Top Ten Mobile Tools for Small Business

Wednesday Dec 16th 2009 by Gerry Blackwell
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We pick 10 essential tools and services to help mobile professionals get the job done on the run.

Motorola Droid
The Motorola Droid
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Do you remember what it was like to run a business before the Internet, before mobile phones and before you could carry your business in your pocket?  In this mobile era, those days seem positively quaint.

Of course it helps to have the right tool for the right job when you’re on the road, and in this case we’ve got 10. You can debate our picks if you like — go ahead — but we think you’ll have a tough time beating this line-up of essential products and services for on-the-go pros.

Motorola Droid  

A smartphone is arguably the essential mobile business tool. If you don’t want to follow the i-crowd, consider the Droid ($200). It has everything you need to connect and communicate: blazing 3G speed on Verizon’s EVDO Rev A network, Wi-Fi (b/g), GPS, Bluetooth and a 5-megapixel camera. You can input data using the Droid’s touchscreen, or type on the slide-out QWERTY keyboard (the world’s thinnest, according to Motorola).

This smartphone runs on Google’s Android 2.0 mobile operating system and integrates popular Google apps out of the box — including online synchronization with Gmail and Calendar, and GPS-powered turn-by-turn directions with Google Maps. (For the corporate minded, Droid also supports Microsoft Exchange.)

The processor (a 550 mHz Arm Cortex A8) is powerful enough to run multiple applications simultaneously. Droid comes with 16GB on a microSD card but supports up to 32GB, and its multimedia is state of the art — video capture and playback up to 720x480 pixels. International roaming? Oops, for that you’ll need a GSM-based carrier. Dare we mention the i-word?  

Plantronics Discovery 975  

For safe, hands-free, on-the-go communication a Bluetooth headset is another essential piece of gear. The Discovery 975 ($130), from market leader Plantronics, is new and top notch. It’s also the most elegantly minimalist we’ve seen, with a gel earbud speaker, invisible clip and a thin, straight mic boom.

Discovery 975 uses patented noise cancellation and wind noise reduction technologies for great sound, and it gets up to five hours of talk time on one battery charge (or a week on standby).  

HP Envy 13  

If you need even more computing power in your mobile arsenal, add a thin-and-light notebook. Hewlett-Packard’s hot new Envy 13 (pricing starts at $1,700) is built tough – with aluminum and magnesium alloys – and looks great. It’s less than an inch thick, with nicely molded corners and a frameless, edge-to-edge look. It weighs in at a scant 3.68 pounds.

Envy also packs desktop-grade power: Intel Core2 Duo processors from 1.6GHz (3MB L2 Cache) to 2.13GHz (6MB L2 Cache), 3 or 5 GB of DDR3 RAM and ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 Graphics. It can run any application, however compute intensive — including producing HD-quality video using the included Corel VideoStudio Pro X2 software.

Envy also comes with Wi-Fi 11n wireless connectivity built in. And the 250GB hard drive has HP’s ProtectSmart Hard Drive Protection — drop your Envy and the drive automatically locks to protect data.

Motorola Droid
The Motorola Droid
(Click for larger image)
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Google Apps

Working in the cloud (i.e. Web-based software) while mobile — with services such as Google Apps ($50 per person per year) — adds flexibility and security. Data resides on secure servers, it’s accessible from any Internet-connected device, and that makes it easier to share and collaborate with clients and co-workers.

Gmail gives you 25GB of mail storage and guarantees 99.9 percent uptime. Google Calendar lets you share agendas and set up group calendars. Google Docs offers Microsoft Office-compatible online word processing, spreadsheet and presentation apps. Subscribers can create (or upload) and store 5,000 documents and/or presentations, with up to 5,000 attached images, plus 1,000 spreadsheets.

If you just need lots of online storage for backup, try Mozy: you can buy unlimited backup for $5/month.

PrinterOn

If you occasionally need to print a file from your laptop or smartphone while mobile, consider PrinterOn, a Web-based service. It lets you search for a nearby printer — they’re all over the world, many in Hilton hotel business centers — upload a file to be printed and then go to the location and pick it up.

In some cases, the local business won’t print your file until you arrive and give them your PrinterOn passcode. In others, they may print immediately (not so good for sensitive data). Prices range from $0.10 to $0.15/page for black and from $0.30 to $0.40/page for color.

Novatel Wireless MiFi  

PlanOn PrintStik
PlanOn PrintStik
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MiFi is a personal wireless hotspot that fits in your shirt pocket. It measures a svelte 3.5-x2.3-x0.4-in and weights mere 2.08 ounces. Use it to connect to the Internet almost anywhere — on the road or in a hotel room.

Notebooks, netbooks and PDAs connect to MiFi over Wi-Fi (11b/g). MiFi connects to the Net over a 3G network or a hotel-room wired Ethernet connection. Wi-Fi-equipped friends and colleagues can connect at the same time (MiFi has a 30-foot range).

The rechargeable lithium battery lasts up to four hours. Pricing: Verizon, $50 (with two-year contract), Sprint, $100 (two-year contract).

Skype 

Skype, the free-or-cheap VoIP service, makes increasingly more sense for road warriors. The call quality is better than ever, and you can use it on many smartphones now and virtually any netbook or laptop equipped with a headset. You can connect over Wi-Fi, WiMAX and some 3G networks (some cellular carriers block Skype).

Call other Skype customers for free — millions of people around the world use the service, and it’s free to join — or pay monthly for unlimited calling to landlines ($3,U.S./Canada, $13, world).

PlanOn Office-in-a-Pocket  

If you absolutely can’t survive without the office all-in-one printer, PlanOn has a mobile solution — truly mobile, unlike others. The company’s PrintStik printers ($200 to $350) and new DocuPen X Series color scanners ($370 to $440) are small and light enough to tote easily in a laptop bag or purse. (PrintStik: 1-x2-x11-inches, 16 ounces. DocuPen: 8.9-x0.5-x0.5 inches, 2 ounces.)

The printer uses a thermal process and special paper rolled inside. The DocuPen is a hand scanner — you drag it down a page to scan. It comes with PaperPort optical character recognition (OCR) software to translate scanned pages into editable computer text.

Both products work, but extreme miniaturization does bring compromises. The PrintStik is slow, and the output is far from presentation quality. Scanning with the DocuPen is also slow and takes practice to get good results.

PlanOn PrintStik
PlanOn PrintStik
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iGo everywhereMAX Laptop Charger  

By now you’ve amassed such an arsenal of battery-operated gadgets that packing the power cables and chargers could require a separate suitcase. Unless of course you use something like the iGo everywhereMAX Laptop Charger ($99).

It’s a universal power adapter that will simultaneously charge or power a laptop plus another mobile device — phone, MP3 player, headset — from one outlet. With different tips and attachments (many but not all included) you can charge or power almost anything and carry just one adapter to do it.

Lexar JumpDrive Safe S3000 FIPS  

If you just want to safely transport your data and plug it into a computer at your destination, try the Lexar JumpDrive USB flash memory drives. They’re available in capacities ranging from 2GB to 8GB and priced from $100 to $200.

The JumpDrive is practically indestructible (waterproof, rigid metal enclosure) and automatically encrypts data as it’s being stored on the drive, using military-grade (FIPS 140-2 Level 3) AES 256-bit encryption. If you lose it, no one will be able to get at your data.

Gerry Blackwell is a freelance technology writer based in London, Canada. Read his blog at http://afterbyte.blogspot.com/.

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