Get smart

Justin Davey 07/28/2011 @ 3:53pm

Technology: friend or foe? Surely there are components of the modern era that cause you to pause and scratch your head, but technology can also be leveraged greatly for business. One particular device that can open wide the gates of information and opportunity is the smartphone, a more advanced mobile phone that offers extended computing ability and connectivity. But are all smartphones created equal? Which type of device will work best for you? Here are a few things to consider when selecting a smartphone for the farm.

Service signal

Service signal is key since operation is impossible without it and you often will find yourself a long distance away from a mobile hot spot.

“The first thing to consider is service,” says Michael Lewis, a 27-year-old systems administrator and part-time farmer of 500 acres near Bayard, Iowa. “Once you have that figured out, you can think about the other stuff.”

“Sprint and Verizon seem to have better rural coverage than AT&T,” says Rob Larsen, mobile computing systems administrator at Meredith Corporation (parent company of Successful Farming magazine.)

This is based mainly on the platforms' use of a digital cellular standard (CDMA) that is transmitted widely within the U.S. Other carriers, like AT&T and T-Mobile, use a separate cellular standard (GSM) used widely on an international level but not transmitted as much in the U.S. That gives CDMA devices a better domestic roaming footprint. It's important to note that carriers offer an array of device brands; however, some smartphones are only available from a single carrier. The iPhone, for example, was only served by AT&T until recently.

“When the data networks in rural areas catch up with the capability of the smartphones, then you'll be able to do some cool stuff,” says Lewis.

Durability

Given the amount of time you spend out in the elements, you'll no doubt want a smartphone that's durable and doesn't stop working after a few spills or specs of dust. Will Gilmer, a dairy farmer from Sulligent, Alabama, says he wanted a smartphone that could hold up around the farm.

“I wanted something I wouldn't mess up too easily, so I got a Nokia with not many moving parts,” he says.

Lewis agrees that durability is important, noting, “If the phone isn't durable by design, then there has to be some sort of case for protection.”

“If you're using the phone in an environment with dirt, the less seams and openings, the better,” says Larsen. While there will always be preference in keyboard styles – physical vs. virtual – a virtual touch screen keyboard will likely protect the inside of the phone better than a physical keyboard, which has gaps between each key.

Desired uses

Just as important as service signal and durability, in many cases, are the actions you'd like your smartphone to be able carry out. The options are nearly limitless. Do you want the option to browse the Web easily? Is a large screen important to you? Or is a smaller option acceptable? Would you like simple access to email and text messaging? How about downloadable mobile applications? And what about a touch screen or a physical keyboard?

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