The search for the ultimate business phone is on. Blackberry is diversifying its devices with improved application support and more of the features that have become commonplace from other smartphone vendors, but missing in the RIM playground. Apple’s 3G iPhone has improved business features and now officially supports third-party applications. And then there is the come-back kid; Nokia has a compelling range of feature-rich business phones in its E-series.
The two devices that most recently hit the scene (and our desks for review) are the super slick Nokia E71 and the iPhone 2.0. But which is the better phone for business? It goes without saying that the iPhone is an unrivalled media powerhouse – it is an iPod too, after all. But media aside, which phone will better help you to get the job done?
The Nokia E71 is everything you want from a personal assistant. It is smart and sexy. With cool finishes available in ‘white steel’ or ‘grey steel’ the device is both rugged and stylish. And small. Very small. Unlike its bulkier predecessor in the form of the E61, the E71 will slip effortlessly into your pocket and yet sports a full qwerty keyboard that deserves a reward for its design. The keys are tiny, and yet have been ergonomically raised and masterfully moulded so that typing is accurate. After a day of use I was hammering out e-mails on the E71 at a blistering pace.
On the topic of e-mail, this is one department where the E-series shines. The E71 ships with stored settings for a number of major e-mail providers, such as Gmail. Simply input your username and password and get mailing – no server setup required. The phone also has a dedicated, pre-loaded Microsoft Exchange mail client and sports an e-mail key so you can get to your mail at the touch of a button. It really does not matter what form your e-mail comes in, the E71 has it covered – except for Blackberry support, which is not included out of the box. You will have to rely on a third party download for that.
Attachments are also handled competently on the E71 with Nokia’s Quickoffice application that allows for viewing and editing of Microsoft Office documents.
Nokia has overhauled the diary in its S60 version 3.1 platform based on Symbian 9.2. The diary is more visually intuitive and also has a dedicated button for instant access. And, of course, the E71 will sync with your Outlook or Mac with a small iSync pluging download.
Connectivity is covered on all fronts in the E71 with full HSDPA 3G connectivity, WiFi, Bluetooth, Infrared and a GPS chip that combines with Nokia Maps to bring personal navigation to the E71 with free maps of the world.
Another feature in the E71 is designed specifically for business meetings; when the phone rings you can tap your finger on the screen, or simply turn it over and it will shut up.
And if you must have media, the E71 does this too with a 3,2 megapixel camera, support for a variety of music and video codecs, and memory card slot allowing for expansion of up to eight gigabytes.
The ‘I’ phone
With a multitude of rabid followers globally the iPhone has come from nowhere to be the most coveted piece of technology ever devised. Its first incarnation catapulted Apple into the mobile phone arena and now iPhone 2.0 is upon us, with improved business support.
On the keyboard front the iPhone has a patented on-screen approach that takes some getting used to. Once you have it down though, typing text messages and e-mails happens effortlessly.
The e-mail client on the iPhone is a scaled down version of Apple’s Mail.app and is hands-down the best e-mail client available on a mobile device. It feels like a full-fledged desktop client and you do not have to make sacrifices when on the road in terms of viewing e-mail. Apple has also improved the iPhone’s support for Exchange in 2.0 and users are able to configure just about any mail service fairly simply, with the exception of Blackberry that requires some third-party glue to get going. Mail on the iPhone is now push too, as opposed to pull in the first version of the device’s operating system.
The iPhone SDK has been available for a short period of time and already a plethora of applications has been added to the App Store for download. The iPhone shines in this department with applications for just about anything you can think of. Companies are also able to develop and control the roll-out of their own applications with a version of the App Store that Apple is releasing for intranets.
The new 3G version of the iPhone offers a GPS chip that supports Google maps and the usual WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity are included. No HSDPA, however.
But owning an official and legitimate iPhone means dealing with Vodacom in South Africa – the only network to provide the device locally.
Choosing between the iPhone and E71 is like being asked if you would rather date Selma Hayek or Penelope Cruz (with apologies to the ladies). Both phones are smart choices from a business perspective – but the iPhone does have the advantage of being an iPod too, so for travellers the convergence might be a big pull factor. If you do not need that level of media support however, then the E71 is smaller and its keyboard is arguably superior. My advice: test before you buy, if you can. Otherwise you might have to flip a coin.