Despite all the hoopla surrounding Apple’s “must-have” iPhone, not everyone is convinced it’s an ideal product for budding entrepreneurs or small-to-mid-sized business owners. In fact, IncTechnology explored the pros and cons of the iPhone for business.
Now that the price has dropped, however, you may be tempted. But before you give in, check out these cheaper — and some would argue better suited — smartphones that can help you and your employees stay in touch and keep organized, productive, and entertained while on the go.
Here’s a look at three recommended models:
“The first thing any mobile businessperson needs in a phone is push email,” explains Chris Hazelton, senior analyst for mobile device technology and trends at IDC Research, a Framingham, Mass.-based technology research firm. “Push email,” offered in products such as the BlackBerry series of smartphones, pushes email to the device’s inbox as soon as messages arrive, opposed to a user logging onto the Internet to “pull” messages down to the handset.
Available through AT&T for $299.99 with a 24-month plan, the BlackBerry 8820 offers a “push mail” solution for mobile businesspersons, who need their messages as soon as their sent. It’s also the first phone from Research in Motion with integrated Wi-Fi for high-speed wireless connectivity.
Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at Jupiter Research, in New York, agrees with Hazelton, but warns that the phone may not let you make voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) calls. “Push email is critical,” he says. “Be aware, however, the BlackBerry 8820 won’t let you make VoIP calls via Wi-Fi.”
(Note: A service called T-Mobile@Home allows for chatting via Wi-Fi hotspots and seamless transition back to wireless cell service, or vice-versa, available on select handsets such as the Samsung T409 or Nokia 6086).
Other features of the BlackBerry 8820 include a built-in GPS receiver, multimedia player, expandable memory, Bluetooth, and voice-activated dialing.
Palm Treo 755p
The latest Palm Treo is the 755p, available through Sprint for $199.99 (with 24-month commitment).
Along with its intuitive Palm OS and touchscreen or thumb keyboard interface, the Palm Treo 755P smartphone offers wireless email, Web browsing, multimedia playback, and built-in support for Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.
The second feature a business smartphone needs, says Hazleton, and one the iPhone lacks, is a comfortable way to input data on the phone. “It’s no secret the iPhone has some issues in the keyboard department since it’s a soft keyboard with no tactical feedback, compared to a QWERTY thumb keyboard with products like the Treo or BlackBerry,” says Hazelton.
Gartenberg suggests that you make sure the keyboard is intuitive, since you’re likely using it for email or maybe word processing. “On that note,” he adds, “if opening and editing documents is important to you, make sure the phone can support applications such as Word or Excel.”
Gartenberg says he also likes the fact Treo users can download thousands of applications to customize the smartphone’s functions. Unlike a closed architecture with the iPhone, phones that let you install customize applications are great for businesses and consumers alike, he argues.
Motorola Q 9h
Another recommended iPhone alternative for mobile businesspersons is the upcoming Motorola Q 9h smartphone, expected to ship this fall through Verizon for $199.99 (on a 24-month plan). This super thin QWERTY-based smartphone offers “3G” or high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) connectivity for broadband-like speeds in your pocket.
“The iPhone lacks this technology, which could be a handy feature for a small-to-mid-sized business,” explains Gartenberg.
Hazelton says the Motorola Q 9h is also ideal for entertainment purposes, including video at 30 frames per second, expandable microSD memory cards and support for a variety of music formats (including Advanced Audio Coding, MP3 and Windows Media Audio. “Personally, I like the fact the Motorola Q offers both a regular-sized [3.5mm] headphone jack so you can use your favorite headphones or you can use wireless headphones with its support for Stereo Bluetooth,” Hazelton says.
When asked to give general advice on finding a smartphone for your business, Gartenberg says to figure out what you need it for, and which applications are most important to you and your company. Aside from the iPhone, there are four main platforms to choose from — RIM BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Nokia Series 60 or Palm OS. “So you need to research the strengths for each of these outside of regular phone calls,” he says.
If email is important to your business, for example, consider a push mail solution and a larger keyboard. And if you need to open or edit documents, find out which platform is best for the files you work on the most, Gartenberg recommends.
There is one drawback to these models, however. “Be aware none of these other platforms will have the coolness, the cache, that comes with pulling out an iPhone in public,” says Gartenberg.