Notes from the Technology Trenches : Gadget Lust: MP3 Players, PDAs and Technology Convergence

By Cindy Curling, Published on December 22, 2003

Cindy Carlson is the Electronic Resources Librarian at Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLP in Washington, D.C., a web committee member for the Law Librarian’s Society of Washington, D.C., and organizer of its Legal Research Training Focus Group.

'Tis the Season for Gadget Guides

I admit it, I have gadget lust. I want an iPod. I especially wanted one when I found out that there is an adapter that allows you to use it to store images from your digital camera. Full of excitement and anticipation, I looked at all the options. I decided if we were going to use an iPod for storage, we should get the one with the largest possible memory. And for long trips, we'd need the longest lasting, lightest possible battery. And maybe a few other accessories: a charger, and a case. Oh! And a dock so we could sync up with our laptop, and a FireWire connection so that data transfers wouldn't take forever. Did you know that iPods now also have calendaring and address software? No need for that handheld personal digital assistant (PDA) I've been eyeing. Maybe.

Turns out that at this point what we wanted would have cost us about $800 after rebates and coupons. Hmm. Time to rethink the iPod thing. Did we really need something that almost cost as much as a laptop? Um, no.  (Editor's Note:  See also this December 20 Washington Post article, Battery And Assault When His iPod Died, This Music Lover Tackled Apple. Stay Tuned, detailing the significant additional costs of iPod maintenance.)

Last year it was digital cameras, and we actually did get one, though I found the cost horrifying and we have yet to print more than a handful of photos. This year, it's iPods and handheld organizers that have us in a dither, but we probably won't bite.


Gadget Ambivalence

Here's the thing. There are many reasons to want all kinds of gadgets including:

And there are very good reasons NOT to get them:

Well, it's that last one that's really getting us. We know that we don't really need much of what's out there, and we already have some frustrations with the gadgets we own now. We can wait until the shiny new things get a little less expensive. The trick, evidently, is to be educated about the available features, know how you would be using them and balance all that against the cost. With luck, you won't be paralyzed by every new wave of choices that comes at you so that you never actually commit to purchasing anything.

So, even though I'll be waiting on the iPod/PDA question, I've been doing my homework. I appealed to a group of highly organized sensible people -- librarians -- and asked them for feedback about their experiences with handhelds. The complete details of their responses are available online, but here's the nitty gritty in case you are also struggling with a decision about whether or not to leap into the handheld arena.

To Buy or Not to Buy

The Pros

The Cons

Related Issues

Peripheral Hardware


Almost everyone who responded had purchased at least one additional piece of software for their PDA. What they purchased ran the gamut:

Basically, there are many software options out there, but you should try before you buy if at all possible. What works for one person may not for another.

Technology Convergence

One last thought. If you have gadget lust and want it all -- the phone, the digital camera, gobs of data storage, address and calendar functions, Internet access, and so on, and so on -- hang in there. It's coming. The iPod (which, again, offers calendar and address features) with the adapter for transferring large media files (as from a digital camera), is far from the only cross-media product out there. Palm now also offers .mp3 players. A company called Archos makes a handheld video player with a nearly four inch screen (the same size or better than what you might find in the seatback of an airplane) that can also work as a digital camera or VCR. Obviously, that's progress, but we're not quite there yet. While you can use the iPod for storing those photos, for instance, you can't view them. So, if you haven't bought anything yet, take heart. There's always more and better on the horizon. And if you find that prospect depressing, go get an inexpensive PDA and try it out, or buy a simple .mp3 player. Get over your electronic paralysis. You might find that gadgetry suits you.

Happy holidays from the Trenches!