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Magnets Versus PDAs

Edited by chromatic
February 2004

How well does your phone play with your PDA? Does your iPod coexist peacefully with your laptop? No, we're not talking about Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, USB, or Firewire. Instead, does a strong magnet on one device interfere with the sensitive electronics of another? A recent thread From the Editors List started with accessories. . . .

Molly Wood:

So, one of you intelligent folks must know something about the question of magnets versus gadgets.

I just got a new purse (an orange Kenneth Cole tote--love it, thanks). On the front it has two pockets, which are the perfect sizes for my Treo 600 and my iPod, and which close using somewhat strong magnetic clasps. I was warned against putting the Treo in there, for fear that the magnets might erase stored data, etc.

Now, it turns out that the Treo itself also has a fairly strong magnet on the back, where the speaker is. (It can pick up a paper clip!) There are discussions, in fact, about the Treo erasing someone's iPod.

Anyway, it seems to me that the presence of the Treo's own magnet could be an argument for or against carrying it in the magnetic pocket, or possibly even irrelevant, but I don't really know. The front pockets are the perfect location for the Treo, size- and access-wise, but I certainly don't want to wreck it. Ideas? Comments? Myth-busting?

In any case, if it's not safe to carry the Treo, or even my iPod, for that matter, in the magnetic pockets, then Kenneth Cole will be receiving a stern note from me about creating more gadget-friendly totes. (Accessory Hacks? Ahem.)

Simon St. Laurent:

I don't know what's in the Treo, but I'm still amazed that the USB GPS I bought has a magnet in it. It's handy for attaching it to surfaces, sure, but it makes me think twice before storing it with the rest of my laptop stuff.

On the other hand, it's been at least six months since I used a floppy disk, which is what I'd worry about most.

Sarah Milstein:

On a maybe-related note, my Palm (Zire 71) sometimes goes blank when I travel. It can be rejuvenated with a standard synch, but I'd like to know what the problem is. Two possibilities I have considered: 1) magnetic fields; 2) the lack of nifty accessory pockets in my bags means it gets jostled around with my phone, wallet, etc., and it could get knocked on without my knowing and then run down. But this never happens in my day-to-day life. And anyway, the charge is supposed to last longer than I normally travel. So what gives?

P.S. Rael turned me on to a handy synching/charging cable, Zip-Linq, that's great for traveling and helps rescue me when the Palm blanks out on the road.

Jonathan Gennick:

Speakers commonly have magnets in them. The magnets are part of what make the speakers work. So the magnet in your Treo could well be in its speaker. I can't imagine there's anything to worry about from putting your Treo in a pocket with a magnetic clasp.

I'd worry more about the iPod, which includes a hard disk. I don't know whether the purse-clasp magnets would be strong enough to affect that disk, but I'd be nervous about that.

That'd be something interesting to experiment with. How close and powerful would a magnet need to be to bother a hard drive? Maybe someday I'll gather up a bunch of household magnets and find out <grin>. I've occasionally dropped refrigerator magnets on my notebook, with no ill-effects, so maybe a purse-magnet wouldn't have enough umph to bother anything.

Rob Flickenger:

I'd worry more about the iPod than the Treo. Magnets typically don't affect electronics, but they can play havoc with magnetic media (like floppies, zip disks, or the hard drive in your iPod), CRT screens, and anything else that uses a magnetic field or has moving parts.

Magnets can also fool devices that use a magnet to detect when to switch on and off, like some laptops and flip-top cell phones. In that case, you might find your phone mysteriously turn on (or off) when it's near a strong magnet. Devices that use flash memory (like the Treo, cameras, etc.) shouldn't have any trouble operating near a magnet.

If it were me, I'd exchange the bag for one with traditional snaps. Although it *is* orange. Hmm . . .

Molly Wood:

See, I can tell that Rob really understands my dilemma. *Sigh.*

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