The Best Business Smartphone Available (Today)

apple-iphone-3g

Chances are, if you are reading this blog, then you have some affinity to technology and that you’re in the business of technology (whether directly, or using technology to do your job – and I don’t mean having a computer on your desk at work). This is a pretty tech-savvy crowd around these parts so I’m guessing that most of you own a smartphone of some sort. Many have iPhones. Perhaps as many have BlackBerrys. A few of you are sad, sad people who own Treos.

A swath of new smartphones have just hit the market and, though I don’t claim to be a gadget or phone blogger (Really, you need to go read Boy Genius and Gizmodo for a far more geeky and informative analysis of all the various devices that hit the market), I do know that I’m a businessman and entrepreneur. I know that, from my perspective, there are key principles and requirements in any phone.

In order for a businessperson or entrepreneur to invest in a phone (again, from my perspective), there needs to be a few key things.

  1. Email – Clearly the killer app forever now, any phone must support email. As part of this, there needs to be a wireless sync/push feature.
  2. Productivity – Any smartphone needs to be able to open files from major vendors – Word, Excel, PDFs, Images, etc.
  3. Competent mobile browser – As mobile professionals, we need the web more than the average home user. We need access to sites that are not inherently broken because they appear on the mobile device.
  4. Reliable network – This is not a plug for Verizon because several U.S. and international carriers can be considered “reliable”. Whatever the network that the phone is on, it needs to be reliable.
  5. Third Party Applications – How easy is it to add apps that you need to your phone? Are there quality apps available or not?
  6. Copy and Paste – One of those “Duh” features that is essential.

You may notice some notable omissions from this list that emphasize the angle of business utility. For instance, cameras, WiFi and GPS are all nice but unnecessary for business. Touch screens, such as the one that comes with the iPhone or BlackBerry Storm are also nice additions, but not required for business utility.

In my mind, there are three phones on the market that are worth considering for business use. I have my preference on which one is best, but businesses all have to decide what their needs are and, if they are practical, choose among one of these three devices.

Apple iPhone 3G S

apple-iphone-3gThe third generation iPhone just hit the market on June 19th. It boasts all of the features of the iPhone 3G plus a quicker OS and a better camera. Most of the new features of the iPhone are available via an OS 3.0 upgrade available for free for older iPhone owners. With the new iPhone, you can tether your iPhone for broadband access on your laptop (except AT&T customers in the US), and an all important Remote Wipe capability that will allow network administrators to remove sensitive data in case the phone is lost or stolen. Cost: $199 with new two year contract from AT&T (US)

Pros

  • Huge number of third party apps including many business apps via the iTunes App Store
  • Remote Wipe
  • Intuitive touch screen
  • WiFi or 3G connectivity

Cons

  • AT&T as the carrier in the United States has been hugely unreliable delivering even basic services like voice mail
  • Exorbitant data plan fees
  • Large glass screen lends itself to breakage
  • Insecure Microsoft Exchange integration
  • Inability to multi-task applications

Palm Pre

palm-prePalm used to be the dominant manufacturer of handheld devices. With the rising popularity of BlackBerrys and iPhones, Palm has slipped tremendously. They recently, however, came to market with a very sleek phone that has an open development structure with their WebOS. Unlike the iPhone, the Pre does a very good job of multitasking and with it’s touch screen, switching between open applications is a smooth process. Also unlike the iPhone, the Pre provides a physical keyboard that, while somewhat awkward to use, should appease users who like the tactile feel of actual keys. Cost: $199 with new two year contract from Sprint.

Pros

  • Small form factor
  • Sprint has a very good data network
  • Bright HVGA screen (touch screen)
  • Email and integration with Microsoft Exchange
  • WiFi or 3G connectivity
  • Classic Konami Nintendo game Contra code to unlock developer mode. Geek Props.

Cons

  • Screen is much smaller than the iPhone
  • Awkward slide out keyboard with tiny keys makes typing difficult
  • Third party application availability is limited at this time
  • No Remote Wipe, a security requirement that might prevent large scale adoption in enterprise

BlackBerry Tour 9630

blackberry-tour-96301For BlackBerry afficionados, the new BlackBerry Tour (available for both Sprint and Verizon Wireless) is a beautiful phone. It has the brilliant screen (if slightly smaller version) as the BlackBerry Bold from AT&T and the form factor and keyboard styling of the new BlackBerry Curve 8350i (from Sprint). It has all the Enterprise integration that BlackBerry has been known for including remote wipe and Exchange integration (via Blackberry Enterprise Server for Exchange). Cost: $199 with new two year contract on Sprint or Verizon Wireless

Pros

  • Familiar usability for BlackBerry users
  • OS 4.7, which includes a usable browser (departure from the norm)
  • Multi-tasking applications

Cons

  • No touch screen
  • Awkward position of MicroUSB slot makes it difficult for right handed users to use the device while it is plugged in
  • Still no competent native Mac support, though this is supposedly coming soon.

At the end of the day, each organization needs to determine what is best for them. iPhones are fantastic devices for custom applications and is being used in the military, enterprise and government alike. They are not the most secure devices though and, for now, require AT&T in the U.S. The Palm Pre offers a significant value for businesses, but lacks Enterprise features such as remote wipe. It is also the first generation model of this phone. The BlackBerry is the most utilitarian phone and remains popular for businesses but its lack of a touch screen, the likes of which Apple has made us expect and long for, makes it “meh” for some users.

Whatever works for you.

Technosailor.com Review and Disclosure Policy

At Technosailor.com, we rarely do product or software reviews. Instead, it’s all about the actual benefit that comes to the business owner or entrepreneur from the product or service. Usually, it takes time for benefits or problems to come out. Though I am personally an early adopter of many technologies, I limit the number of reviews I actually do to the technologies that are going to significantly positively affect a company. Rarely do I go out of the way to get a review copy of anything.

Last week, I was invited by Sprint to attend the Washington, D.C. pre-launch event for the Palm Prē, the new smartphone that is supposed to be an iPhone killer. In advance, I asked for a review unit. It is difficult to know what the significance of a product is in the store. I need to use it for a period of time. I was not allowed to take a Prē home and that is fine. I am on a list and may get an opportunity down the road.

The conversation that night was around what kind of review I’d provide of the unit. Sprint never asked for a positive review but assumed I would provide a review and only wanted fairness out of me. I explained that in my role as a “signal filter”, I would not guarantee a review but I wouldn’t write a negative review. If it’s not a good product, then my audience does not need to even hear about it. The only reason they need to hear about a product is if the product is going to help them run their businesses better. For instance, if I agree to review Peet’s Coffee and they send me 6 half pound bags of different beans, I’m going to love the product. Big fan of Peets. But I’m not posting a review, positive or negative, on this site.

However, as a product that seems to perfectly straddle the world between the iPhone, the best consumer phone, and BlackBerry, the best business phone – the PrÄ“ is likely to get airtime somehow. It’s relevant. Reviews should always be relevant and not simply required.

Tangentially, the PrÄ“ and the “review copy” problem reared it’s ugly head between Techcrunch’s Mike Arrington and TWiT.tv’s Leo Laporte over the weekend.

I think it’s important for anyone who does product reviews of any kind to aggressively protect their ethical priorities. Make your disclosure policy overt and out there (as I am doing here). Let there be no opportunity for question. Reviews can be productive when they are disclosed, relevant to the audience (not simply relevant to your wallet if you do paid reviews) and handled with the utmost of caution. Failure to protect your integrity on this delicate issue can cause you to lose all credibility.

Keep it in mind.