On the Road Again?

Then don't forget to pack these tech essentials. We take a look at the latest and greatest mobile gadgets that will keep you connected--and keep your business one step ahead.

It was the sort of moment any businessperson dreads. Walking through an airport to catch a flight, entrepreneur Brad Beckstrom glimpsed an important client-and realized he'd forgotten the client's name, although he recalled the name of the client's company.

Dreading a faux pas, Beckstrom grabbed his mobile phone. With his thumbs, he began typing the company's name into his contact application, which contains roughly 1,000 entries. Seconds later, the mystery person's identity popped up, and Beckstrom walked over to say hello. "It rekindled the relationship," he recalls. "He remembered my name, so I was really glad I remembered his."

It's just one more reason the 42-year-old co-founder and COO of Momentum Marketing Services, a $15 million creative and marketing services firm in Alexandria, Virginia, swears by his PalmOne Treo 600, one of a new generation of smartphones. A bona fide road warrior who spends at least one to two days out of the office every week, Beckstrom also uses the Treo 600's built-in camera with his Sprint voice and data service plan to send snapshots home to his family while he's traveling, a feature he thinks could become the basis of new Momentum promotional campaigns in the future.

Beckstrom is not alone. The Treo 600 is widely considered a breakthrough for the smartphone, and almost a year into its life, the product is consistently back-ordered. It's probably a good time for me to disclose that I am a Treo 600 owner and have also used two previous generations of the device. I'm hooked. Still, at $450 to $699 (depending on whether you need a service plan), the Treo 600 isn't for everyone. Nor is it the answer to every mobile computing need. Even Beckstrom also relies heavily on his wireless-equipped Apple G4 PowerBook laptop to do his job on the go.

That's why Entrepreneur has dedicated this year's special report to exploring the latest trends in mobile computing. From smartphones to notebooks to wireless hot spots, this guide provides a map to what you should look for-or expect-from your next mobile gadget and how you can make managing them and keeping them secure just a bit easier.

Talk to Me

It seems like everybody's out to get mobile phone users-from restaurants and fitness centers that have banned their use for privacy reasons to the myriad municipalities that have made it downright criminal to use them while driving.

But the buying (and talking) public has been snapping up the devices in record numbers. At least two leading market research firms project unit sales of close to 600 million worldwide this year, and year-over-year sales growth rates ranged from 30 to 34 percent for the first and second quarters of 2003 and 2004. Nokia remains the market leader, although Motorola and Samsung have been steadily eating into its share. What's more, the smartphone category, combining voice communications features with data-centric functions such as e-mail and personal information managers, has come into its own with upwards of 50 models to choose from.

"There aren't that many basic phones left that are limited to 2G capabilities," says Todd Kort, principal analyst for PDAs and smartphones for technology research and consulting firm Gartner Inc. in San Jose, California.

Consider that more than 100,000 units of the Treo 600 were sold in the first month of its release in fall 2003, with the company projecting sales of more than 1 million units by early 2005. A next-generation edition is set to ship late this year.

But that's only a tiny fraction of the 17.7 million smartphones that Gartner and IT and telecom research firm IDC expect will ship this year. About half of those units will use the Symbian operating system favored by Nokia.

Indeed, Nokia is moving aggressively into smartphones. Although it recently pared down the number of models it will offer, the ultra- high-end Nokia 9500 Communicator is due in the fourth quarter of 2004. With its feet more in the land of data communications than voice, this handset looks like a traditional cellular phone, but it unfolds clamshell-style to reveal a qwerty keyboard and a color screen. The Nokia 9500 Communicator will support three communications technologies, including EDGE, GSM and wireless LANs. It supports Bluetooth for short-range wireless communications, an increasingly common feature for mobile phones that allows them to connect to other devices such as handheld computers or printers. The Nokia 9500 Communicator comes with the requisite digital camera, support for spreadsheets and presentation files, and a whopping 80MB of built-in memory. No price had been set at press time, but some smartphones push $800, which is considered one of several downsides to the category.

"One of the probems with smartphones is that they're expensive phones, even though they are great as a business tool. There are issues, though, when the weekend comes around," says Kevin Burden, program manager for mobile devices at IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts. "Do you really want to bring a $500 phone out on a boat with you? This market has always been about preferences."

That's why analysts are eagerly awaiting this fall's release of the next-generation Motorola MPx, which will probably be priced closer to the $300 mark. The device will act as a GSM/GPRS phone and run Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, which means the display can be switched between landscape and portrait modes. Other features include built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless support, a 2.8-inch 16-bit color display, up to 1GB of expanded memory, and a 1.2 megapixel digital camera with flash.

What else is out there? The recently released Motorola i710, for instance, offers GPS features and includes speakerphone and walkie-talkie functions for about $125 (all prices street) before rebate. Of course, if you don't have a hankering for e-mail and all that other stuff, you could spend as little as $50 for just a basic handset.

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This article was originally published in the November 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: On the Road Again?.

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