MP3 capabilities. Fancy cameras. Bluetooth connections. The more advanced cell phones get, the more purchasing one feels as arduous as deciding on a new computer. The same principles are involved in both. But there are several basic questions that will make buying a new mobile phone easier.
"If you are someone who needs persistent access to multiple modes of communication, then consider battery life, network speed, and the feature set," says Kurt Collins, a mobile technology analyst.
The total number of cellular connections in the world has reached 2.5 billion, passing the 2 billion mark just a year ago, according to Wireless Intelligence, a global mobile tracking venture sponsored in part by the GSM Association, which represents dealers of GSM mobile phones in more than 200 different countries. Cell connections are on track to surpass the 3 billion mark by the end of 2007, the organization says.
A growing number of cell phones contain features that resemble their PCs' most valuable offerings -- e-mail, a keyboard, and Web browsing. Others contain entertainment applications -- for example, a digital music player or a camera. While these features are great for consumers, the first thing a business owner has to decide is what features make the best sense for you, your business and/or your employees.
Here are some key features to look for and business questions to consider:
- Bluetooth capabilities: A wireless system, Bluetooth is the new way advanced cell phones can communicate with other phones and even your office computer. But there are security vulnerabilities associated with the Bluetooth technology that could leave your company's confidential information vulnerable.
- Keyboard: Typing cryptic love notes out on the cell phone's traditional number-oriented alphabet pad is fine. But that won't cut it for company e-mails, particularly those to clients or customers. Look for a device with a full QWERTY (or standard) keyboard. Some new phones have a QWERTY keyboard in a hidden compartment, on the number pad or as a larger attachment that you can use for lengthier correspondence. >E-mail: It's not quite standard yet, but many cell phones now can connect you to popular e-mail services like Yahoo!, AOL and Hotmail. That could mean your small business could utilize one of these e-mail accounts. But if you are a larger firm with many employees, you need to consider whether you want your employees sending personal e-mail from these accounts while on your dime.
- Instant Messaging (IM): Many cell phones have IM options or other real-time text messaging now, too. Many companies use this type of instant chat to conduct business and foster communication between employees. If your firm doesn't do business over IM, or it you want to better track what your employees are sending, then avoid this feature if you can.
- Battery power: The general laptop rule applies here: the more applications you have running on a phone, the faster the battery gets drained. If your business needs two to three days service with no recharging, consider purchasing a simpler phone.
- Camera: Photo capabilities are almost a cell phone standard now. But the average resolution is 1 mega pixel -- three times weaker than the average digital camera. Unless you don't mind blurry shots for your website or presentations, it may be better to get a real camera.
- MP3 player: Recent devices from Motorola and Verizon have headphone jacks and enough memory to hold music. The challenge comes in storage and delivery. The capacity is, at best, a handful of songs, well below even the smallest iPod, the Shuffle. A bigger issue comes when purchasing music from the phone company. Their selection pales in comparison to the Apple Music Store or the new MTV Urge catalog. This may be a great perk for an entrepreneur or trusted employee who travels. But having an MP3 player in a cell phone may lead to abuse on company time.
- Multi-band: If you're doing major international travel, it is worth investing in a "multi-band" phone. Multi-band means that it will be compatible with phone systems throughout the world. The more bands the phone understands, the higher the chances of you getting a clear cell call when your business trip includes stops in both Paris and India.
- Compare carriers: Your business may have the "best" phone, but that doesn't matter if your employees have proper coverage to make phone calls. Metropolitan areas usually have great coverage, including in subway systems, but in the suburbs or the country service can be spotty. Advises Collins: "If you do a lot of... outdoor activities or live in a rural neighborhood in which you want a phone, keep in mind network coverage."