Ditching the work-issued BlackBerry (Ask Maggie)

In this edition of Ask Maggie one reader needs some advice picking out a new smartphone for work. And another reader wants a physical keyboard with his smartphone.

Corporate types are kissing their company-issued BlackBerry smartphones buh-bye. And Ask Maggie is here to help the newly liberated choose a smartphone of their own.

Companies large and small are recognizing the benefits of allowing their employees to bring their own smartphones into work rather than issuing them devices. Additional on-device security features and productivity apps on Google Android, Apple iPhone, and Microsoft Windows Phone smartphones is making corporate IT departments more comfortable with opening the networks to other devices, too.

But with so many smartphones to choose from, where does a smartphone newbie begin? In this edition of Ask Maggie I offer some advice.

I also offer some suggestions to another reader who loves his iPhone but misses his old physical keyboard on his BlackBerry.

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

Take your smartphone to work

Dear Maggie,
So, an interesting question. My workplace is switching from an employer-provided BlackBerry to an Exchange Sync policy, where you bring your own smartphone, and the employer reimburses you for the data plan and line charge (but not the minutes). Since I've had a work-provided BlackBerry (which I hate) for about six years, I've never needed a smartphone. Instead, I've owned just a "dumb phone" that I use about 10 minutes a month. Now, that I need a smartphone, I'm torn in about three different ways:

1. My only Apple purchase has been my iPad 2....AND I LOVE IT. (Hard for an old PC guy to say.)...

2. Windows Phone looks promising...but

3. The newest latest greatest Android (I rooted my Nook Color, but I found getting the apps to work on a regular basis was too time-consuming and I just gave in and purchased the iPad 2.)

I presently use Verizon, but DON'T have an ETF so I am free to switch carriers.

I'd love to know your thoughts.

Thanks,
Mark

Dear Mark,
You've just touched on a very important trend in the smartphone market. More and more companies, both large and small, are allowing their workers to bring their own devices to work with them. In fact, executives at IBM recently said that by the end of 2011 more than 100,000 of its employees will be supplying their own smartphones.

It makes sense. Employees are tired of carrying around two devices: one for work and one for play. And companies are tired of paying for these work devices.

So now that you've been liberated from your BlackBerry, which smartphone operating system should you choose? It's impossible to say that one OS is simply better than the other. (I know some people will vehemently argue the benefits of one OS over another, but I have no allegiance to any of them.) And certainly there is not one phone that fits all consumers' needs.

The OS and device that is right for you, really comes down to a personal preference. Do you like the physical design of the product? Does it feel good in your hands? What kinds of apps or functionality do you expect? Is it important to you that you can customize the device or do you prefer ease of use? These are all questions you should ask yourself when deciding on a new smartphone.

The technology is advancing so fast that features are changing all the time. So a device that you might love today, may seem outdated next month.

Google Android devices are generally more cutting-edge when it comes to hardware specifications (at least at the moment). They have larger screens, faster processors, and they're the only phones operating on Verizon's fast 4G LTE network. But there are multiple versions of the software, which can make dealing with apps an issue. And these phones are often buggy. I've gotten tons of e-mails from frustrated users who are annoyed that their Android phones make phantom phone calls, freeze up, or automatically go into airplane mode for no apparent reason.

Also, it's difficult to know when a new version of the Android OS comes out if and when your device will get the software. And even if you do get the upgrade, sometimes it causes more problems than it's worth.

But because Android is open-source, it also provides the most opportunity for customization. So if you like fiddling with your phone and might be frustrated by potential limits that a more closed software OS offers, then Android may be the platform for you.

Android is also a great choice if you already are using a lot of Google applications, like Gmail or Google calendar. The Google apps you may already be using are tightly integrated into the Android phone. I also think that Android offers the best map and turn-by-turn navigation in a smartphone.

Microsoft's Windows Phone is the new kid on the block. As a Verizon customer, the first thing you'll notice is there aren't a lot of choices when it comes to Windows Phone yet. That will likely change next year. But for the moment, it looks like AT&T is the place to be for Windows Mobile devices. The carrier just announced two new devices from Samsung that look appealing. And it's sure to get others later this year and in the new year. Windows Phone doesn't yet operate on 4G LTE, but again this capability will likely be announced in phones coming in 2012.

The benefit of Windows Phone is that it's an intuitive user interface. I quite like the "active" tiles that provide one-click access to apps like Facebook and Twitter. The new Mango Windows Phone 7.5 software has added a lot of new capability. And in terms of most functionality, the Windows Phone is on par with Android and Apple's iOS.

For business users, I think Windows Phone is a good fit because of the tight integration with Microsoft Office . So it's definitely a platform worth considering. But it's still early days, so the app library is still evolving. You'll likely find the most popular apps available, but some newer more obscure ones found on Android Market or in the Apple App Store may not be available just yet for Windows Phone.

And then there is Apple's iPhone 4S, which is sure to be one of the most, if not the most, popular smartphones for the next couple of quarters. The device has already broken all previous sales records and it's only been available for about a month.

Not much has changed on this version of the iPhone compared with the iPhone 4 model. There is a dual-core processor and an improved camera. And of course, the new Siri personal assistant app that uses voice recognition. In all honesty, Apple's products are never at the top of the heap in terms of using cutting-edge components. But the way Apple packages it all together--from the industrial design of the hardware to the ease of use that goes into its software--make it a popular product for technophiles and smartphone newbies alike.

Based on the information you provided in your question, I can recommend the iPhone 4S to you without hesitation. You already love your iPad 2, so whether you want to admit it, you're an Apple convert. As an iPad 2 owner, you'll already be familiar with the iOS interface and using Apple's App Store. And even though it's not necessary to have your smartphone and tablet using the same OS, it certainly doesn't hurt.

But I also get the sense from your question that you're not entirely convinced that the iPhone 4S is the smartphone for you. So, my suggestion to you is that you sit down and really think about what is important to you.

Regardless of whether you buy a Google Android, Microsoft Windows Phone 7.5, or Apple iOS smartphone you will be able to do many of the same things that you expect from a smartphone. You'll be able to check both personal and work e-mail, access social-networking sites, surf the Net, get location-based services, listen to music, watch videos, play games, and download loads of other apps.

Figuring out the right platform for you really depends on which of these activities is most important and whether you value ease of use over customization or top-of-the-line hardware over functionality.

So before you make a decision, check out some phones at a local carrier store, go to your local Verizon Wireless store or a Best Buy mobile location and play around with the phones on display. See which ones feel better in your hand and which interfaces you like. And ask your friends and coworkers what kind of smartphone they like. (If they're younger than 45, chances are they already have a smarpthone .)

If you decide to go with something other than the iPhone, figure out whether you want an Android or a Windows Phone and then start narrowing down your hardware choices. If you still can't decide, write to me again with a couple of choices and I'll offer my opinion again.

Good luck! I think you're going to have some fun.

Can't live without a physical keypad

Dear Maggie,
I love the column. I have an iPhone 4, and I like everything about the phone except typing on a virtual keyboard. It's the one thing I miss about my old BlackBerry. Are there any options for me to use a portable or foldable keyboard with the phone? If not I have to hope RIM can make a decent phone with BBX or I'm stuck tapping at glass!

Thanks,
Anthony

Dear Anthony,
I'm glad you like the column! You are not the only smarpthone subscriber out there who misses a physical keyboard. I hear this a lot from readers. And even though Apple has one of the better virtual keyboards on the market, it can still be annoying to type on glass rather than on actual keys.

Concord Keystone Eco Slider Bluetooth Keyboard
Sometimes it's good to let things slide. Concord Keystone

I've got some good news for you. For $49.99 you can buy the Concord Keystone Eco Slider case and turn your iPhone 4 into a smartphone with a real keyboard. The Slider case snaps onto your iPhone 4 and connects to the phone through Bluetooth. With a full phone charge, you can get about 30 hours of typing time, according to CNET blogger Amanda Kooser .

I haven't tried this slide-out keyboard case, so I can't vouch for how well it works. If you're looking for phones that do have slider keyboards as part of the design, there are tons of Google Android phones with slide-out keyboards. AT&T, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless have a pretty decent selection of phones with keyboards.

Here's a short list of Google Android phones that you might consider.

Verizon Wireless:

  • Samsung Stratosphere
  • Motorola Droid 3
  • Samsung Epic 4G

AT&T:

  • Samsung Captivate Slide
  • Samsung Double Time

T-Mobile USA:

  • HTC G2
  • HTC myTouch 4G Slide

The other option is to keep hoping and believing that RIM will soon get its act together and come out with some really great BlackBerry devices. The company has recently released some new devices that use the updated BlackBerry 7 OS, but BBX phones are still a ways off. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you and other BlackBerry fans.

Good luck!

 

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