Smartphone Buying Guide

Smartphones are the new must-have tool for today’s mobile worker. Combining cell phone and PDA functions, they let you do your work anywhere and stay productive on the go. This guide helps you choose the best smartphone for your lifestyle.

If you’re still admiring those super slim phones from five years ago, you’re missing out on a fast new trend: the smartphone. Larger screens, full keypads, and a stylus pen interface set these new phones apart from their predecessors; advanced operating systems and a full range of features give them a lot more punch.

Of course, as gadgets go, smartphones get more complicated as they get more advanced. If you’re buying your first smartphone, it helps to know some of the basics to help you make the right choice. Here’s a quick guide to help you get started.

Choose an operating system.

Function-wise, the advanced operating system is what sets the smartphone apart from traditional phones. With the exception of the Apple iPhone, which runs on Mac OS X, most smartphones use one of these three:

Windows Mobile: This OS works best for business users who like to keep things simple and functional. It comes with the mobile versions of most Office applications such as Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, although some models only come with viewers (you can’t create or edit new files). It also has the best compatibility with third-party applications.

Palm OS: Palm OS is one of the most stable options and a great option for smartphones with slower processors. There aren’t many program choices, but those that are available are very useful, and many are award-winning.

Symbian: This is the leading OS in the world, although not the most popular in the US. Most Nokia smartphones (and some of its traditional phones) use Symbian. This OS works with MS Office file viewers, so file sharing should not be a problem.

Look for connectivity options.

There are lots of connectivity options for smartphones, but you don’t need all of them. Decide which connections you need the most and stick to them. Here are some of your choices.

USB: Almost all smartphones use the USB port to connect to your computer. Some models can also use it to recharge, although the charging time can be twice as long.

Bluetooth: Bluetooth provides wireless connections to laptops, headsets, and other Bluetooth-enabled smartphones. It covers up to 30 feet and transmits through physical barriers, so you can stay connected even from a separate room.

Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi lets you connect to the Internet from any wireless hotspot, usually in airports, libraries and coffee shops. Make sure you have a reliable security program on board, as hackers can easily crack your smartphone over a Wi-Fi connection.

3G: Choose a 3G smartphone if you maintain several email and messaging accounts. This feature lets you integrate all your accounts in a single connection.

Infrared: This offers limited connectivity and is rarely used on models that still have them. Unlike Bluetooth, it is sensitive to physical barriers, so it can only be used over short distances.

GSM: This feature is only useful for long-distance or overseas travel. It helps you save on roaming rates and delivers excellent voice quality during calls.

Check for additional features.

Most features beyond messaging and connectivity are just add-ons, but they’re nice to have anyway. Some of the most popular include:

Speakerphone: Make calls without holding the phone to your ear. This feature is great for making conference calls or chatting with friends while doing household chores.

Camera: Many smartphones come with a camera feature, although image quality won’t match that of an actual digital camera. Use it to take snapshots when you travel or take quick pictures for reference.

Multimedia: Integrated MP3 players and video playback allow you to bring your entertainment on the road. This can eat up battery power, though, so make sure you have spares.

GPS: Smartphones with a built-in GPS receiver help you navigate unfamiliar roads and find your location anywhere on earth.