A Guide to Small Business Smartphones - Page 2

By Joseph Moran
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Put simply, tethering lets you use your smartphone as a wireless modem, and it’s a handy way to ensure a laptop has Internet access in areas where Wi-Fi isn’t available. Not all phones support tethering, however, and as mentioned earlier, you can expect to pay extra for it.  

 HTC Touch Pro 2 smartphone screenshot
The HTC Touch Pro 2.
(Click for larger image)
In addition, data plans that allow tethering tend to cap access at 5 GB a month. Exceeding the limit — well within the realm of possibility for heavy users — will trigger added charges (usually in the neighborhood of a nickel per megabyte). 

Smartphone Operating Systems and Ergonomics

Unlike the PC world, no single operating system has an overwhelming share of the smartphone market (at least, not in the U.S.) The major smartphone operating systems are Google’s Android, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile (recently renamed Windows Phone), RIM’s BlackBerry, Palm’s WebOS, Symbian (co-developed by Nokia and primarily used by that company’s smartphones), and of course, there’s the Apple iPhone.

Detailing the differences between the various smartphone platforms is beyond the scope of this guide, but suffice it to say that each offers a somewhat different look and feel, set of features, and built-in applications. All but the iPhone offer multitasking (the capability to run multiple programs at the same time). 

Each platform offers an online store to browse and download new programs (many free), but Apple’s provides the widest selection by far. Most smartphone “apps” tend to be more consumer- than business-oriented, but there are plenty of productivity- enhancing examples as well.  

Smartphones come in many shapes and sizes, with ergonomics that are largely a matter of personal preference. Still, two of the most important physical factors to consider are the size and type of display and the style of keyboard.

 Droid smartphone screenshot
The Motorola Droid .
(Click for larger image)

Smartphones with large, touch-enabled displays such as the Apple iPhone or Google’s Nexus One make navigating the device’s features — not to mention browsing the Web — relatively easy. On the other hand, most such smartphones rely on “virtual” on-screen keyboards that aren’t as conducive to extended periods of typing as actual buttons.

Smartphones with physical keyboards generally make for speedier, more precise and more comfortable typing, but the real estate they require necessitates smaller screens that typically aren’t touch-enabled.   

A few smartphone models, like the Palm Pre and Motorola Droid, give you the best of both worlds — a large touch screen and a slide out portrait (the Pre) or landscape (the Droid) keyboard — often at the price of a slightly thicker phone.  

Additional Smartphone Tips

Remember, we recommend that you choose a carrier before choosing a phone, but when considering a particular smartphone, be aware that many are exclusive — albeit usually temporarily — to specific carriers. The iPhone, currently available only on AT&T, is a good example.

Also, smartphones sold by carriers are typically built to an individual carrier’s specifications, so two seemingly similar devices from different carriers may have considerable differences; features available on one may be omitted (or at least rendered inactive) on another.

Also, AT&T and T-Mobile’s network’s use SIM-based GSM technology, which gives you the option to purchase an “unlocked” phone that’s not on the carrier’s device menu. Be advised, though, that unlocked phones can be quite expensive since they lack the carrier’s price subsidy; the cost of subsidized phones usually ranges from $50 to $250, while an unlocked phone can easily cost $500 or more.   

Smartphones represent a major investment, and it’s important to remember that the capabilities and costs ultimately have as much to do with the network as with the device itself. But they also can be important productivity tools, keeping remote employees in the loop and allowing them to get real work done from just about anywhere. 

A Sampling of Smartphones

Model Operating System Carrier(s)
Touch Screen/
Nokia E71
Symbian AT&T, T-Mobile (unlocked) No/Yes
Palm Pre/Pre Plus WebOS Sprint, Verizon Yes/Yes
BlackBerry Bold 9000 BlackBerry AT&T No/Yes
HTC Touch Pro 2 Windows Phone Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile Yes/Yes
Motorola DROID Android Verizon Yes/Yes

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

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This article was originally published on February 17, 2010
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