Contacts are crucial for any entrepreneur and today, there’s no better way to keep in touch than by equipping yourself with a smartphone. These clever little devices furnish you with everything you’d expect to have in an office while you’re out and about.
Today’s handsets come packed with an array of business-critical features and functions, including email, calendars, productivity tools and social media apps, as well as many not aimed at the business user.
The good news is that whatever your budget, there’s likely to be a smartphone suitable for you. And you can even get your hands on a great handset for free if you’re willing to commit to a long contract with a mobile operator.
The range of handsets on the market can make choosing one a little daunting. Some smartphones boast a multitude of features – such as high-end digital cameras and music players – that may not be much use for business users.
However, it’s essential you need to keep your eye on costs. If you exceed your monthly allowance of calls, texts or use of the mobile internet, charges can quickly add up. Using the handsets while out of the country can also lead to eye-wateringly high bills.
Before you buy a handset, think carefully about what you’ll use it for. Do you intend to use it instead of a laptop while you’re out and about? Is your main requirement the ability to use email? Do you need applications on the handset, such as an accounts package to work seamlessly with your desktop computer?
In order to pick the right handset, you will need to establish how its capabilities meet your needs. Important considerations include:
What you need
Smartphones are fast becoming a must-have for the busy business owner, providing a convenient and lightweight means to work while on the move. They allow you to work on documents, respond to emails; some can even act as a hand held GPS system, helping you find your way to that make-or-break meeting.
One of the best ways to distinguish smartphones is through operating systems – the software that defines the look and feel of the handset. There are several different operating systems available. The three most commonly used are Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry.
They all offer similar functionality, despite their differences. If your primary reason for getting a smartphone is to be able to access the internet on the go, you won’t be held back by whichever one you chose.
If you need specific applications however, such as your customer relationship management software, you need to consider whether the operating system for your chosen handset supports it and whether it has enough processing power to run the software acceptably.
Some handsets are not available on certain networks. If you think you’ve found the ideal handset for your needs but it has patchy coverage in your area, you might need to go back to the drawing board.
The major players
Google’s Android is the fastest growing operating system in the smartphone world. By some counts it has now moved ahead of Apple’s iOS and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry, and currently accounts for 30% of smartphones, while iOS and BlackBerry make up 27% each of sales according to market watcher Neilsen. Other major players include Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, HP’s WebOS and Symbian.
Operating systems only tell part of the story, however. When it comes to handsets, Apple’s iPhone dominates. Research in Motion is the only maker of BlackBerry handsets, but produces far more models than Apple. The other smartphone operating systems have numerous manufacturers making their handsets, which fragments the market. Samsung, HTC and Motorola are the major makers of Android-based and Windows-based smartphones.
The type of processor found in your smartphone will have a major influence over how quickly it can run programs – for example, how quickly internet pages are rendered on screen. If your smartphone will be your main mobile device, you should go for a more powerful processor – otherwise you may be frustrated by the slowness of the device when comparing it to a PC or laptop.
The most commonly used method to gauge a processor’s power is known as its clock speed, and the higher the clock speed the better. Expect most smartphones today to have a 1GHz processor at the minimum.
Whichever smartphone you choose, without access to a mobile network, it’s little more than a plastic brick. The amount you spend each monthly period to get that access can vary massively. All operators will offer deals that bundle network access with a call and text allowance and perhaps a mobile data allowance.
As an example of what’s out there, you can pick up a BlackBerry Torch for free, and get 600 call minutes, 500 texts and 1GB of data each month for a fraction over £25 on T-Mobile.
if you prefer to buy your own handset, you can simply use pay-as-you-go SIM cards. This means a greater upfront cost though, and you may not get the best value on call minutes or data charges, but you do gain greater control of what you’re spending. For those looking at this option, a SIM-free HTC Desire S – a powerful smartphone that uses the Android operating system – will cost you £399.
Nothing’s sure to ruin your day faster than finding your smartphone is out of power when you’re miles from your charger. It’s not unusual to find a smartphone needing a recharge within less than a day of heavy usage.
Battery life is usually expressed in terms of talk time – the number of hours a fully charged handset can last in a continuous mobile call. The amount of talk time you get from a handset varies massively. An HTC Legend gives 12.5 hours talk time, compared to a BlackBerry Torch which gives just five hours.
Talk time provides a useful means to compare handsets, but it is not a cast-iron measure of how long a battery will last. The time between charges will vary depending on how the handset is used. Surfing the mobile web or using GPS will quickly drain the battery, so if you expect to be a heavy user, you need to consider how to keep your smartphone topped up.
With many, such as HTC’s Desire HD, you can buy replacement batteries, allowing you to swap in a fully charged one when one is exhausted. Apple’s iPhone offers you no such luxury: if you want an iPhone, plan on buying a car charger or hooking up to a desktop computer via the USB cable at regular intervals.
Email is widely regarded as the killer app for smartphones: it was the application that transformed them from being desirable gadgets to must-have ones.
These days, all smartphones offer some sort of email capability. Unless you have already invested in an email server, you need not worry about some of the advance email features – but can relax in the knowledge that most of today’s handsets can work with third party email providers.
If you make a note of the user name and password your email provider gave you, the sales person in the shop should be able to set up your email for you when you buy your handset.
Screen resolution and whether it is the only input method are important considerations when it comes to choosing a phone.
You need to be sure that you can comfortably read the display. Most smartphones have displays somewhere between 3.5in and 4in – but what matters most when it comes to readability is the number of pixels. Apple’s iPhone 4 crams 960 by 640 pixels into its 3.5in screen; Samsung Galaxy S has a 4in screen but only manages 800 by 480 pixels.
Most smartphones will also use touch technology to turn the screens in to an input device. If you think you’ll need to send numerous long emails or work on long documents, check you comfortable you are with these on-screen keyboards. Some handsets offer a slide-out keyboard, which makes typing easier.
There is undoubtedly a smartphone that is right for you, but how do you ensure you get the best deal?
All of the major mobile operators will offer a range of handsets and contracts and there may be room to negotiate: the mobile operators are keen to land smartphone customers and may be wiling to throw in extras such as hands-free headsets to sweeten the deal.
Whichever route you go down, the key things to consider are:
There are so many options for the smartphone buyer, you can be sure you’ll find a device that helps you in your business life. But there’s always a balance to be struck between flashy features and those that will really help you in your day-to-day life.
iPhone 4. The reasons for not choosing an iPhone can be compelling: it is primarily a consumer device, not a business one; you pay a premium for Apple products and other handsets may have more compelling specifications. Nevertheless, thanks to the focus on usability and the popularity of its App Store, the iPhone has become the smartphone of choice for multitudes of business owners. A handset with 32GB of on-board storage retails for £612 SIM-free.
HTC Desire HD. If you want to rein in the costs but bump up the power of your smartphone, the HTC Desire HD beats the iPhone hands down. The 1GHz processor and humungous 4.3in screen make this a beast of a handset, suitable for even the heaviest users. It’s available SIM-free for £379.
BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9105. These days, you can get a lot of smartphone for your money. If you don’t want to splash out on fancy features you may never need, the BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9105 has comes packed with GPS functionality, super-fast web browsing and features such as in-built BlackBerry Messenger. You can find it available SIM-free for as little as £140.