Choosing a Smartphone: The Features

My choice is narrowing in the pursuit of an enterprise-grade smartphone, based on the great feedback I've received from you, our readers. In my initial post on this topic, the poll results and messages I received made me see that the Windows Mobile OS is much more prevalent than I might have thought, despite its current lack of cool. But I've also had some specific recommendations for the Droid, which I've just learned has been cleared for use by my IT department, so I've got to keep it in the running.

My second post, requesting feedback on the best smartphone makers, showed HTC as the clear favorite, with about 42 percent of the votes. The next nearest vendor was Motorola with 12 percent, then Samsung with 9 percent. In the Other category, there were many write-in votes for RIM BlackBerry as well as Apple iPhone and Nokia—although I don't believe any of those companies make Windows Mobile devices, so they're not really in the running.

Now it's time to focus on the specific features that a smartphone needs to help the business professional get the job done. My first big decision is whether to go with a touch screen or not. Certainly, they're the big thing on all the latest devices, and they typically let you have a larger overall screen area because you don't have to save room on the front for a keyboard or other buttons. The big screen certainly makes for better mobile web browsing, among other things. But does the touch screen really let you be more productive or find things more simply? Furthermore, does the extra cost generally associated with touch screen models justify any productivity gains or is it really just about the coolness factor?

Add to that my own fear that I won't be able to quite master the intricacies of the touch screen. In my younger days of playing arcade video games, I always avoided games with track balls or track pads because I could never maneuver them quite right. And when I try to use the track pad on my laptop now, the cursor ends up hopping all over the screen and inevitably I end up selecting the wrong thing. Is a touch screen so very different? Or could I overcome my previous weakness and failures with dedicated effort to master the darn thing?

So my first poll this week asks you what you think of touch screens. Are they worthwhile—by which I mean, worth what you pay for what you gain in productivity or general ease of use?

I've already determined that I want a full QWERTY keyboard, but that seems to be fairly standard on smartphones these days, so no worries there. If I go with a touch screen, though, I'll have to decide if I want one with a slide-out physical keyboard. My initial reaction is, Yes! But is it worth the cost? And how well do they work and hold up over time? Furthermore, there are a limited number of devices with that feature, which means really narrowing my choices.

I think having Microsoft Office Mobile would be a good thing, and I guess that would mean eliminating the Droid from contention. On the other hand, can you effectively work on a Word or Excel document on a smartphone screen? It's not like I travel a lot and spend a lot of time sitting in airports or on planes, so would I really use Office Mobile? Do you or your end users find this a useful feature? Maybe I shouldn't discount the Droid just yet.

Although I'm not sure why I want a camera with a phone, that seems to be pretty much a standard feature these days. And the camera is something I know some IT departments might need to take steps to block, particularly if you're in a highly sensitive industry. Also, I know some companies don't support text messaging on business phones, although mine does; it's included in the basic plan they supply. I'm interested in seeing how common text messaging is used in other companies—let me know by answering the poll below.

Naturally, things like calendars, contacts, and email (of course!), go without saying for any smartphone. Are there other things I'm forgetting to consider, things that you find vital to getting your job done? And as an IT professional, how different are your requirements in a smartphone from the end users you support? Do you support different policies for executives compared to lower-level employees? I'd be curious to hear about your mobile support challenges—feel free to send me a message or leave a comment below.

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