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Choosing the smartphone that works best for you

by Marty Gabel

Choosing the right smartphone is a daunting task. Potential buyers need to think through several factors including cost, features, performance and more. The good news is that with several dozen quality smartphones on the market, there will be options that serve your specific needs and interests.

So whether you are seeking a smartphone to play games, get more work done, give to your children or just run reliably throughout the day, there are plenty of options to consider. Here are the best.

Best smartphone for business

While most professionals know about the BlackBerry, the business phone that deserves more attention and runs on a familiar Microsoft platform is the Dell Venue Pro. This enterprise-focused smartphone, which is available for T-Mobile and AT&T subscribers, is an elegant-looking device with its 4.1-inch AMOLED display and slide-out keyboard. With sizable buttons and pronounced tactile feedback, the Dell Venue Pro is great for typing emails and taking extensive notes on the fly.

The phone’s Windows Phone 7 software may not be the most exciting mobile operating system, but it is arguably the most reliable. Further, if you or your business already run Windows products like Microsoft Office, the WP7 platform offers the most seamless integration. The Dell Venue Pro is currently the best device available on that platform, which also has its share of fun and games. When you're waiting for a flight at the airport or killing time between meetings, the Dell Venue Pro offers thousands of apps and even Xbox Live integration.

Of course, there is no denying that the BlackBerry is a top-dog for many business-focused smartphone users. With its robust operating system, advanced messaging capabilities, efficient keyboard and no-nonsense approach, manufacturer Research In Motion still has a strong grip on the corporate market. Another important benefit of BlackBerry smartphones is that they are available to customers of all major carriers including Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Increasingly, business users are also embracing iPhones and select Android devices. Just make sure to get the green light from your company’s technology managers before making the purchase.

Best smartphone for gaming

Apple made this one easy with the iPhone, and specifically the iPhone 4. And with the next generation just around the corner, iDevices will offer even more fun for gamers. Beyond the state-of-the-art graphics and controls that set the standard for gaming on mobile devices, there are more than 70,000 iPhone games available in Apple’s App Store. Whether you are simply a casual gamer who likes to occasionally tap into a crossword puzzle or a hardcore action-arcade fanatic, there truly is something for everyone. The popularity of a game like Angry Birds, which began life on Apple’s smartphone before hitting other platforms (and, essentially taking over the world), has made everyone stand up and take notice. It’s also telling that instead of console and PC games shaping the iOS gaming market, the tide is beginning to turn. Games that were created for iPhones including Fruit Ninja, Backbreaker Football, and the aforementioned Angry Birds are now available on major consoles. The iPhone 4 is currently available for AT&T and Verizon customers.

The iPhone of course is not the only game in town. We’d be remiss to not give Sony Ericsson’s Xperia PLAY a brief mention. This Android-powered device is sometimes known as the PlayStation phone as it can play classic old titles from the original console in addition to the thousands of current games in the Android Market. However, there’s no denying that commercially it is a bit of a flop. Despite some nice hardware, including the familiar PlayStation slide-out gamepad, the device hasn’t really taken off and received a price cut pretty soon after launch. However, the convergence of mobile and console gaming is certainly something that will grow over the coming years, so perhaps the Xperia PLAY has started a precedent, even if hasn’t been much of a success itself. The Xperia is currently available for Verizon subscribers.

Best indestructible smartphone

OK, perhaps ‘indestructible’ is a bit of a stretch. But there is no denying that there is a market out there for smartphones that offer great features and functionality, but can also withstand a darn good beating. One such device is the Casio G’zone Commando. This Android-powered device on the Verizon network can withstand dust, extreme temperatures and even immersion in water. The Commando also sports high-powered front speakers that let you carry on hands-free conversations while you work out or even cascade down a ravine.

The Motorola Defy is also worthy of mention in this category. Marketed as a rugged and durable Android device that still sports a slim profile and large screen, it features Gorilla Glass to prevent scratches to the touchscreen and can also reportedly stand being dipped in water. The Motorola Defy is available in the U.S. on T-Mobile.

Best smartphone for battery life

Here's a phone that could easily fit in the category above, too. While the Sonim XP1300 CORE doesn’t run on a major operating system like Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 or BlackBerry, it does offer email, a browser, FM radio and other familiar features. But what is most impressive is the phones’s 18-hour talk time and 800 hours of standby life. There are not many devices on the market that can boast anything close to that kind of battery life, which is why it sits at the top of this list. The Sonim XP1300 is available for AT&T and T-Mobile customers.

Still, Sonim’s main offering of massive battery life will not please everyone. If you’re already rocking a much more dainty iPhone or Android smartphone, there are still some steps you can take to prolong your battery life. The iPhone 4 is certainly good for gaming, but a few hours of Infinity Blade and your juice will be depleted before lunch. As for that hot new Android with 4G connectivity: sure, it’s fast, but all that power comes at a cost. These days it pays to have a spare charger at work or school just in case. Even with moderate use, most smartphones need to be recharged by the end of the day at the very least.

Best value smartphones for teens

Mom and dad might not want your greasy mitts all over an iPhone 4 just yet, but the Apple iPhone 3GS still offers a lot of phone for just $49 instead of the $200 asked for the premium iPhone 4. Admittedly, as iOS continues to be updated and developed, the older device might not be able to do as much as its newer brethren. Still, it’s a competent device for casual gaming, communications, music and navigation. The iPhone 3GS is exclusive to AT&T customers.

Though we already mentioned BlackBerry in the business category, many teenagers are also turning to the RIM smartphones. BlackBerry devices are often free these days (although still require a pricey contract), and they offer the rugged reliability and easy texting capabilities that both parents and teenagers enjoy.

We should also mention T-Mobile’s line of fun and friendly Android devices aimed at the younger generation. The carrier, which pending regulatory approval will be acquired by AT&T, offers cheaper voice and data plans than many of its competitors. Further, T-Mobile’s handsets like the colorful Sidekick 4G with its slide-out keyboard or myTouch 3G Slide (available in white or red) are fun, less expensive alternatives to the many other devices out there. They are worth a look if the newest, flashiest, and more expensive devices aren’t something you want to see in your kids’ hands just yet.