Smartphones have come a long way since those first fumbling steps toward the integration of cell phones and PDAs. Today's phones are elegant, powerful, must-have business accessories for entrepreneurs who want to minimize their mobile devices.
There are a few things to look for when shopping for your dream smartphone. If you're happy with your current cellular provider, your options may be limited to devices it supports if you want to avoid paying full price. Still, you should be able to find a smartphone to your liking, regardless of carrier. Expect it to include a keyboard, a digital camera, Bluetooth connectivity and e-mail support. Other features, like Wi-Fi connectivity or a built-in GPS receiver, are less common. But if you're hooked on hot spots, you'll still be able to find phones like T-Mobile's Dash, which includes a Wi-Fi transceiver in a reasonably slim 4.2-ounce body.
RIM is rightfully known for enabling mobile business e-mail, and the Pearl is one of the latest multifunction BlackBerrys. Besides a 1.3 mega-pixel camera, multimedia player and SureType keyboard technology, it's stocked with Black-Berry Internet Service for up to 10 e-mail addresses and non-GPS TeleNav maps. (A receiver accessory is required for full GPS.) The BlackBerry Pearl isn't the only phone vying to be your e-mail writer. The Samsung BlackJack is a supersleek Windows Mobile device with a full qwerty keyboard and multimedia capabilities that make for useful extra features.
If you just need the basics, the Palm Treo 680 is designed to be an easy, inexpensive entry to the smartphone world. The 680 packs a qwerty keyboard, Bluetooth and e-mail support. For a truly massive feature set, it's hard to top the Sony Ericsson P990i. This Swiss Army knife of smart-phones comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a qwerty keyboard, a 2 megapixel camera, Symbian OS and even a business card scanner. But bells and whistles aren't cheap: The suggested retail price for the unlocked, carrier-independent P990i is just a hair under $700.
Before you plunk down any cash, it's worthwhile to try out your potential smartphone match in person to see whether the keyboard and your fingers work together and how well you can navigate the overall user interface. The Cingular (now AT&T) 8525, Motorola Q, Nokia E62 and Sprint BlackBerry 8703e are some other recently released smartphones to check out.
Eventually, there will be more smartphones than regular phones floating around the business world. The prices listed in the chart are general guidelines. Look for rebate offers and price breaks that go with new or re-upped carrier contracts. Bear in mind that to get the most from your smartphone, you'll need to buy into a monthly data plan in addition to your voice plan. The extra expense is worthwhile if you don't mind the small screen and you like the idea of leaving your laptop behind.
For our smartphone shopping list, click here.