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Overview
PDAs like Palm Pilots and BlackBerrys are great inventions - they let us be more productive while away from our computers. Many travelers use them instead of address books, laptops, or notepads, and with good reason - they can store, organize, and retrieve information quickly. But like all computing devices, PDAs can lead to discomfort if used repetitively and haphazardly. Follow these guidelines for choosing an ergonomic PDA, then read the safety tips and suggestions section to ensure your continued comfort and health.

Nearly all of your interaction with the PDA will be through the screen, so it pays to choose the right screen type. Will you be using the PDA primarily outdoors? If so, then you may want to consider a monochrome screen instead of a colors screen - color displays tend to be less readable in direct sunlight. Do you need a good backlight for indoor or reduced-light environments? You might want to test out each PDA's backlight before buying. Different companies produce different screen technologies (transreflective, backlit, etc.) - choose the one that's easiest for you to read. And while you're at it, consider the screen resolution - some PDAs have high-resolutions screens, which make for more comfortable reading, and better viewing of pictures. If you're going to be spending a lot of time reading, a high-resolution screen may be worth the investment.

If you're going to be reading long document frequently, you may also want to consider a PDA with a jog wheel. Similar to the "web wheel" found on most mice that lets you scroll through a web page, the PDA's jog wheel allows you to scroll through a document without having to tap the "down" arrow repeatedly with your stylus. Finally, don't neglect the size and weight considerations of PDA - after all, their whole goal is to be portable!

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As with computers, it's always a good idea to reduce the amount of repetitive motions you make; this can reduce your chances of injury. On a PDA, most of these repetitive motions come from entering text or information into your PDA. The area to enter text isn't that big, and many people who have to input large amounts of text are subject to hand or wrist pain. To that end, you may want to learn your PDA's shortcuts. Many offer combinations for copying and pasting text (much easier than retyping all that information on the PDA's tiny screen!) Some software programs let you configure your entire screen to accept stylus input, instead of just a small area at the bottom (bigger hand motions means less stress). The best solution, of course, is not to enter data on your PDA at all. Enter all your contacts, appointments, and information on your PC, using a comfortable keyboard and big screen, then synchronize; now you're using the PDA mainly for information retrieval. One final note - don't forget to clean your screen! A clean screen will help ease your eyes and may prevent eyestrain.

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There are a variety of products that can help make your PDA more ergonomic. One of the most common is an external, portable keyboard. Attaching to the bottom of the PDA, they allow you to enter information by typing on a standard keyboard instead of writing, and are often used by those who see their PDA as a replacement for the laptop while travelling. Many people, however, like to travel light, and only bring the standard stylus. Since styluses are built thin to fit easily into the PDA casing, you often have to use a tight, pinched grip to hold them. People experiencing hand or finger pain from prolonged usage may appreciate a stylus with a wider, ergonomic grip that makes it easier to hold on to. Some pen manufacturers even make multi-function models that include a stylus tip.

The list goes on. For people who have trouble reading the tiny text on tiny displays, there are screen magnifiers to enlarge their view. You can even buy thin-film screen protectors to protect your screen against scratches (which helps improve overall readability). Choose the products that are right for you - and remember our healthy usage tips - and you'll be well on your way to ergonomic computing.

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