These open source mobile Android devices span the smartphone and tablet gamut and offer small business a variety of get-it-done features.
Smartphones and tablets are versatile little computers, and the Android open source mobile platform has exploded like crazy, with something for everyone. Here are five excellent mobile Android gadgets for the small business user, plus a bonus Linux tablet.
Qooq Splash-Proof Tablet: Versatility
The Qooq French Digital Cookbook is a splash-proof tablet designed to live in the kitchen and serve up recipes, cooking videos and cook's magazines. But it doesn't have to stay there because unlike most tablets it does not run Android, but rather a full custom Linux operating system.
This means you can install any of the thousands of applications that run on Linux: surf the Web, email, run productivity and business applications. Anything that runs on a PC will run on the Qooq. It features a dual-core Cortez 1gHz processor, 8GB built-in memory, an SD card slot for additional storage, wired and wireless networking, and USB ports. In other words, this is a slim PC with a 10-inch touchscreen and a built-in stand.
A portable water-resistant tablet with all of this flexibility can serve in any number of roles. It can hang in a shop window and display ads and daily specials. It can sit in an office lobby for visitors to use. It can display server status in the datacenter. It can sit in a break room with a Webcam as a line of communication to remote workers.
Qooq is cur
rently sold only in France, but an English-language version is coming soon to the U.S. It sells for 349€, which is about $455 of our U.S. dollars.
Motorola Droid Razr Maxx: Long Battery Life
Battery life is sorely tested by the demands of color multi-media smartphones, and the Droid Razr Maxx promises the longest talk time of any 4G smartphone: 21 hours worth of voice calls, 7 hours Web-surfing, watch movies for 15 hours, 50+ hours of listening to music, 380 hours standby.
In real life you're probably not going to see these fabulous numbers, but even allowing for hyperbole it is impressive how they stuffed a 3300 mAh Lithium ion battery into a slim, lightweight phone.
Figure 1: The slim Droid Razr Maxx.
Like all smartphones this sleek little phone is packed with features. It has a touch interface, a big batch of multimedia functions, supports U.S. cell networks and Wi-Fi, USB and Bluetooth, speakerphone for syncing with a PC, and GPS. It has pretty good speech recognition (for commanding your phone to do things), and helps hearing-impaired users with support for hearing aids and text telephone (TTY) interface. It comes bundled with a batch of business-ready applications such as Google Mobile Services, QuickOffice, phone conferencing and mobile wireless hotspot.
It is extra-durable: the shell is Kevlar, and the screen is protected with Corning Gorilla Glass. The main downside to this little phone is it ships with Android version 2.3.5 (Gingerbread). It is upgradeable to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), so it's probably a good idea to upgrade before loading it up with data and customized settings. $299 with a Verizon plan, $649.99 without via Motorola, and a little shopping should turn up some better deals.
ASUS Eee Pad Slider: Real Keyboard
The ASUS Eee Pad Slider is a good little touchpad with a slide-out keyboard, a nice option for people who want it all. This is a biggish tablet with a 10.1-inch 1,280x800-pixel screen, protected by Corning Gorilla Glass. ASUS claims the Slider provides 8 hours of battery life.
You get a full complement of hardware: a high-quality color screen, USB, Bluetooth, SD card slots, HDMI output, Bluetooth, wireless networking, two cameras, and sensors that detect position and orientation. It comes with the Polaris Office productivity suite, multi-media software, and access to the squillions of Android applications.
It ships with Android Honeycomb, and you can upgrade it to the current release, Ice Cream Sandwich. At 2 pounds, this is a nice go-anywhere computer that costs about $479.
Polaroid Smart Camera: Cameras Are Computers
The line between mobile phones and cameras has been blurry for a long time, to the point that the Android-powered Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera looks like a smartphone with an extra-large camera lens. It has a 16 megapixel sensor, a 36-108mm zoom lens, and a beautiful 3.2-inch touch screen display and viewfinder.
Figure 2: Polaroid's instant digital camera that looks like a smartphone.
It comes with geotagging, face and smile detection, image editing software, and it is designed for easy editing and sharing. Photos are stored on a 32 MB SD card. It comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and an optional a 3G/4G data connection, but no voice capability. However, it is equipped with a microphone and speaker, so you could probably set up Skype or other VoIP service over Wi-Fi.
This could be a good tool for people who require better-quality instant photos than the usual dark blurry smartphone pictures, such as realtors and surveyors. It is scheduled to be released later this year.
Sony Tablet S: Comfort
The Sony Tablet S stands out from the tablet crowd with a unique wedge shape designed for comfort. It puts more of the weight in your hands, and when it sits on a table it naturally lies at a comfortable typing angle. If you do a lot of reading on a tablet, the Sony is nice to hold for extended periods of time.
It is powered by a dual-core processor, comes with 16 or 32 GB flash storage, USB, SD slot, two cameras -- in other words, pretty similar to all the other Android tablets. It's marketed as a multimedia entertainment device, but there's no reason you couldn't install a complement of useful business applications, and at 1.5 pounds it's easy to tote around. It'll set you back about $375.
Xperia Active: The Tough Smartphone
The Xperia Active is a tough smartphone for active people. It is dustproof, water-resistant, and you can use the touchscreen even when it is wet. It's a nice-looking phone that comes in a range of colors. It supports all cell networks, Wi-Fi, and comes with the usual goodies -- camera, USB, Bluetooth, GPS and geotagging, auto-rotate, multi-media features, and a batch of productivity applications.
And of course you can download additional applications just like any Android device. Battery life is average, with a talk time of around 5 hours and standby of up to 350 hours. It costs around $300 unlocked. This could be a good travel phone because it is tougher, and you simply pop in a new SIM card when you're in a different country.
Carla Schroder is the author of The Book of Audacity, Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook, and hundreds of Linux how-to articles. She's the former managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.
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