my question for university and college students is, which comes in handy more, a laptop or a PDA?
41 replies
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Jan 7, 2005
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Honestly, if you're just going to take notes, I suggest pen and paper :) . Most people can probably write faster than they can type. And even if that's not the case, with paper you can make always make scribbles, side-notes, and diagrams. Of course, it's much cheaper too!

I occassionally see people taking down notes by PDA or laptop, but I think it's less efficient, unless you're actually much faster at typing than writing. The only advantage I can see for PDAs/laptops would be for having neat notes, as well as looking cool (or maybe nerdy :razz: ).

But that's just my opinion :) .

(If you must get one, get a laptop... at least you can watch movies between classes!!! :D )

As for me:
I survived my undergraduate studies with just pen & paper. I'm now doing grad studies, with the aid of a laptop.
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Jun 14, 2001
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Def a PDA. Get a keyboard for it and you're set. You'll spend alot less, be lighter on your feet on campus and get either a smoking PDA or a wad of cash in your hand for beer compared to getting a labby.

If the schools got their act together and released e-textbooks I'd have a different opinion...but not till then.

My 2 PPC pda's I've used sounded fine for sound however it was a bit of a pain to use for that. I'd recommend getting a large SD card (512 or 1gig) and getting a MP3 player that has a SD in slot (should be $100ish for the player). Then you can just swap the card back and forth between the two units.

It also rocks to toss on some Seinfeld etc in PocketDivx format to watch in between class (or during if it's uber boring). Worked great for me till I went to the next step and got a PVP.
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Jan 15, 2002
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What are you taking at uni?

If you're doing anything involving math/eng/comp sci forget about a PDA or a laptop for taking notes... Its absolutely useless... A pen and paper is so much easier to use.

For that matter I've come across very few people in any type of class who are taking notes in class with a PDA or Laptop, more often its distracting them...

If I were you with 1000 dollars I'd try to find myself a used ultra portable laptop. It'll be easy to carry on the bus and you'll be able to use it in the library comfortably (in comparison to a PDA).

I would only go for the PDA if you have extra money to spend... In my opinion

Laptop + Pen and Paper + 5 dollar planner > PDA

EDIT: Also if you're thinking of trying to use the PDA to play music ect dont... Its so annoying to use a PDA for mp3s. You'll find yourself not using it between classes just because of the amount of steps you need to take to get the thing going. On top of that when you factor in the fact that a decent sized memory card will cost you more then a cheapo USB key MP3 player with the same amount of space, smaller footprint and easier to use UI you'll never use your PDA for music.

EDIT 2: The only reason I would buy the PDA is if you think you're going to be really bored on those bus rides... Then you can pop in a video on the PDA and sit back :)
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Nov 23, 2002
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pdas can be useful if most of ure classes use powerpoint cause its a good way to have all ure notes with u, but it would take far too long to actually take notes with it... i mainly use mine to review notes and as an organizer

notebooks aren't very usefully taking notes either, they are too big and its hard to draw in anything. plus battery life won't last u a whole day

i have both and honestly the best way to take notes is with a pen and paper. even if u get powerpoint slides just print them out and write notes on the side... between the two a laptop is more useful only if u do a lot of group projects, presentations or something along those lines but u won't need it for everyday stuff.
plus unless u can get a small light one, it would be too much of a hassle to carry it to school on the bus

oh and pdas usually have very good sound quality and make pretty good video players too, problem is it may be more of a distraction than anything else
Banned
Jan 11, 2004
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a decent typer can get 40+ wpm... that is a lot faster than you can write and after 6+pages of notes in one lecture your hand is killing if you do it by hand

best bet is to get a tablet pc.

the advantage of a laptop is that its much more organized and you can have all the notes for all your courses avilable at anytime and its useful sometimes in class if they refer back to previous lectures. and when it comes time to study for tests its a lot better than bulky binders of paper notes with pages that become ripped.
Sr. Member
Nov 21, 2003
848 posts
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I've used a laptop for school for the past year and I just got a PDA to hopefully replace it. I take the bus too...and I can tell you it's no fun lugging a laptop around. It takes up way too much room in your bag. In your price range, battery life is only going to be around 2 hours. So you'll have to carrying the adapter too, adding more weight. The only place I use my laptop is in the library, where there are power outlets. I never use it to take notes...the battery doesn't last more than two lectures.

Now...this doesn't mean don't get a laptop. It helps a lot to be able to work on documents, check email and surf the net from anywhere. But since you can do all these things on the PDA lighter and cheaper, PDA is probably the better choice.
Sr. Member
Feb 2, 2003
843 posts
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I use a pda as an mp3 player it only takes 2 buttons to play music not hard at all, quality is decent no complaints on that the only bugger is if you pull the headphones music plays through the speaker.

As for notes, you could get 1st gen centrinos for around $1000 used/refurb/etc that should offer decent battery and size. But my guess is you will use pen and paper.
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Sep 4, 2003
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Hippak wrote:What are you taking at uni?

If you're doing anything involving math/eng/comp sci forget about a PDA or a laptop for taking notes... Its absolutely useless... A pen and paper is so much easier to use.

For that matter I've come across very few people in any type of class who are taking notes in class with a PDA or Laptop, more often its distracting them...

If I were you with 1000 dollars I'd try to find myself a used ultra portable laptop. It'll be easy to carry on the bus and you'll be able to use it in the library comfortably (in comparison to a PDA).

I would only go for the PDA if you have extra money to spend... In my opinion

Laptop + Pen and Paper + 5 dollar planner > PDA

EDIT: Also if you're thinking of trying to use the PDA to play music ect dont... Its so annoying to use a PDA for mp3s. You'll find yourself not using it between classes just because of the amount of steps you need to take to get the thing going. On top of that when you factor in the fact that a decent sized memory card will cost you more then a cheapo USB key MP3 player with the same amount of space, smaller footprint and easier to use UI you'll never use your PDA for music.

EDIT 2: The only reason I would buy the PDA is if you think you're going to be really bored on those bus rides... Then you can pop in a video on the PDA and sit back :)
Isn't it a fairer comparision if you factored in price; it would make

Laptop < Pen and Paper + 5 dollar planner + PDA
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Nov 8, 2002
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Pen/Pencil + Paper = Best for notes that have diagrams/equations
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Oct 9, 2003
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are tablet pc's (yeah $$$) a good soultion for electronic note taking....like with a digital pen...curious if they are even still being made??
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Nov 18, 2003
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I would buy a neither, partly because you are short on cash. However, if you don't have a desktop, then getting a laptop may not be a bad idea. I wouldn't take it to class though.

Like alot of people have said, pen and paper is the best way to go. Although your hand may hurt after writing 6+ pages of notes, you should get used to it because on final exams, you're not allowed to bring in your laptop to type up an essay :lol:

Personally, I find a laptop impratical because it takes time to organize things quickly, which is bad for classes. Also, a real disadvantage is that you can't draw diagrams. I would find it pointless to also carry a notebook along with paper and pen because now you're taking up double the amount of space.

I own a PDA and I never use it to take notes for classes. It's just too hard to do it with such a small screen.

I'd save $1000 and spend it on textbooks if you already have a computer. Textbooks now adays are crazily expensive!!
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Sr. Member
Jan 1, 2005
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I was in the same dilemma as you last year. Here's my thoughts.

I am in Computer Engineering and yet I have nor a laptop nor a PDA... I just own a desktop at home (a simple Athlon XP 1600+ which survived my 4 yrs of university). Carrying a laptop, I concur, is a major hog, especially if you're a lazy bum. A PDA, well you can get bored of it quickly. A PDA is at the essence, a pimped out agenda, it's not a laptop.

To be perfectly honest, owning a PDA or laptop = more entertainment... So if you're really going for entertainment, why not buy a desktop computer? :) At least u can run some movies/games on it!

However, a USB key was the most useful tool I used. Carrying a re-writable media supported everywhere is the most conveniant thing on this planet. (Except maybe on Fedora/Mandrake machines?).

Another note... Chances are, if you are in a university, computer stations with school-related programs are not hard to find :)

Best choice: USB key && desktop && pen/paper > laptop || pda || any other shizzles

**edit** About crazy expensive textbooks... If you have a malaysian asian friend... Apparently textbooks there cost 1/2 of price here just cuz it's soft cover. Second option is to go to the copyshop and copy the whole book @ 3 cents a page.... lol... the beginning-of-school copying hype !
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I'm going to have to say paper and pen as well. As many other's have stated, it's easier to draw diagrams and jot down other little things on the side. Plus, if you're bored you can always doodle a silly picture of your professor and pass it around.

The cost of buying a notebook for your purpose seems a little impractical. Plus, if you say you're cash strapped, consider one very important point:
-> Textbooks b/wn $500-$600 (sometimes even per semester depending on your courses)

So you've got a fancy notebook/PDA ... but now you can't afford textbooks ... Plus, I find it easier to study when I have a physical piece of paper in front of me as opposed to having to read it on screen. I can highlight, make additional notes etc.

And finally, I think you'd cry less if you lost your notes that were on paper then if they were on your notebook. ;)
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I always found PDA to be quite useless, I've thrown one away (broke) and sold my last one. I'd get a lappy over PDA anyday. :)
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Nov 11, 2004
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i agree. buying a nice $1000 dollar laptop *just* for school is a heavy and really unnecessary expense. i can understand if you spent just like $200 on a used one though. You can get a PII 266, 96mb, 4gb Thinkpad for that price. You don't need anything fast for school and you already have a desktop.

Anyway, on the notetaking standpoint, personally i liked using my laptop to take notes when i was in school. the average a person can type is 40wpm - that's probably faster than what the average person can write on paper. well, my personal wpm is alot higher than that so it was more beneficial for me anyway. And if i need to jot a side note, i just break down a new line - or you can have a notepad open. i have never had any problems with note taking and often the prof talked faster than what i can jot down on paper. And alot of my profs liked using powerpoints or refer to websites and it's easy to follow on my own laptop with a wireless slapped in. Plus I can chat and surf if I was bored in and out of class. :D
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I considered getting a laptop for taking notes. Being an English/Classics double major, I realized there weren't too many diagrams to go around in my field of study, but the profs do go on a mile a minute, so I thought typing was the best way to go for me.

Wrong.

I tried it for a week, and typing what they said really wasn't helpful or engaging at all. With pen and paper, I had to sort the information and it forced me to understand what was being said because I was responsible for determining what was noteworthy and what wasn't. And if I took notes on everything rather than just the important aspects, I'd run the risk of being caught way behind.

When exam time rolls around and I go look into my notes, either they're illegible (lol), or I can actually remember the important parts of the lecture through the notes, and can then make something of it when I'm studying. When I'm looking at notes printed out from a computer, it just doesn't help me in the same way that reading handwritten notes does. However, this is entirely dependent on how your brain is wired--this is just how my brain works.

My $0.02 is that you should save that money and spend it on something worthwhile (such as a trip, or maybe even go out boozing). Failing that, I would say the laptop is more useful all-around than the PDA, unless you have the tendency to get distracted in class (which a laptop can definitely contribute to). In my areas of study, and with my two years of university experience, I've found that of the two, it's much better to pay attention in lectures rather than read the textbook and skip class.
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since you live in Surrey, i assume you go to SFU or UBC ?

doesn't both univ offer lappie rental? SFU does @ the library.

if you really want a mobile comp, go for the small lappie with G wireless connection :) , pda is small but can't scribble or make side note, will kill your eye after X amount of hour using it, and no spare fun time for movie or whatever.
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If you've got the cash, a used TabletPC will do wonders for ya as a student.
Note-taking and lecture recording is awesome with a TabletPC.
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sfu_lifer wrote:If you've got the cash, a used TabletPC will do wonders for ya as a student.
Note-taking and lecture recording is awesome with a TabletPC.
there's a nice LG tablet for sale in the forums for a reasonable price as well


in a typical day with 3 classes..that's 18pages of writing and average of 3-4 days of classes a week

laptop is lot easier to organize ur notes and easier to edit as well.

once i got a laptop, it was hard to go back w/o one and with wifi around skool as well, during down time you can work on a lot of stuff (including surfing rfd)

besides a notebook is no bigger/heavier than a typical text book and you dont have to lug around pages of notes or multiple notepads like you do if you use paper/pen.

a subcompact used notebook for arund 800 will get the job done and from my experience i needed to bring a lot less to school with a laptop.

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