Pocket PC Vs Palm: What to Choose

I am a known PDA/gadget junkie and having used devices with WinCE PPC2002/2003/SE and PalmOS 3.5/4/5 for years, I thought I should write a comparison article between PocketPCs and Palm/Clies (there's no comparison between PalmOS 6 & Windows Mobile 5 as these are not available on real commercial devices yet).

Let's start first with Windows Mobile and PocketPCs.


1. It has some form of protected memory and so when applications crash the OS stays alive (well, most of the time).

2. OS looks better, more modern, than PalmOS. Support for Clear Type.

3. It has good support for the Exchange server that most businesses care about.

4. Internet Explorer and Outlook are more robust than WebPro, Mail and Blazer.

5. More input options than PalmOS (e.g. transcriber, speech addon from MS).

6. "Today" default screen more relevant than "Applications" (because of the very nature of PDAs in the business world).

7. WMA/WMV and ASF built-in support.

8. Automatic support for USB host connector, when available.

9. Runs on faster XScale hardware than PalmOS usually.

10. DirectX/3D support, more multimedia capable.

11. Apps use the full 320x240 resolution (instead of the 160x160 that most PalmOS apps use and double-pixel at 320x320).

12. Able to run more complex games, some 3D games too.

11. Better office format compliancy, MS Office is usually bundled with the PDA.

12. ActiveSync rocks, it allows for direct internet connection and can mount the PDA to your desktop (PalmOS' drive mode is a hack, and only available to recent models)

13. Programming APIs similar to Win32, porting is easy, development too.

14. Basic and .NET available if C/C++ is not desired.

15. Able to install/run apps from flash addon cards and built-in storage.

16. Better localization than PalmOS (e.g. support for Greek, and support by MS' office there)

17. More PocketPC devices include a microphone for voice notes.
18. Supports resolutions up to VGA and there are already at least 5 devices shipped with it.


1. Usually more expensive than basic PalmOS devices, however prices go down

2. You need to find .cab installation files if you want to use it with a Mac or Linux. No ActiveSync for other OSes.

3. Cab files by default install in the memory, which is not desireble most of the time (freeware cabinst helps the situation a bit)

4. Drivers are not always compatible between major versions of the OS.

5. Internal file manager and image viewer are crap (Total Commander and XnView save the day).

6. Some optimizations to the UI could be done to save an extra 10-15 pixels vertically (without making it look squashing).

8. Not as efficient as PalmOS in battery life.

9. No easy way to close applications without navigating to "memory" utility (freeware vBar to the rescue).

10. No way to view the memory & battery status on any given screen (again, vBar).

11. Not possible to use more than one keyboard layout (commercial Resco Keyboard to the rescue).

12. Not compatible with Smartphone apps or older Pocket/WinCE devices.

13. Requires 7.5 MBs of RAM to start up with, PalmOS 5 can run on 2 MBs (admitedly, that's nothing in front of the 16+ MBs Linux requires with Qtopia).

And now, PalmOS' turn:


1. Designed from the ground up to be used with one hand.

2. More apps than PPC (~30,000 over ~20,000)

3. Better Mac & Linux compatibility and support.

4. Battery, bluetooth and other information easily viewable through the status bar.

5. More versalite when it comes to network connections

6. Smaller, lighter devices than PPCs.

7. Compatible with very old PalmOS apps, as far as back to 1998.

8. Much faster than PocketPC, it runs well on slower hardware.

9. Doesn't need much memory.

10. When Palm uses the standard resolutions your input is outside the window area, so you can enter data easier, without taking over the active window.

11. Palm devices are usually more stylish than PocketPCs.

12. Great battery life.

13. Real Player support on some models.

14. 4 GB of storage for the Lifedrive model.


1. OS crashes too easily, too often, when apps are crashing.

2. Most apps run at 160x160, even if the screen is capable of 320x320 or more (they double-pixel).

3. Palm's sync software sucks, doesn't share internet and can't mount the PDA automatically (requires "drive mode"). And it's unessarily complex and confusing.

4. If you have more than 1 Palm, especially a mix between Clies and Palm devices, it can be a nightmare because of the drivers needed for each device (PocketPCs use the same driver, regardless the manufacturer).

5. PalmOS doesn't let you install applications on built-in storage or flash cards, at least not without third party, nasty, hacks. Only data can be installed on flash cards.

6. The Clie & Palm modifications to the OS has left many third party apps not working with all devices.

7. No OpenGL or other accelerated 3D support built-in in the OS (Zodiac's is a home-brewed solution).

8. No compact flash to be found on most Palm devices. This means, considerably less accessory support (e.g. cameras, radios, ethernet, modem, wifi, gps etc).

9. Hey PalmOS, the mid-90s called, they want their UI and fonts back.

10. Doesn't use memory as efficiently as PPC does.

11. No VoIP support from third parties. Usually Skype or Stanaphone require 300 Mhz and a microphone and only few PalmOS devices feature these.

12. Driver API is problematic. Even PalmOne's WiFi card doesn't support all of their own PalmOS 5 devices.

13. Its C API is archaic.


If you are after gaming, multimedia, good WiFi+Bluetooth support, a lot of accessories and versatility, go with Pocket PC.

If you are after small and stylish devices with good battery life, simple interface and simple PIM apps, go with PalmOS.

There is room for both, however most modern or tech-oriented new PDA users are more likely to opt for PocketPC instead. In fact, PocketPC's market share *growth* is bigger than Palm's the last few years, but Palm is still ahead in overall market share. This is changing rapidly though, especially with the many PocketPC phones that are scheduled to be shipped later this year.

Related reading: Pocket PC freeware software suggestions.


there are some things missing from the comparison.

  • documents togo tends to have better support for ms office documents than pocket office. (http://ptech.wsj.com/archive/ptech-20030206.html?redirect=wall_street_jo...)
  • pocketpc ui design is based on the desktop version of windows, that perhaps makes it easier for some users to use, but in the long run it add ui complexity that does not belong on a handheld device.
  • all the application i use today support 320x320 resolution natively.
  • palm os does indeed let me install and run (most) applications from a memory card.
  • the palm os filesystem prior to nvfs is more efficient than pocket pc, and applications tend to be far smaller.

1. On resolution:

The 160x160 (72 DPI) thing is not accurate. Most PalmOS 5 devices are 320x320 (144DPI) or 320x480. Almost all apps that are still being developed use the full 320x320 resolution, and many use 320x480/480x320. Moreover, even legacy apps tend to at least display text in 320x320 (unless they install a custom font that requires 160x160) because PalmOS 5 does that automatically, and standard UI elements like buttons, checkboxes and menus also automatically get upgraded to high resolution. Of course if an app shows bitmaps that haven't been upgraded to 144 DPI, there is nothing the OS can do about that.

2. On fonts:

Agreed--the built-in ones aren't great. But again third-party stuff comes to the rescue. Lubak's Fonts4OS5 (http://www.lubak.net) provides a bunch of beautiful bitmapped fonts (but not antialiased), while (to give a plug for my own commercial stuff stuff) my own FontSmoother (http://www.zlthemes.com/Programs.php) provides antialiased (admittedly, grayscale only) smooth fonts (converted from TTF/Type1 via two different GPL converters, though FontSmoother itself is shareware and closed source).

3. On installing apps in flash:

Actually, non-hackish applications can be installed directly on a flash card without any utilities, though any databases that they use will have to be in RAM unless the app is designed to use databases in flash or unless you use a third-party utility.

4. On the C API:

It may be archaic but it makes for very nice, compact applications and one can develop on basically any platform to which one can port gcc.

5. On OS crashes:

I don't know the PPC world at all, but under PalmOS most crashes aren't a big deal--the system just resets and ten to twenty seconds later you're back up and running. Of course a really bad bug can cause nastier things (reset loops, hard resets, etc.), but that I assume can happen on any platform.

6. On battery life:

Actually, a number of slightly older PalmOS 5 devices have rather poor battery life--three hours or so. But the latest palmOne devices with NVFS have very good battery life.

When you use QuickOffice, you get FontBucket. An application with the Arial of other typefaces for use with any MS Office document you open.

I have both a Palm Clie NX and a PalmOne Lifedrive. The Clie needs a Data Import before you could use the memorystick as external storage (the drive mode), but the LifeDrive doesn't. as soon as yu connect it, you could use the LifeDrive manager software to download/upload files on to the internal harddisc. it does block some applications as the pda is accessing the harddisc, like pockettunes. so in the latter case, you dont need to use a drive mode, although it is available if you really need it in case you haven't installed the software on your friend's computer.

the only real problem I have, is that TomTom navigator runs perfectly on the LifeDrive... but not on my Clie. Both are Palm 5 devices and both are powered by an ARM processor. Probably something to do with the specific assembly code for the routing algorithms :S. It does bother me a little, because the screen of the Clie is of a much higher quality.

been using palm for a looooong time. problem is that their stuff is soooo flakey, crashes, digitizer has to be reset all the time, ... i have never had a palm device that was just a simple reliable workhorse.

so, as i want to combine my gsm phone with my pda, i am thinking of moving to a pocketpc device. i gather address book etc move easily. the key problem is that i am addicted to the palm app datebk5 and its ability to handle multiple time zones. any clues?

The crashes, apart from some bugs in the new NVFS based devices (TE2, T5, LD), are almost entirely caused by third-party software. Choose the software right, and crashes are gone. Of course if one uses a lot of alpha or beta test software, or software not quite designed for one's device, or hacks that push the system to its limit in some way, then crashes will occur. That happens to me, since I run a lot of pre-alpha software--my own stuff, before it goes out to alpha/beta testers. :-) But once things are debugged, they'll be solid. My Clie NX70 hardly ever crashes, except during software development.

The standard soft-reset crash is actually a kind of safety maneuver on the part of PalmOS. PalmOS is designed to respond to a number of software bugs by doing a soft reset--thus, if you unlock a memory chunk more often than you lock it. This prevents the bug from propagating further and possibly causing more data loss and should cause no loss of data (except on some buggy Clies), except for what the crashing app has failed to commit to a database. It's still annoying.

My locks usually happen with AvantGo, and I don't consider AvantGo alpha or crap software. Besides, ALL software have bugs and crash from time to time. Even the so-called production-ready ones. And I find it unforgiving the whole OS to go down when the app is crashing. This is like using Windows 3.1 or MacOS 7.

At least PocketPCs feel more like Windows 98SE in terms of stability. Not great either of course, but definately better than any pre-6 PalmOS.

PalmSource didn't buy Be's intellectual property for no good reason, you know.

"I don't consider AvantGo alpha or c--- software." Actually, I don't think AvantGo is that good. Plucker (www.plkr.org) is generally quite stable (except maybe in low memory situations where the whole OS becomes unstable) and I think has a better feature set than AvantGo (and a much better price, being free) and I also have never had iSilo (www.isilo.com) crash.

I agree that often it would be nicer not to wait the 12-14 seconds that a reboot takes on my Clie NX (more on T5) after a crash due to software bugs but simply to terminate the app (I wish, too, that there weren't the silly splash animations which slow down the boot). I don't know about PPC, but my feeling with WinME and probably WinXP is that although I might be able to terminate a buggy app without crashing the system, system stability may be shot by the experience, and so I might end up crashing in some perfectly OK app later on, thereby losing data. A reboot at least means that you end up closer to a clean slate, and don't have to worry as much that when you are entering a long set of notes an hour or day or week later, you will crash due to the aftereffects of the buggy app.

>I don't think AvantGo is that good.

I think AvantGo is excellent.

> Plucker is generally quite stable and I think has a better feature set

No, it doesn't. Plucker renders pages like sh*t, while AvantGo has an online mode that IS very capable (short only of Netfront or IE).

>and a much better price, being free

AvantGo is free (as in beer).

>and I also have never had iSilo crash.

Again, iSilo is an offline browser, like Plucker, and it doesn't render pages as nicely as AvantGo does (drops down colors, tables etc)

Any recommendations for linux support of windows ppc devices? I've seen synce, but haven't tried it yet...

yes, synce is your best bet. You will need to read thoroughly their docs, and when you need to install apps on your PDA, you will have to use .cab files instead of .exe installation files.

this author owns a ppc

9. Runs on faster XScale hardware than PalmOS usually. "

and what? palm don't need a fast processor... windows need it... with 200Mhz i can go on the web, watch divx, listen mp3 connect to a database... with a ppc at this speed... it's difficult

2. Most apps run at 160x160, even if the screen is capable of 320x320 or more."

majority of palm system with palm os 5 use 320*320 display any new application use this resolution and some use 320 * 480

"Pocket PC advantages:
1. Integrates very well with Microsoft Outlook."

is this really an advantage with all the problem with this tool?
don't think so

anyway, no integration problem with palm

"ppc 1. It has some form of protected memory and so when applications crash the OS stays alive (well, most of the time)."
it's very very easy to crash a ppc, i crash more oftmen my ppc then my palm

"2. Able to run more complex games, some 3D games too."
gameplay is bad with a pda... only game who is correct are game played with the pen...

"11. Better office format compliancy, MS Office is usually bundled with the PDA."

false everybody know the best is document to go

"12. ActiveSync rocks, it allows for direct internet connection and can mount the PDA to your desktop"

false, i do it easily with a palm os 4

"13. Programming APIs similar to Win32, porting is easy, development too."

sorry but the win32 api is complex, majority don't use win32 api directly to wrote all their program

"14. Basic and .NET available if C/C++ is not desired."

a lot of programming tool are available on palm
C, basic, java, pascal, c++

"palm: Its C API is archaic."

hahaha, cool linux, windows, driver... are archaic

please, stop to fud, you don't know anything to palm

another time, we have an author tells anything

anyway, palm will use a linux kernel soon

I have three Palms, Mr. Palms were my first PDAs.

your reply is one of the worst replies I ever had. I won't point by point to your stupid rebuttals, it doesn't worth my time.

I´ve had this kind of response once. I gess the writer didn´t have any good answer, so he just dismissed me. Collinm sounded a little pissed but made a point. If you had time to write the review, how come you don´t have any to spare and make a proper answer?

Because I have better things to do than replying to this flamebait where a LOT OF THINGS are just WRONG. It is lile trying to convince a zealot. It's impossible. I won't bother, I have already given up for these kind of people.

If you DO believe that all some of these points that are valid and need answering, please don't hesitate to email me. I will gladly reply to points that are indeed debatable.

1. Most Palm OS 5 handhelds are 320x320, or 320x480, not 160x160.
2. Hires Palm OS 5 handhelds do NOT pixel double. This caused me a few problems, actually, since line joins can act in unexpected ways on Palm OS 5 devices.
3. Palm OS units are still outselling PocketPCs at 2:1.
4. There are no compatibility problems between Sony and Palm handhelds. I've used both simulateously.
5. High contrast UIs never go out of style.
6. There's nothing wrong with C/C++, and the Palm SDK is very well designed.
7. Palm OS has memory protection. In fact, violating this is usually why Palm applications crash.

>3. Palm OS units are still outselling PocketPCs at 2:1.

This is not true anymore.

>4. There are no compatibility problems between Sony and Palm handhelds. I've used both simulateously.

There are many apps that don't work on both Palms and Clies, usually because these (poor) devs don't have both PDA platforms to test with. As for using them simultaneously, try to use a TH-55 and the Lifedrive on the SAME XP machine.

>5. High contrast UIs never go out of style.

PalmOS does not have a high-contrast UI. Its buttons are white for example (on white background), with only a single pixel bordering. This is hardly "contrasty".

>6. There's nothing wrong with C/C++, and the Palm SDK is very well designed.


>7. Palm OS has memory protection. In fact, violating this is usually why Palm applications crash.


I own a Sony Clie TH-55, and have bought lots of Palm apps for it, and I have a 1Gb Memory stick in it. My thoughts are as follows..

First of all, the 160x160 thing is really a red herring for all intents and purposes. Unless you want to go and download 5 year old apps, you're going to see your stuff showing up at 320x320 if your device supports it.
I agree that there ARE some compatibility issues with older Clie's. For the latest TJ and TH series, though, those are full Palm OS5 devices that need no special treatment. The Clie OS 4.x stuff had compatibility issues and you had to download special files.
High contrast UI - not sure what the point is here. everything is customizable. I find the Palm's UI is quite high contrast. Maybe what you meant was "3d" ?
In the meantime, almost every complaint about Palm in the main piece is nearly irrelevant. It almost just assumes you'll buy it and not buy any 3rd party products for it. For mail, I use SnapperMail, an awesome full featured e-mail client. I use Verichat for instant messaging, I have 802.11b built-in (no SD card needed). It has a camera (don't use it much, but it's there, and integrated with Snapper nicely). I have 3rd party fonts and font smoothers installed that override all the system and application fonts on either a global or app by app basis. Everything is nicely antialiased and looks great. Video playback is quite smooth, much nicer than my friend's hp PocketPC. The screen is bright and vivid. For data entry I use the FITALY virtual keyboard and can tap in text at 25-40 wpm, way faster than writing anything out. I have a GPS mouse hooked in my car that works with Mapopolis software and does point to point routing. I can put my memory stick in the side of my laptop and put apps and data directly on it and read and run apps directly FROM it on my Clie. Not to mention various e-book readers, Documents To Go, games, and so on.
Now for the catch. I think the area where the PocketPC people win is, quite frankly, Programming Support. As a programmer, I've found the Palm tools to be a big disappointment. The PC IDE's are usually bare bones compared to modern PC development IDE's, the Palm API is really stripped down so you almost have to write our own libraries to do anything really useful, and there are few alternatives to C that run all that fast. HandHeld Basic ++ is awesome, and small footprint, but the IDE, again, is quite primitive, and it's freaking BASIC for cryin' out loud. As a Delphi developer, CF support has now been supplied as a preview compiler for Delphi.NET. So as a Delphi developer myself, the writing is on the wall. I'll be buying a PocketPC just so I can easily use my favorite dev tools and write apps for it.

However, almost all the other arguments against a Palm OS base device are shattered by an advanced Palm device like the Clie and a good selection of 3rd party software. I've put my TH up against the PocketPC's from the competition and am not impressed. I'm sure that now that Sony is out of the Palm market, the Microsoft-ization of the handheld market is coming, and at some point I'll see PocketPC's I like more than my Clie, but right now, I'll take my 320x480 Clie running all its apps in sweet high res ANY day over a PocketPC.

Gotta love writing my own apps though -- so I'll be buying an hp pretty soon I guess. How's that for Schizophrenic. If Palm were to embrace .NET, I'd be right there


Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.