A good smartphone can improve the way you work, so why settle for something subpar? There's a solid smartphone for every business user, no matter your budget or hardware preferences. But picking a phone isn't easy. There are hundreds of models to choose from, spanning three major operating systems and countless shapes, sizes and feature sets. To help you navigate a minefield of phones, here are four factors you should consider before buying your next business phone.
1. Pick an OS
Your first task is to pick an operating system. Android, iOS and Windows Phone are distinct platforms, and each has its own pros and cons. All three are worthy options, so picking a mobile OS really comes down to personal preference. But there are a few important factors to consider.
iOS: When it comes to smartphone satisfaction, it's all about the apps. Overall, the iPhone edges out other platforms with a slightly better selection of high-quality apps than Android. And multiplatform apps tend to show up on iPhone first. Business users will appreciate that the iPhone platform is a bit more secure than Android, but all that comes at the cost of choice; Apple offers just three iPhone models. If you want a bigger screen, a different feature set or just a more affordable smartphone, look elsewhere.
Android: In terms of sheer scope, the Android app store — dubbed the Google Play store — rivals the Apple App Store, with more than 1 million apps available, including everything a business user needs for taking notes, balancing a budget, and viewing and editing documents. On the other hand, the Android platform could be a security risk; it's easy to download and install unapproved apps, and most malware is targeted at Android. On the upside, Android is the platform to turn to if you want a large selection of smartphones to choose from, and more leeway to customize your device.
Windows Phone: When it comes to apps, Windows Phone comes in a distant third, with about 200,000 apps available, though its library is growing and should cover most, if not all, of your needs. Windows Phone is about as secure as iOS, since only apps downloaded from the official app store can be installed. The platform boasts unique business features, such as native integration with Microsoft Office. Meanwhile, there are more Windows Phone devices than iPhones, but compared to Android, the selection is still quite limited.
2. Pick a size
If you don't already own a smartphone-tablet hybrid — often called a phablet — the category is worth considering. Over the past two years, smartphones have been getting bigger and bigger. In 2013, phablets, such as the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3, saw huge success, and scores of huge smartphones are set to debut this year. Business users, in particular, can benefit from the extra screen real estate afforded on a phablet. Their big displays are more comfortable for Web browsing, compared with the cramped screens on smaller devices. They also offer the space business users need to view or edit documents and spreadsheets on their smartphone. In other words, owning a phablet means you can do real work on your phone.
But phablets aren't for everyone. The iPhone 5s boasts a 4-inch display and a compact design, yet remains the best-selling smartphone in the United States. Smaller smartphones are simply more portable and fit more easily into your pocket. Phones in the range of 4.7 to 5 inches are a good compromise between the two extremes.
3. Check the specs
Smartphone buyers usually get what they pay for, but that doesn't mean you have to break the bank to get a decent business phone. A fast processor and a high-res display are good perks, but not necessary for every user. Here are two specifications to consider.
Processor: You don't need top-of-the-line hardware to accomplish basic business tasks such as checking email and taking notes. Small business owners on a budget might want to opt for an affordable handset over a flagship device, and that's OK. Still, a powerful processor is a boon if you want fast performance and snappy multitasking.
One of the speediest business phones available is Samsung's Galaxy Note 3, which sports a Snapdragon 800 processor and 3GB of RAM. Apple's iPhone 5s also earns a place among the most capable business phones; its speedy A7 processor is about twice as fast as the chip in the lower-end iPhone 5c. The more affordable Motorola Moto X, on the other hand, is powered by a capable Snapdragon 600 processor.
Storage: Storage capacity is the other key hardware consideration for the average business user. There are two types of storage: onboard storage, which measures how much data your smartphone can hold on its internal hard disk, and expandable storage, which refers to storage capacity added via a memory-card slot. Business users who need to store and access large files on the go should spend a little extra for additional onboard storage, which can't be upgraded later. For most users, between 8GB and 16GB is enough, but power users should consider splurging for 32GB of storage. Many new phones lack a microSD card slot for expandable storage, but it's a handy feature on phones that have it, such as Samsung's Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3.
4. Don't overlook battery life
For business users, poor battery life is more than just a nuisance: A dead smartphone, tablet or laptop means you can't work when you need to. Speedy performance, high-resolution displays and handy software won't get you far if your device is out of juice. On the other hand, if you pick a smartphone with good battery life, you can stay productive all day long.
One way to determine how much battery life a smartphone might get is to check its battery capacity. If you want real longevity, look for phones with batteries rated near 3,000 mAh or higher. If you really want a long-lasting business phone, check out the LG G2. It outlasts just about every smartphone on the market, and pairs that great battery life with a roomy 5.2-inch display and a fast quad-core processor. If you can deal with the bulk, Nokia's massive 6-inch Lumia 1520 phablet is the longest-lasting Windows Phone on the market. The iPhone 5s, in contrast, ekes out a relatively meager 5.5 hours of battery life.