The modern business is constantly changing; and while you may have supplied your employees with the latest desktop PC or laptop, it's more than likely you'll also need to issue them with a business phone. At one time that simply meant a mobile phone but increasingly smartphones are becoming more commonplace, both for work and home.
A smartphone takes your basic mobile phone functions and adds an extra layer of flexibility that at one time could be found in your PDA. So access to email, the internet, files and documents, as well as all your office needs, such as To Do, Contacts and Calendar can all be found on the device, as well as synchronised with your office server via 3G.
You staff may well have their own ideas on which smartphone they'd like to have. However, this decision may well be driven by personal taste and the latest fashion. We'd suggest taking on board what is suggested but temper it with a little common sense and opt for a solution that puts your business first and the vagaries of fashion second.
The big players in the market are Nokia, Apple, BlackBerry and HTC, while companies such as HP, Samsung and Sony Ericsson also play a part and may well offer unique solutions to your business. As with any other technology, there are a wide number of smartphone choices on the market and no one solution fits all – though Apple with its Apple iPhone believes there is. So, choosing the right solution may need a little investigation.
What to look for in a smartphone
Touchscreen or QWERTY
It's almost impossible to find a smartphone that doesn't have a touchscreen these days. Simply tapping the application, or app, you wish to use is so much easier than scrolling through menus using the keypad that it's become the ubiquitous format for smartphones.
It's not only opening apps that the touchscreen is used for, as you'll also type texts and emails using an onscreen 'virtual' keyboard. This can take a little getting used but speed comes with confidence and practise.
Business users tend to need a device with a QWERTY keyboard, so you can quickly fire out emails and respond on the fly to urgent messages from the office. The Nokia E Series and BlackBerry 9000 Series are both aimed at business users and offer the most comprehensive range of QWERTY smartphones.
Just as with laptops, smartphones tend to be gauged by the size of their screen. At the entry-level of the market you'll find small 2-inch screens with a low resolution display, while at the high-end 4- and 4.3-inch with a full VGA resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, which means you can view websites in style, or simply look at documents crisply.
For business use, 2.4-inch has been the most common size for the last couple of years. This is because it offers the best compromise in screen clarity and compact size. BlackBerry and Nokia offer devices with this screen size as it allows for a full QWERTY keyboard to be added.
Weight & size
Depending on the screen size you opt for with your smartphone will have a direct effect on the overall weight and size. Naturally enough, a bigger screen means a larger smartphone and while the latest high-end models are made from stainless steel and glass to help keep the weight down but deliver the best possible build quality, you're still looking at a weight between 120g and 150g.
It's a fact of life that battery life is never quite as good as you'd hoped and the modern smartphone user has grown accustomed to charging their device almost daily. That said, battery technology for the most part is better than it was a few years ago and is enough to let you receive email, constantly use the office functions and make calls throughout the working day without you needing to worry about the phone running dry.
Smartphones, and mobile phones, have battery lives registered both in terms of talk-time and also standby time, typically both in GSM mode and 3G mode. As with your laptop, these times are approximate and depend purely on usage.
You can't talk about smartphones without getting embroiled in the debate over Operating System (OS). Nokia has long been the business worlds favourite mobile phone but it has lost ground in recent years to newer, faster operating systems from the likes of Google Android and Apple OS. SO much so that Nokia is retiring its ageing Symbian platform in favour of the latest Microsoft Windows Phone platform.
There are pros and cons of each OS and we'd suggest analysing your company needs before deciding on any one solution. For example, Apple may be the world's favourite choice right now but in terms of technology it's quite mainstream and lacks full business support. Meanwhile, HTC offer an array of operating systems but as they only supply the hardware you may be relying on a third-party to supply updates. It pays to check out what your company needs and opt for a single operating system, as this will make IT management easier and rollout to employees, as well as updates, far more cost-effective.
Other features to consider
There was a time when manufacturers offered smartphones for business without a camera attached. Now, all but the cheapest of devices come with a camera built in. For business purposes, we'd suggest looking at a camera between 5-Megapixel and 8-Megapixel in size as these offer great image quality without impacting too greater when it comes to emailing them back to the office. If you want to use the smartphone for video conferencing on the go, then consider looking for a smartphone with a front-facing camera, often referred to as a secondary camera.
Global Positioning System will tell you exactly where you are and how to get to your next destination wherever it may be. Handy for getting around and has many potential benefits for the security and safety conscious businessman.
Stands for the third generation of mobile phones. First we had analogue, then there was digital; now we have 3G, which gives us greater bandwidth - allowing a greater volume of information to be passed. This greater flow of information makes the beaming of high volume traffic such as films and television far easier and the quality has been improved as well. Combined with cameras, video conferencing is now a reality.
If you're looking to download large files without impacting on your 3G bills, then Wi-Fi can be a handy addition. You can set it up to work in the office, at home, or even in public hotspots. Almost all high-end smartphones now come with Wi-Fi so if you don't want it issued to staff it may be a case of getting your IT team to disable the functionality before rolling out.
This is short range radio technology that allows communication between devices. This is particularly useful for car phones given that talking on your hand held phone whilst driving is now against the law.