As the world of office communications becomes ever more mobile oriented, many people turn to smartphones as a way to keep in the loop and pick up their emails and messages. With more modern smartphones, the possibilities for connecting to work mailboxes and calendars are quite staggering, and with the array of devices and services currently available, the choice can seem quite overwhelming. This blog post is intended to clarify and simplify some of the major pros and cons of each device, to help you decide which one you should go for. I’ll be focusing primarily on emails in a work environment across 3 different smartphone types: Blackberry, iPhone and Android.
I’ll start with the Blackberry, as it’s certainly the oldest of the 3 smartphone types, and is also directly aimed at integrating with work emails. In this respect, in terms of features and access to mailboxes, it’s unrivalled, especially if your office emails run from an Exchange server. One (minor) downside is that to get a Blackberry system working in this type of environment means installing and configuring the Blackberry server software, which your IT guys (that’s us!) will need to do. However once it’s up and running, managing multiple Blackberry users is extremely easy and extremely versatile. As a Blackberry user you get full instant access to your work email inbox and folders, which syncs flawlessly with Outlook on your work PC or laptop. Calendar entries, tasks and contacts are also synced, so if you make a change on your Blackberry it will show up almost straight away in Outlook, and vice versa.
People using basic email accounts (pop3 emails like gmail or yahoo mail for example) can install the Blackberry Professional software on their PC to sync with Outlook, and emails will pop up on both at the same time, and the 2 devices will sync when the Blackberry is connected to the PC via USB. Another feature I found useful is Blackberry messenger, an instant messaging program for Blackberry users. This is extremely useful if you have multiple Blackberry users out of the office, as messages get through instantly. So, in terms of email features the Blackberry is the strongest contender of the 3 types. It does have some drawbacks however. While using a Blackberry, I found the trackball interface to be a bit fiddly to use, and I personally found the key pad to be a bit small. This made typos common, and it would take me a while to type a full message. On top of that, the Blackberry is definitely lacking in other non-work related features (the built-in camera is terrible), so if you like to use your phone for non-work related tasks like taking photos, you may be dissapointed. Finally, I also found that the menu system a bit cumbersome to work with, and I only have a few subfolders in my inbox to navigate around. People with long lists of Outlook sub-folders may find navigating extremly onerous, a problem exacerbated by the rather small screen. To balance this out, there is a handy search function that takes some of the work out of finding emails, so to be honest it’s not a big deal. The devices themselves are small and lightweight, and very portable.
Next up is the iPhone, one of the first phones to really take advantage of touch-screen technology. Apple’s must-have device features Exchange integration and standard email account, just as the Blackberry does, however there is no software to be installed at the server end, although the IT guys must make sure the existing setup is configured correctly to handle the phone traffic. In terms of integration with Outlook, you can get you emails, contacts and calendar, but as yet there is no native support for tasks, so one-up for Blackberry there, although the iPhone app store has several alternative Exchange applications available on the App Store that fill in this functionality. These do have to be paid for however. In addition, you can also specify how many days worth of email you want to sync. Options range from 1 day to a month to no limit. One of the big advantages of the iPhone is the interface, which is intuitive and fast to navigate thanks to the touchscreen. Opening, typing and scrolling through emails is fast and fluid. However this is somewhat offset by the fact that if you reply to an email on your iPhone, it will not record that email as being replied to on Outlook. Likewise, flag for follow-up functionality is not included, which can be a problem for people who live by their emails. So to sum up the iPhone: possibly easier to use than the Blackberry, but lacking some more advanced features. If you can live without these, then it’s a lovely option. In addition, you have the option of a better camera, and countless apps available.
Finally, the last contender is Google’s Android. Unlike the iPhone, there are numerous models of Android phone available by various manufacturers. Personally, I have a Samsung Galaxy S android phone, running the latest version of the operating system, so I’ll base this section on that model. This particular model is similar in specs to the iPhone 4, so seems like a good comparison. Out of the box, the Android phone connects to an Exchange server and can sync calendars, emails and contacts in exactly the same way as the iPhone, although like the iPhone it will not sync tasks natively. Again, Android has a large app store, and there are several apps available to fill in this missing functionality. I trialled one such app (moxier-mail) and found it to sync everything perfectly. Like the iPhone, the interface is large, pretty and very easy to use. Worth a special mention is the “Swype” feature, which lets you type messages by touching the screen and moving your finger ocer the correct keys. It sounds odd, but once you get used to it it’s incredibly fast and easy. Finally, as with the iPhone, the extra features eclipse the Blackberry’s by a margin, such as the camera and app support.
So to sum up, from a purely business perspective, Blackberries are highly managable, support everything you could need for email, and are brilliantly easy for your IT team to manage. They do things that the others don’t out of the box, and are easy to set up with minimal fuss, plus the messenger function adds an extremely useful layer of communication. If you have multiple users and are not worried about other gimmicky functions like cameras, then Blackberry is probably your best choice, espcially in a large enterprise. For users that require their phones to do more than just email, but still wish to view and respond to emails while out and about, then both the iPhone and Android phones are fantastic bits of kit. Choosing between these 2 is purely personal preferance. Speaking for myself, I love my Android phone, especially the swype function which I now use for everything!