You are here

Buyers' Guide: The mobile office

Laurie Potter
Successful Farming magazine Deputy Machinery Editor

 

Shopping tips

Mobile phones -- including one of the latest innovations,
the smartphone -- have transformed the way we communicate. Because these
devices can be equipped with so many applications, tasks that previously tied
you to a desktop computer can now be accessed on these minicomputers.

As the technology has evolved, so have the users, including
those in agriculture. According to the Economic Research Service, about 60,000
farmers used handheld devices to connect to the Internet in 2008. Armed with
information at their fingertips, producers are able to tap into weather
forecasts, find nitrogen recommendations, monitor how much water is in the
soil, or market grain from the seat of a truck or tractor.

"The tea leaves are very strongly pointed to mobile
computing as the future of data management, communication, and so forth,"
says Andy Kleinschmidt, Ohio State University Extension educator. "A
smartphone is a great way to dip your toes into the world of mobile computing."

 

8 shopping tips

Sorting through the various models of smartphones as well as
the different service plans available may be mind-boggling, but it's necessary
for matching your needs with the right device.

Following are eight key points to keep in mind when shopping
for a smartphone.

 

Service provider

While most of us are tempted to pick the cool gadget first
and then worry about the particulars later, Kleinschmidt suggests doing the
exact opposite. "My advice would be to pick a carrier first and a device
second. If you go with a carrier that has great coverage, you will be in a
better position to enjoy the full services of a smartphone. If you pick a
carrier based on the device, you may be left with a neat phone that has limited
functionality," he notes.

With several different options and service levels, where
should you start? If you already have a service provider, check to see what it
can offer you. If it's not quite what you're looking for, then you may want to
consider the competition.

 

Operating system

The operating system (OS) determines the functionality of
your smartphone -- its capabilities, for instance, and ease of use -- and
shouldn't be ignored. Each OS has its own character and varies widely in the
number of applications available.

Memory

There are two types of memory to pay attention to: RAM and
overall storage for files. A minimum of 256 MB of RAM is a good place to start.
As for file storage, a minimum of 8 GB is recommended. Another important
consideration when it comes to memory is whether the smartphone supports memory
cards and the type of card it supports.

Display

Ask yourself how large a viewing space you need. A Motorola
Droid screen is 3.7 inches, for example, whereas the HTC HD2 is 4.3 inches.
Resolution is also key, and lower resolutions may make it difficult to read Web
sites without zooming in.

 

Battery life

The more a smartphone does, the more power it will need.
Learn what a battery's potential is by checking the mAH and manufacturer's
stated battery life measurements. If the smartphone will be used a lot, look at
purchasing an extra battery or alternative chargers.

 

Keypad/keyboard

When it comes to keying in information, ask yourself how it
will work for you.

Smartphones with touch screens have software that produces a
keyboard you can type on. Other devices offer a keyboard that slides out from
the phone, but that may make the phone thicker and heavier. Some models place
the keyboard on the front of the phone. Without trying to sneak a keyboard
under the phone, you get a device that's thinner and lighter.

 

Warranty

Typically, a smartphone is covered under a warranty from the
manufacturer as well as the carrier. But what about additional insurance?
Providers say it's one of the main things overlooked in the purchase of a smartphone
because most customers don't realize how expensive a smartphone can be if it
has to be replaced. If you do opt for insurance, remember that providers won't
necessarily give you a brand-new phone but a refurbished, repaired one.

 

E-mail

Your smartphone should be able to deliver e-mails quickly.
But the better devices help you keep multiple accounts current with the ability
to support attachments. Also, look for a smartphone that offers push delivery,
which keeps the device from wasting battery life by continually checking for
new messages.

 

Apps targeted to farming

As advances continue to be made in smartphones, the
applications continue to grow.

Programs like LoadOut (www.loadouttechnologies.com) are
geared specifically for the ag market. A bulk material-handling application for
a smartphone, LoadOut was invented by Indiana farmer and Purdue graduate, Neil
Mylet.

Plagued by allergies, it was a struggle for Mylet to work
outdoors.

"When you have allergies, your focus isn't necessarily
on the job. It was my goal to be able to be a part of the farm but be a viable
resource to my family. LoadOut was designed to overcome that obstacle," he
says.

The application also benefits the older farmer who still
wants to have a hand in ag but has physical limitations. LoadOut is designed to
increase safety and efficiency when handling grain.

"Mobile technology truly holds the potential to
transform the way industries like agriculture function. LoadOut is just one
example of the potential lying within the palm of your hand," says Mylet.

When choosing a smartphone, keep in mind that technology
changes almost daily. That's why it's important to do your homework before you
make your buying decision.

Read more about