For the smart-phone set, it isn't about making calls any more, it's about the applications. Practically anything is possible, and the master marketers at Apple have even popularized the catchphrase "There's an app for that."
But Apple doesn't have a monopoly on practical (or fun) things you can do with your phone. You'll find goodies for both BlackBerry and Android phones, too.
Thanks to Telus' loan of a BlackBerry Bold and a Motorola Backflip running the Android operating system, we test-drove a herd of them, and came up with five apps for each platform that stand out, both for the office and on the go. And, added bonus, many of them are free. You'll find the BlackBerry apps on BlackBerry Appworld (http://appworld.blackberry.com), and the Android apps via the Android Market (http://www.android.com/market).
Most companies rely on Microsoft Office or compatible products for handling documents. And most users need, at some point, to read those documents on their smart phones. Enter Documents to Go, available for both BlackBerry and Android. The free version for Android lets users read Word and Excel files, while the pre-installed BlackBerry freebie adds PowerPoint. (To get the ability to create Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, and to read and write PDF files, you need to install the Premium Edition.) You need to access the Dataviz site with your smart phone to get the current price (for example, the Android upgrade is on sale for the next few weeks for $9.99).
Everyone needs a way to track tasks. While BlackBerry has an integrated task manager, it's, um, less than wonderful, so an improved version was high on my list of must-haves. A free app called Lister provides basic functionality - it creates lists of tasks, each of which can have priority, reminders and due dates attached, but it is entirely local to your BlackBerry.
For a program that integrates with the BlackBerry task database (and thus syncs with Microsoft Outlook), check out BHive Tasks 2.0 ($4.25; free trial available). It does what Research in Motion failed to do: provides a usable view of tasks, with categories, priority, due dates and reminders.
On the Android side, have a peek at Astrid (free), a complete to-do app with reminders, priority, categories and due dates in a highly usable interface. It will synchronize with the online task manager Remember the Milk (http://www.rememberthemilk.com/).
Monitoring the status of a flight can save endless annoyance. Viigo for the BlackBerry (free) not only lets you track flights and find suitable ones for future trips, it contains modules providing news, weather, sports and other information. RIM liked the independently developed application so much that it bought the company.
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FlightStats Lite for Android is a free ad-supported app that displays its search results on the FlightStats Mobile website. It permits searches for flights, airports and airline information, and the current version lets you save your searches. A paid version provides the same functionality without the ads.
Money is a constant headache if you're in a foreign country - or if you're trying to work remotely and price foreign deals. XE.com offers its free XE Currency conversion app for both BlackBerry and Android, with support for more than 180 currencies.
trackIT: Vehicle Edition for the BlackBerry ($14.99 U.S.) records maintenance, mileage, fuel, expenses, financing charges and more on an unlimited number of vehicles, allowing a business to get a solid picture of its vehicle costs over time. It even can put maintenance schedules on the BlackBerry calendar and generate reminders when service is due.
MileageLog for Android ($1.99 U.S.) uses the device's GPS to determine mileage travelled by recording the date, starting location, ending location, purpose of the trip and distance (in miles or kilometres) in a log file. This file can then be exported to a spreadsheet on the user's PC for inclusion in accounting records. The app is small enough to run on the most basic of Android phones.
A little more exploration of app stores will reveal many, many more tools for BlackBerry and Android that can serve a business well. And you will likely find a little entertainment along the way. There really is an app for that, and it doesn't have to have a fruit logo on it.
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