8 Best Smartphones for MDs

MDNG Primary Care, November 2009, Volume 10, Issue 11

Now is a great time to buy a smartphone. Powerful devices, better plans, and advanced applications boost productivity and let the busy physician stay more in tune with his or her practice. Here are eight highly recommended smartphones for the enterprising physician.

Picking the best smartphone hinges on several key factors. First is the network on which the device runs. Second is the mobile operating system used by the device. Third is what types of applications are available for that device. Let’s quickly look at why these are important criteria.

Although some of the smaller, regional network operators offer attractive pricing plans and some good devices, your best bet is to stick with the four national network operators. That means choosing between AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon Wireless. The benefi ts that these carriers offer are country-wide footprints, roaming agreements with other operators in other countries, and ready access to speedy 3G wireless broadband networks. They also offer a wide range of voice, messaging, and data plans to fi t most budgets.

The mobile operating system is probably what matters most when it comes to smartphones. For the busy professional, that system should be easy to use, speedy, and capable of running a wide range of applications. Other factors to consider are support for enterprise-grade e-mail and security. The short list includes Android, BlackBerry OS, iPhone OS, and Windows Mobile.

Without applications, a smartphone isn’t more than a regular cell phone. If a smartphone doesn’t have a large number of applications standing behind it, there’s less chance that it will be able to support the advanced functions that users actually need. Access to apps is key.

It was with these criteria in mind that we selected the eight best smartphones for physicians.

AT&T Smartphones

AT&T offers nearly every smartphone platform that exists. The company’s philosophy is to make the widest selection available to customers so that all its bases are covered. AT&T also has a bevy of smartphone plans that stand up to the competition. Although sizable, the company’s 3G footprint is not as large as several of its competitors. On the plus side, AT&T holds roaming agreements in pretty much every country around the world.

Apple iPhone 3GS: The darling device on the AT&T network is surely the iPhone (www.apple.com/iphone). The latest version, the iPhone 3GS, comes in two models with the only difference being the size of the internal memory (16GB or 32GB). The iPhone is well priced at $200 and $300, respectively, and voice and data plans start at a reasonable $80 per month. Why is this a good pick?

First, the iPhone has a staggering 85,000 applications available from the easy-to-use iPhone App Store. What’s more impressive is that software companies have taken the iPhone very seriously and offer an incredible selection of health- and medicine-related applications that can help with the daily duties of any physician.

The iPhone also offers a good feature set, which includes 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, a 3.2-megapixel camera, and the ability to shoot video. It also features the best mobile browser available on a smartphone. On the downside, battery life is a bit lacking, and it’s easy to reach critically low levels before the end of the work day, depending on use. The iPhone also suffers from poor voice call quality and doesn’t work very well as a speakerphone. Also, many users may not like using the device’s on-screen keyboard.

BlackBerry Bold 9700: The Bold (www.blackberry.com/bold9700) is the newest smartphone to come from Research In Motion (RIM), and it makes some serious strides when compared to its predecessors. It has a high-resolution display and a great (and real) QWERTY keyboard for typing out e-mails and other messages.

The Bold is truly best-in-class when it comes to BlackBerries. It runs the newest operating system from RIM, which features numerous updates system-wide. Because it is a BlackBerry, it offers the best mobile e-mail experience hands-down. It is also secure and can be confi gured and locked down by IT to protect information. The BlackBerry App World (www.blackberry.com/appworld) isn’t quite as large as the iPhone App Store, but it still offers users thousands of applications from which to choose; many are made for business users and medical professionals in particular. The Bold 9700’s specs match its competitors well. It carries 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth radios. It also has a 3.2-megapixel camera with autofocus, fl ash, and video capture. Battery life has always been a strong point for BlackBerries, and the Bold offers six hours of talk time and more than two weeks of standby time. It also replaced the trackball that’s been used on BlackBerries for years and substitutes in an optical mouse. It takes a bit of getting used to, but is a very good method for interacting with the Bold.

Negatives would include the browser, which is lagging behind the competition, and its smaller screen size. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet for this phone.

Sprint Smartphones

Sprint offers many of the best smartphone platforms (but not all of them), and a very good 3G network, but uses a technology for its phones that is not used by most European and Asian countries (with the exception of South Korea). This means users will need to pick wisely if they need to travel abroad. On the plus side, Sprint offers the most aggressive pricing when it comes to voice and data plans.

HTC Hero: The Hero (www.htc.com/www/product/hero) is a smartphone that runs the Android operating system from Google. HTC has taken the base Android OS and pasted its own, custom-made Sense user interface on top. These two combined make for a very easy-to-use and customizable handset.

The Hero has access to more than 10,000 applications in Google’s Android market. That makes it a winner for medical professionals who need to be able to run productivity software. Buying applications from the Android Market isn’t as easy as it is from the iPhone App Store, but anyone with a credit card has access, and many of the apps are free.

The HTC Hero offers excellent support for Google’s e-mail platform, Gmail, though the included Exchange e-mail client is not the most robust on the market. It also has a browser that is second only to the iPhones in terms of HTML support and the ability to interact with websites. The hardware features 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth, and the device is tightly integrated with Google services, such as Maps for Mobile, Voice Search, and YouTube. It boasts a 5-megapixel camera, besting much of the competition.

On the downside, there is no physical keyboard, battery life will only get most users through one day, advanced Bluetooth profi les aren’t supported, and it is limited to use in the US. The Hero costs $180.

Samsung Intrepid: If Microsoft is more your thing, the new Intrepid (http://tinyurl.com/ydv7n6j) from Samsung offers the latest version of Windows Mobile in a compact and stylish package. It looks similar to the BlackBerry Bold, but combines a physical QWERTY keyboard with touchscreen capabilities.

The Intrepid can access the brand-new Microsoft Marketplace for Mobile (www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/catalog). The new storefront from Microsoft has fewer than 1,000 applications at writing, but that will surely grow quickly. The Intrepid runs Windows Mobile 6.5, which is the newest version of smartphone software from Microsoft. The platform itself is capable, and much easier to use than previous versions of the operating system. It supports all the enterprise applications you could ever hope to run.

The Intrepid runs on Sprint’s 3G network in the US but can also access 3G networks in Europe and Asia. It also features Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. The Intrepid has a 3-megapixel camera with video capture. On the downside, the screen is on the small side, and it still becomes necessary to break out the stylus to use some menus and applications. The Intrepid costs $150.

T-Mobile Smartphones

T-Mobile offers most smartphone platforms that are out there, along with very competitive voice and data plans. The biggest drawback for T-Mobile is that its 3G network isn’t nearly as large as its competitors. Be sure to check a coverage map to make sure 3G is available where you work and live before choosing T-Mobile. On the plus side, phones from T-Mobile automatically work in Europe and Asia.

HTC TouchPro2: This beast of a phone combines Windows Mobile 6.5 with HTC’s TouchFLO 3D user interface and has both a large, beautiful touchscreen and large physical QWERTY keyboard. This phone means business.

The TouchPro2 (TP2; www.htc.com/www/product/touchpro2) offers nearly every feature that a business or medical professional might hope to have. On top of access to applications within Microsoft Marketplace for Mobile, it has 3G for the US and abroad, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, and a 3.2-megapixel camera. Because it runs the Microsoft platform, it has built-in support for Microsoft Exchange mobile e-mail, calendar, and contact syncing.

The touchscreen is simply huge and tilts up to make for easier viewing while typing out e-mails on a user-friendly keyboard. The TP2 runs HTC’s custom-built TouchFLO 3D user interface, making it much easier to use when compared to the native Windows Mobile user interface.

On the downside, the TP2 is large and heavy; the device is not for the weak. Battery life is also a bit less than some of the others listed here. The device will set you back a whopping $350.

BlackBerry Curve 8520: This less-expensive alternative to the Bold 9700 offers a smaller, lighter footprint with many of the same benefi ts of its bigger brother. The 8520 (www.blackberry.com/curve) is perfect for those with smaller hands and is less tiring to carry around and use due to its reduced size. Despite being small, it can still download and run all the applications that are available from BlackBerry App World, and it features the same enterprise-worthy security and IT policy control that a medical professional might need.

Perhaps its biggest strength is support for T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi- based calling service. The Curve 8520 can seamlessly transition voice calls from the cellular network to a Wi-Fi network—where calls are free; this gives it a major leg up over its rivals. The Curve 8520 also features the same optical mouse pad as the Bold 9700.

On the downside, the 8520 does not feature 3G, though Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth are included. It also has a screen resolution that isn’t up to par with the competition. The Curve costs $130.

Verizon Smartphones

Likely the biggest strength for Verizon Wireless is its 3G coverage, which the company claims is fi ve times that of AT&T’s. The company’s site currently has 20 Smartphone options from which to choose, mostly from Motorola, BlackBerry, HTC, and Samsung. Check out ratings for each at http://tinyurl.com/y8z5nba.

BlackBerry Storm2: The Storm2 (www.blackberry.com/storm9550) succeeds where the original Storm failed; it is a true touchscreen BlackBerry that offers a premium experience and feature set, making it the cream of the BlackBerry crop.

The Storm2 is the flagship device from RIM and for Verizon Wireless. It runs the newest operating system from RIM, and has a very good mobile e-mail experience. It is also extremely secure and can be confi gured and locked down by IT to protect information. The number of apps in the BlackBerry App World doesn’t match that of other BlackBerries, but it’s still respectable, with access to plenty of medical applications.

The Storm2 features a generous touchscreen and nearly every feature a smartphone can possibly cram inside. That means 3G in the US, Europe, and Asia; Wi-Fi (a much-needed upgrade); and a typing experience that has been vastly improved. After a short learning curve, users can type e-mails very quickly. Battery life is excellent.

What might concern some users is the Storm2’s heavier-than- average weight. The device goes for $180.

Motorola Droid: The Droid (www.phones.verizonwireless.com/motorola/droid) is the newest device from Motorola and the best effort from the Chicago-based company in years. The Droid runs the Android 2.0 operating system from Google, which is a major leap forward for the Android platform. It brings in a bevy of new features and truly is a more enterprise-grade operating system. Of course, support for the Android Market (www.android.com/market) and its 10,000 apps is included, and it has both a large touch screen and full QWERTY keyboard for typing messages. It is slimmer than many of the other phones, and has a large, high-defi nition screen. Android 2.0 also means the Droid has built-in support for Microsoft Exchange. As far as specs go, the Droid lands near the top. It has 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth GPS, and a 5-megapixel camera with fl ash, autofocus, and image stabilization. What’s really interesting is that the Droid can shoot DVD-quality video (720 x 480 pixels at 24 frames per second), which is far and away better than the competition.

Reasons to reconsider would include sub-par battery life, a mushy keyboard, and a larger footprint. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet for this device.

Mr. Zeman is an editor, writer, and manager with more than 10 years’ experience in the publishing industry. During the last five years, he has managed the editorial content and direction of magazines, websites, weblogs, e-newsletters, customer marketing programs, industry events, webinars/webcasts, and more. MoBlog (Mobile Web Blog): Check out Eric Zeman’s MoBlog on hcplive.com for more on the latest smartphone news and use in medical practice.