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Buyers' Guide: The mobile office

Agriculture.com Staff 05/27/2010 @ 2:23pm

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."

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

  7. 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.
  8. 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.

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

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