Choosing a Small Business Smartphone

For most small business owners, a smartphone is a critical productivity tool that enables them to stay productive outside of the office while remaining in touch with customers, prospects and team members from nearly anywhere.

Smartphones have emerged as nearly ubiquitous small business tools, and more than three-quarters of the mobile handsets sold in the United States today are smartphones.

Identify Your Needs

With a growing number of smartphones available to choose from, making the best selection for your small business depends in part on figuring out how you plan to use the device.

For example, some handsets may be better suited for responding to email messages than others, while others have larger screens that make taking pictures or watching video easier. Spending some time to identify your needs will help you make better-informed decisions as you review devices and features.

One of the first choices you'll have to make is the operating system of your preferred device. The open-source Android operating system is available on a wide variety of devices, and, by some estimates, has surpassed Apple's iOS in popularity among smartphone users.

An important distinguishing feature between operating systems will be the ecosystem of applications written for the different smartphone platforms. iOS still has the largest number of business-oriented applications, but the Android and Windows Phone operating systems are catching up and offers a variety of applications to meet most common business users' needs.

If you use a tablet device, it may make sense to use a smartphone on the same operating system to ensure the compatibility of applications and data.

Physical Features

Along with considering the operating system, another important factor to think about is the design of the device itself. While the idea of using an on-screen, virtual keyboard to enter text has become the most common approach for smartphone users, some people may prefer to have a physical keyboard for composing or responding to email messages. To meet this need, some devices have a keyboard either built into the device or available on a slide-out tray.

Because the choice is personal, about the only way to make the decision is to try different devices in a store to see which feels more comfortable.

Screen size is another important consideration. Unlike many technology products where design trends tend to result in smaller devices, smartphone screens are getting larger as the devices become more popular. The iPhone 6 and Moto X are popular choices with 4.7-inch screens, and a variety of devices have larger screens.

The iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5 inch screen, which is topped by the Galaxy Note 7 (at 5.7 inches) and the Google Nexus 6 (at six inches).

The larger devices offer considerably more screen space, which can be multitasking easier. Larger phones also have longer battery life, since they have more room for larger batteries.

Among the drawbacks to larger devices, however, is their bulkier size. Larger phones can be difficult to carry around in a pocket so, as with most tech purchases, your selection will probably depend on your preferences.

If you're going to spend a lot of time away from a power source, an extended-life or external battery could be a good investment that helps you stay available and productive.

Picking a Carrier

The mobile carriers and service plans available in the area where you plan to use the device most often can also influence your purchasing decision. While device exclusivity is not as important in the smartphone market as it was a few years ago, it's still a good idea to look into the availability and performance of various smartphones in your region.

Next-generation 4G LTE technology is becoming more widely available in the United States, offering improved performance speed and performance over 3G networks.

Phone Costs

The purchase price and operating costs are other considerations as you evaluate a smartphone purchase. Most smartphone devices are updated at least annually, and users tend to replace them about every other year or so. As you consider cost, you have to factor in not only the actual device, but also operating costs such as your voice plan, data plan and, if you wish to add this option, tethering your device to use it as a laptop broadband modem.

Wireless carriers also offer a choice of paying for a device over time, or using the once-traditional subsidy in exchange for a two-year commitment. Paying over time generally allows users to upgrade their devices more frequently, which may be a good choice for some small business owners.

Other Features

Other common features available on smartphones include video calling and conferencing. This may be important for some users, but not for others. As with most aspects of smartphone use, thinking about how you are likely to use the device will help you decide whether this is an important consideration for you or not.

Similarly, GPS is becoming a popular smartphone feature--not just for navigation applications, but also for location-based services that help you determine find the nearest bank, gas station, restaurant or other local landmark if you are traveling.

By considering all of these factors, you'll be able to pick a smartphone that meets your small business communications and productivity needs.