Just as the Internet has evolved over the past decade, cell phones have become much more than devices for making and receiving phone calls. Today, smartphones can do everything from email, to sync with our desktops, to turn-by-turn driving directions.
As the editor of a blog that covers technology, one of the questions I’m most often asked by friends is “what smartphone should I get?” The answer is always: it depends. Each platform has its pros and cons, and depending on how you want to work when on the go, one may prove significantly better than another. Here’s a look at some of the things to consider and ask your wireless retailer about if you’re looking to get a smartphone or get your whole team connected:
Operating System: Just like computers can be either PC or Mac, smartphones run any of a half dozen popular operating systems: iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Android, Palm, and Symbian. And just like your computer, the OS you choose will be the most important decision in terms of determining what your mobile experience will be like for the next two or more years (the likely length of your contract).
Some general characterizations about each: iPhone has the most apps and perhaps the most compelling interface. BlackBerry is superior for power email users. Windows Mobile works the most seamlessly with Microsoft Office. Palm offers an intuitive way to use multiple applications simultaneously. Android, though relatively new, may ultimately offer the largest selection of devices. Symbian is the most popular internationally.
Carrier: You’ve probably seen commercials from the likes of Verizon and AT&T touting their own coverage, and in some cases, insulting that of their competitors. Be aware though, their coverage maps can be misleading. If you plan to use a lot of applications or browse the Web while on your mobile, you’ll want to know what type of 3G coverage your carrier provides in the areas that you’re likely to spend most of your time.
Applications: “There’s an app for that” might be the most ubiquitous tagline in advertising during 2009. That’s because quite simply, there is a mobile app for just about everything – on iPhone. But while iPhone apps may significantly outnumber those currently available on competitors, other platforms aren’t slouches either when it comes to the applications you’re likely to care about. In terms of social media, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have apps (either their own or third-party) on virtually every platform, and in terms of productivity, basic office functionality can be had across the board too (with some caveats, read on …)
Compatibility: Most smartphones will synchronize with your desktop and web applications, whether they’re Microsoft Outlook or Google Apps. However, depending on what you use, the experience can be smoother on one platform versus another. For example, not surprisingly Windows Mobile devices come with native support for Microsoft Office – including Outlook – whereas on Google Android devices, like the Motorola Droid, you’ll need to download and setup additional applications in order to sync. However, the Droid is optimized for users that run Google’s mail and calendar apps, among others. If this is a concern, ask your retailer about how the phones you’re looking at sync with your desktop or web productivity apps of choice.
Total Cost of Ownership: One of the most overrated things people tend to talk about when evaluating mobile phones – especially smartphones – is the upfront cost of the device. The truth of the matter is that most smartphones, from BlackBerry to Palm to iPhone, will cost between free and $300 when you activate, but thousands of dollars over the length of your wireless contract – typically two years. Thus, it’s far more important to consider the device itself, the monthly voice and data charges, and the other criteria discussed here. Additionally, if you’re getting smartphones for multiple users, be sure to inquire into the plans that the carrier offers for businesses.
Volumes could be written on the intricacies of each platform and which is superior, but now at least you know what to ask as you evaluate the 24x7 mobile lifestyle. Unfortunately, making a mistake can be costly – in terms of both frustration and potentially early termination fees – so be sure you know exactly what you’re getting into before signing your smartphone contract.
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