THE BLOG

Questions to Ask Before Buying Your Next Smartphone

09/30/2014 12:55 EDT | Updated 11/30/2014 05:59 EST
Bloomberg via Getty Images
A customer, right, takes a 'selfie' photograph with an iPhone 6 Plus during the sales launch of the latest Apple Inc. iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones at the Apple store in Berlin, Germany, on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. The devices generate more than half of Apple's annual $171 billion in revenue and precede a swath of other products, including new iPads and Apple Watch. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The leading smartphone companies recently launched new models, which typically receive a great deal of attention and reviews -- both positive and negative. Businesses professionals are excited but also confused and overwhelmed because they want the best phone that satisfies their checklist of needs at work and at home. How does one make sense of the plethora of features in new smartphone models?

Instead of focusing on the details, a better approach is to take a high level view by answering a few questions to determine which type of phones satisfy your needs. Some useful questions relate to operating systems, the biggest and best selection of apps, phone security and the smartest voice activated personal assistant.

Which smartphone operating system is right for you?

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The four choices are iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry, each with pros and cons. All phones support tasks like email, calendaring, web browsing and talking but they differ in how easy and simply they do them. The research firm, IDC, reports that the 2014 global market share in the second quarter of 2014 is 85 per cent for Android, 11.7 per cent for iOS, 9.4 per cent for Windows and less than 1 per cent for BlackBerry.

Android Operating System

Google's Android works with HTC, LG, Motorola, and Samsung manufacturers. It is popular for customers who enjoy tinkering and customizing using widgets and fine-tuning settings about the look and feel of the phone. Widgets are used to customize a single screen view of contacts, calendar, appointments and other important information. The interface and features from one Android phone to another can vary dramatically especially after an OS update. So it is important to test Android on a particular phone and manufacturer to see if you like the experience.

iOS

Apple's iOS works only with Apple's phones and devices. When a new operating system becomes available, it has the advantage of updating all Apple devices at the same time. iOS has the most integrated ecosystem and marketplace of apps and is linked to a customer's iTunes account. For those owning other Apple products (e.g. MacBook, iPad, iPod), the compatibility and user interface experience is easy and consistent across devices. Accessing content like music, videos, podcasts or games is simple. Unlike Android, Apple allows users limited ability to customize the interface -- about how apps look and feel on the screen.

Windows Phone

Microsoft is a newer entrant in the smartphone market. Windows phone works with a limited number of phones for HTC, Nokia, and Samsung. The interface is simple and Windows Phone 8.1 offers more features and customization, although it is still does not match the degree of customization available on Android phones. The Windows store has fewer apps, music, games and videos.

Blackberry

The BlackBerry operating system is designed for smartphone handheld devices that are made by the company, also called BlackBerry. BlackBerry phones are targeted to business customers who are focussed on productivity and multitasking. The BlackBerry is best known for having the best touch screen and physical keyboard for speed and accuracy. The user interface supports 8 applications that can be run simultaneously or paused and minimized. The BlackBerry features a messaging centre that can be accessed from anywhere in the OS where all notifications (e.g. email, social networking, text messages, etc.) are displayed and actionable.

Which store has the best selection of apps?

Business professionals use a range of productivity, information and lifestyle apps to improve their quality of life. Android and Apple both have over one million apps while Microsoft and BlackBerry have a much smaller number. Before buying a phone, check if your 'must have' apps are available on the operating system of the phone you are interested in.

Is your phone secure?

The phone manufacturers all have enhanced security for their phones provided users allow their devices to be managed by a third-party mobile device management solution on a company's network. This includes employees who want to use their own device at work. In general, higher security means more complexity for IT departments. Android is the most susceptible to malware and malicious apps because it has the most market share and is frequently targeted. iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry phones are less susceptible to malware. According to a bulletin issued by Kaspersky Lab, 99% of all mobile threats in 2012 targeted Android devices. One suggestion to follow is to never install an app from any suspicious website.

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Why mobile personal digital assistants make life easier?

Intelligent personal digital assistants are not new but they have become smarter in completing tasks via voice commands. They offer a new way of interacting with our devices. Google has Now, Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana and BlackBerry has BlackBerry Assistant. Each assistant allows you to search information using your voice. Examples include finding places, giving directions, local weather, calling people and performing web searches.

Google Now

Google Now is more advanced in that it builds an "anticipation engine" of your requests. It is able to anticipate what information may be useful and provides it "just in time". For example, if you have a scheduled appointment, Google Now will suggest directions ahead of time.

Apple's Siri

Apple's Siri does not anticipate tasks and answers questions when asked. It is more conversational and has a large database of humorous responses. Siri is effective at performing simple tasks. It is less advanced than Google Now and Cortana because it cannot anticipate what information you may need.

Microsoft's Cortana

Microsoft's Cortana is a combination of Siri and Google Now and built into Windows 8.1. Cortana asks you for your name and how to pronounce it. It asks permission for access to your email, contacts, location and social media accounts like Facebook. You can also add interests like movies, food preferences, news, travel and weather.

BlackBerry Assistant

BlackBerry Assistant was the last major smartphone manufacturer to offer a digital assistant. It is accurate at voice commands to perform simple tasks like sending an email, asking for unread email, setting reminders, searching email and calendar. The more you use it, the more it learns and adapts.

Other questions you might ask about smartphones are:

Based on how you use the phone, which phones have a longer battery?

How important is the batter life of a phone before you have to charge it again?

Will having a larger screen improve viewing photos or videos?

Which phones are more durable and do not easily break when dropped? This video and this video show recent drop tests of the new iPhone 5 , iPhone 6 plus and a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Regardless of your next phone, be sure to get a sturdy case that can absorb a fall.

Do you prefer a virtual screen or a physical touch keyboard? BlackBerry smartphones with a physical screen are still considered the fastest and most accurate.

One way to plan your next smartphone purchase is to make a list of your 'must haves' versus your 'nice to haves'. Then create a shortlist of smartphones based on your budget. Visit the retailers, test them out and ask customers about their experience with their smartphone.