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Find the Perfect Smartphone

It's not just a phone--it's a portable office. Learn to pick the right tool for phoning it in.

It's your friend, your constant companion, your sole source of comfort on the road, even your colleague and confidante. I'm talking, of course, about your smartphone--that magic hybrid device that serves as equal parts mobile communications center, day planner and personal assistant. Capable of functioning as any entrepreneur's desk away from desk, today's multitasking-friendly and high-speed-internet-enabled mobile handsets literally make it possible to take the office everywhere you go.

But with so many options from virtually every carrier, and an equally astounding array of features to pick from, which to choose? Start by asking yourself what matters most to you individually. Only you can decide which features are most attractive, and tradeoffs worth making, in order to spend countless days, weeks and all-nighters on end married to a potential device.

When searching for the model which best suit your needs, a few words of advice: Always go hands-on with any given unit before buying, and research compatibility with your organization's present infrastructure and IT backbone. Sourcing real-world feedback from colleagues and friends is also vital, lest you inadvertently discover your office to be a Bermuda Triangle-esque dead zone from which no call can enter or escape. A number of general points worth considering when judging potential candidates follow as well:

Battery Life Just a couple sessions into a lengthy tradeshow--or worse, at 2 a.m. while driving in circles looking for your hotel--you don't want to find yourself sprinting for the nearest power outlet. So do yourself a favor: Choose a phone rated for at least four hours of talk time, and one that offers a portable charger suitable for quick stowaway during travel. Springing for an extended battery is also a wise investment, as is keeping a laptop handy in case a quick USB-powered recharge is needed.

Internet Access Ask yourself: How fast does the phone browse the web and retrieve e-mail attachments? Units all offer different surfing and download performance, as do cell phone carriers themselves. High-speed capability is often also limited to specific regions, with major urban centers such as Atlanta and San Francisco able to access better and faster connections than remotely-situated areas. While GPRS and EDGE networks may suffice for everyday tasks and browsing sites optimized for mobile devices, 3G access is a must for heavy web surfers, multimedia enthusiasts and those looking to download new applications.

Miscellaneous Features Other options to consider when shopping for a smartphone for business use include:

  • QWERTY keyboard--A boon for those whose lives revolve around e-mail and text messaging.
  • Wi-Fi connectivity--Allows you to tap into nearby high-speed wireless Internet hotspots and, in some cases, even make free or heavily discounted calls.
  • GPS--Provides mobile navigation services for on-the-go travelers seeking local maps or step-by-step directions to their next business appointment.
  • Password access and e-mail encryption--For added security and data loss prevention.
  • Contacts and calendars--An extensive address book and the ability to synchronize schedules and contacts between devices are powerful productivity tools.
  • Word, Excel and PDF support--Enables you to read or edit common business document, spreadsheet and presentation formats.
  • Color and/or touch-screen display--Provides enhanced multimedia features and a more intuitive user interface.

As for which models come recommended, the following selections are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what's available in the smartphone market, but all provide a welcome starting point for today's entrepreneur:

RIM BlackBerry Curve 8900 Earns high marks for its impressive display, sleek styling and Wi-Fi calling capability. Also noteworthy: a QWERTY typepad that'll leave your thumbs twitching. Internet speeds aren't the best, but all-around performance and document editing capabilities leave one inclined to forgive and forget. From photos to music and personal communications, including juggling multiple instant messenger clients and e-mail accounts, working professionals will find it readily gets the job done.

Palm Pre Although yet to be released, this much-anticipated handset's making waves with its new "webOS" operating system, engineered for multitasking, letting you stack and browse applications like a virtual deck of cards. Finally, you'll be able to reference your calendar while browsing your list of contacts and keeping an e-mail window open. Also included are a slick multi-touch screen, gorgeous industrial aesthetic and breezy web surfing functions. Built-in GPS and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard are just icing on the cake, while the handy app catalog store lets you purchase and download software on-demand.

Apple iPhone 3G Virtual keyboard (beware near-death experiences while barreling down the freeway and attempting to dial) and enterprise-level shortcomings aside, still worth recommending. Thank premium download speeds, a user-friendly front end, massive multimedia support and countless downloadable apps that provide everything from free calling to mileage tracking, sales support and local bus schedules. Love that GPS as well: Google Maps has saved us from being late to more than one meeting. New additions planned for its version 3.0 operating system update, arriving this summer, include cut/copy/paste functions, multimedia messaging, Bluetooth peer-to-peer data sharing (for beaming over business cards) and push notifications.

Nokia E71 Designed with business users in mind, this recent European import scores with its excellent messaging and productivity features. A superb keypad makes zipping off missives to the home office effortless, while 3G internet speeds and extensive e-mail support (Microsoft Exchange, POP3, IMAP, etc.) further enhance productivity. Call quality is also solid, as is battery life and screen caliber, while Bluetooth connectivity, a full HTML web browser, GPS and world calling features further help round out the unit.

Palm Treo Pro Not the fastest web surfer out there and in several ways rides shotgun to the superior (and pricier) HTC Touch Pro, but for the money, still a slick-looking and solid workhorse nonetheless. Entrepreneurs will especially appreciate its full QWERTY keyboard and Windows Mobile operating system, which offers support for working with third-party applications plus Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. Added value comes from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as GPS options and bonus features such as conference calling and extensive multimedia playback. A 2.5-inch touchscreen renders navigation simple to boot, with convenient e-mail and contact syncing another welcome plus that ensures the phone handles as well as it looks.

Technology and small-business expert Scott Steinberg is the CEO of high-tech consulting firm TechSavvy Global. He's a business keynote speaker who frequently appears on broadcast networks such as ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and CNN.
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