Handheld computers on the farm
by Ian Campbell
  New Zealand farmers have made considerable use of computer technology over the years but it is largely confined to desktop or laptop machines.Handheld computers now have sufficient power to be regarded as valuable tools for farmers of all types and dedicated farming software is now available.
Consider these attributes of modern handhelds:
  • Totally portable, can be carried in the pocket or on a belt
  • Instant on, no waiting for start up.
  • Many rugged pouches available to protect them from all weathers while some devices have this protection built in.
  • Reasonable cost
  • Very easy connection to conventional computers

What can they be used for?

The standard applications in most hanhelds include address books, todo lists, appointment calendars and notepads but because they are true computers they can be programmed for a wide variey of other tasks like:
  • Recording and analysing rainfall
  • Keeping paddock records
  • Tracking mob tallies and treatments
  • Recording paddock dry matter
  • Planning set stocking and rotational grazing patterns
  • Recording individual animal characteristics
  • Calculating fertiliser requirements
  • Keeping machinery logs
  • Crop production recording

Programs to do many of these tasks are available on the downloads page. I intend to add to and modify these programs as needed so if you have any needs for speficic tasks on Palm handhelds email me at ian@awarua.gen.nz

Which one to buy?

Most handhelds use one of two operating systems
  1. a variant of Microsft Windows
  2. Palm OS
The two are not interchangeable so the first choice is which OS
  1. The screen of Windows based handhelds looks more like your PC, the devices are usually bigger and more expensive. Because of the complexity of the operating system they need and usually have more memory than the Palm based devices.
  2. Palm based systems are smaller, more efficient and use less battery power. They can operate with much less memory than Windows based devices but are just a powerful.
They all come with an impressive range of built in programs for appointments, to do lists, note taking etc. and there is a vast and increasing range of programs available for specific tasks.
All of them are capable of working with the standard Microsoft tools like Word and Excel

My preference is for the Palm OS devices.

There are many manufactures producing devices that use the Palm OS including some cellphones and GPS systems. The only attribute I consider essential for farm use is rechargeable batteries. Just place the handheld in its cradle now and again and it will always be ready for use.
New Zealand prices for Palm handhelds start at around $250 and go up to about $1500 for cellphone with built in Palm. It makes a lot of sense to buy at the low end unless you particularly need other features The Palm Zire 21 will get you started with minimal outlay and has the capacity to run dedicated software like my Palmfarm package. Do not get confused betwwen the the basic Zire 21 and a model called Zire 71 which has a built in camera and other features.
A newcomer on the market and an exception to the comments above is the Meazura RDA(Rugged Digital Assistant).
This is a New Zealand made device with very good specs and is built to withstand the rigours of outdoor use. It is available at a reasonable price of about NZ$700.00.

Where to buy?

Many local computer retail stores will stock PDA's (Persnal Digital Assistants)
The most widespread chain selling them in NZ and via the internet is Dick Smiths
Warehouse stationery stores sell a limited range plus accessories like screen protectors
Rugged cases are not so easy to find in New Zealand but some outdoor sports suppliers now stock an Armor brand like this.

An alternative that I like is the aquapac.
The Aquapac is totally sealed against the environment and is flexible which means it can be easily be carried in a pocket, on your belt or on a neck cord.
Both these cases have flexible clear fronts which means you can operate the PDA without removing it I can help source both these products in New Zealand if you wish. Contact me at ian@awarua.gen.nz for more information.

Internet links

Other internet sites of interest are: