Belfast Telegraph

Your essential guide to the best tech to boost business

 

What are the smartest, best and most productive technology tools for your working day? How can you keep sensitive data secure? Which must-have business apps should you download? From the latest laptops and professional tablets to encrypted security gadgets and work-friendly smartphones, technology editor Adrian Weckler rounds up the best tech tools for the post-summer return to the office

The best business phones

Best android: Huawei P20 Pro (£813 or subsidised from networks)

If there's one phone we've tested that tops all rivals in the Android field, it's Huawei's 6.1-inch P20 Pro. Huawei has invested billions in trying to put together a sleek, ultra-powerful, battery-optimised smartphone - and it shows. Its business-friendly features include amazing battery longevity and the best screen on any Android smartphone (and arguably on any phone), with a bezel-to-bezel Oled display.

Our test model came with 128GB of storage, the most of any work-friendly Android handset on the market.

For zipping between business apps, the phone has an unprecedented amount of muscle, with an octa-core chip and 6GB of Ram, a combination that blows almost every other phone away.

This is important not just for its ability to handle heavy-duty apps and software tasks today, but also in two to three years' time.

Another sizeable advantage the P20 Pro has over all comers is its gargantuan battery life which, at 4,000mAh, makes it untouchable in its class.

Outside work hours, the P20 Pro also has the best camera we've ever tried on a phone, with a 40-megapixel, 3x optical zoom. Samsung used to own the Android work phone market, but it looks now to have been overtaken.

Best iPhone: iPhone X (£1,066 or subsidised from networks)

The iPhone X is an excellent work smartphone with one qualification: its battery life.

Its battery reserve is decent but doesn't match that of some rivals.

However, Apple's flagship 5.7-inch device excels in almost every other feature set, from industry-leading engine muscle to a perfect all-screen form factor.

And long after the demise of BlackBerry, it remains the default ecosystem for business apps.

While you can get 80% to 90% of the same business apps on Android, iOS is still the platform your company will most likely use when introducing a new system.

The main difference between the iPhone X and its companion iPhone 8 or 8 Plus devices is the lack of a front-facing button.

The iPhone X uses Face ID (facial recognition) instead.

To date, the iPhone X is the only phone on the market where this technology works fairly flawlessly.

The iPhone X is also the only smartphone on the market to offer 256GB of storage, a big advantage for those who really want to work their handset as their true pocket computer.

Be warned, however, that Apple is about to unveil its new, updated iPhone models in a fortnight.

That doesn't mean that the current iPhone X will cease to be a business-friendly handset, but it does mean more powerful models to be introduced (on the upside, it means that this model is likely to see a price cut of anything up to £135).

Watch out: Samsung Note 9 (£922 on pre-order)

In theory, Samsung's latest flagship phone should be a contender for your next business handset. But we can't recommend it yet.

Pending its release, there are more questions than answers about the 6.4-inch Galaxy Note 9.

Regular usage over time will tell. But some early signs are a cause of worry.

Irish mobile operators have turned their noses up at the premium version, believing there's not enough interest in it here: normally, high-end versions of new phones are coveted.

This means that the Note 9 with 8GB of Ram and 512GB of storage - which most would look to as setting a standard - isn't available here.

It may not help that Samsung is still trying to convince business users that the Note range of phones has left those disastrous overheating issues behind.

Business users will doubtless remember that the company had to perform a full recall of one of its models across the world in 2016 when Note smartphones started catching fire due to faulty battery engineering.

Security gadgets

Diskashur 2 secure portable drive (£204)

Every year, thousands of work laptops, phones, USB keys and hard drives go missing or are stolen. Just last week, Eir admitted that one of its stolen laptops was mistakenly unencrypted. So if you do want to store sensitive work data on hard drives or USB keys, is there a secure way to do it?

The 500GB The Diskashur 2 hard drive is about as secure as you can get if you need to back things up to a portable hard drive. Its main feature is that it's pin-protected. It's relatively easy to set up and is protected (to a "military grade" level) using 256-bit technology. It even comes in a couple of different colours.

Using an attached USB 3.0 cable, its only downside is that it's a little pricey.

Seven apps that can help spark workplace success

1. Wetransfer (free up to 2GB)

Occasionally, we need to email or send a file that's over 10 megabytes, 20 megabytes, or whatever your email system allows. Often, this might be a PowerPoint presentation or the like. That's where Wetransfer comes in. It lets you upload a humongous file (up to 2GB) and alerts an email recipient that they can download it, free. It's a really useful alternative to fumbling with USB keys.

2. Slack (free with paid premium versions)

If you work within teams, Slack is a very useful alternative to email. It incorporates much of the immediacy of messaging with the structure of semi-formal communications. It's especially useful when working on projects. It's no wonder so many people at work now use it.

3. Scanner Pro (£3.99, iPhone only)

This is a combination scanner and photo-to-text translator. It turns your camera into a scanner by capturing a high-resolution image that can then be mailed, merged or tinkered with in a range of other ways as a PDF document. It can then translate any text in the photo into editable text.

4. GoToMeeting (free with paid premium versions)

This is free to join a meeting, but you have to be a paying subscriber to set one up. It's excellent for sharing and reviewing documents as you conference, though. You can upload all sorts of files and look at them together as you talk and collaborate online.

5. Evernote (free)

Evernote is still useful, partially because it works right across almost every type of device, meaning that you can access all of your notes, memos and documents (from years back, too) on any gadget you like. It also allows the adding of voice notes and images.

6. Expensify (free with paid premium versions)

Receipts and expenses are the bane of the business person. This is a very easy-to-use, well laid out app to log bills, credits, receipts, mileage and other common expenses. It gives you extra functionality, such as being able to import expenses from credit card or bank accounts.

7. Microsoft Word (free but Office 365 subscription needed for full functionality)

Microsoft has long upped its game in terms of improving apps for iOS and Android. Word is actually really good, with lots of features and flexibility. As you'd expect, it works well as a cloud-synced service once you have an Office 365 subscription.

Tools for collaboration

1. Microsoft Surface Hub (£6,976)

Microsoft's take on a work collaboration gadget is a giant, wall-mounted touchscreen. The vastly simplified version is an advanced digital whiteboard where people can doodle, import (Microsoft) app files and communicate with others via Skype and Office software.

It comes in two sizes: a 55-inch and 84-inch model.

The bigger version costs almost three times as much but is available with a 4K screen (the smaller one is limited to 'full HD', or 1080p).

Watch out for deals on this piece of office tech over the coming months as Microsoft recently announced its Surface Hub 2.

2. Google Jamboard (£5,210)

Google is beavering away at its own hardware products (Chrome laptops, Home speakers, Pixel phones and a lot of other devices in between).

Its productivity division is no different. The 55-inch Jamboard is a really easy-to-use 4K digital whiteboard that is designed to work efficiently with Google's G Suite of apps.

Its main advantage over rival touchscreen whiteboards is that it's beginner-friendly: if you know how to use a tablet or phone, you'll generally find it easy to use this.

And because it defaults to the cloud, it's very easy to pick up where you left off. Its only disadvantage is that Google's enterprise hardware business isn't as well supported in Ireland as Microsoft's.

Can an iPad Pro replace a laptop?

One question some business users ask is: can a 'pro' tablet replace my laptop? On one hand, the appeal is obvious - a lighter, slimmer device that can fit in any bag and can be charged using a normal phone charger. On the other hand, can a 'pro' tablet really replicate the normal daily tasks as efficiently on what used to be considered a super-sized phone? Can one type properly? How does one mitigate the loss of a cursor and different windows? Apple's most recent iPad Pro versions have gone a long way to bridging the gap with a lot of software and interface changes.

You can now drag and drop files from one location to another, a step change for a tablet. Apple's recently-introduced Files app also lets you change the way you set up your workflow. You can store and work with documents and images that are stored either locally on the machine or in commonly-used cloud services such as Dropbox, Box or iCloud Drive.

Aside from 'drag and drop' and 'Files', there's a new customisable Dock that provides quick access to frequently-used apps and documents from any screen.

And for those who can't hack a smaller screen, the iPad Pro comes in two sizes: 10.5-inches and 13 inches. Although I still use laptops, I do most of my work (writing, researching, photo-editing, office admin) on an iPad Pro. It's still marginally slower at some tasks, but far quicker at others. And it's much easier to transport around with me. Finally, Microsoft's Office apps work really well on the iPad Pro, a crucial consideration for many business users.

Best business laptops

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (£1,720)

As business-friendly laptops go, Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Yoga is top-of-the-line stuff. From my testing, it has a best-in-class keyboard, effortless power and an amazing (touch) display.

The only thing that's less than superb on it is its battery life, which is only average (at around five or six hours per charge).

From a design perspective, this is a joy to use. Its 14-inch HDR widescreen makes it natural to work on two (or more) windows at the same time.

The matt black finish on the inside of the laptop is gorgeous, while the keyboard is near-perfect - just the right amount of give (or 'travel', as tech geeks call it).

This isn't the lightest or slimmest laptop, but it's pleasingly high end in both categories. It weighs 1.4kg, still very light for a 14-inch machine.

The test version I had was close to top of the range: 16GB of Ram, a Core i7 chip and 512GB of storage. For almost any task the average business person needs to do, this will slice through it.

The display is one of the high points. It rotates right around on its 360-degree hinge to give you an option of either a long tablet or a screen that stands upright. As far as connections go, it has two USB-C (Thunderbolt) ports, either of which can be used to power the device. There are also two regular USB ports and an HDMI port. There's no SD card port, which is a bit of a shame, but there is a 3.5mm headphone port.

HP Elitebook 840 G5 (from £1,105)

HP's new Elitebook 840 G5 is very handsomely engineered. It's thin but sturdy, with its mixture of metal and plastic giving it levity and solidity at the same time.

Its screen is exceptionally bright and sharp. The 14-inch display on my test model (which had a whopping 16GB of Ram and an Intel i7 processor) was a touchscreen version at a 'full HD' (1080p) resolution.

The laptop's battery life is also very respectable, easily lasting me around seven hours of combined internet, word processing and video usage.

In terms of connections, there are a few USB ports, a USB-C (Thunderbolt) port and a 3.5mm headphone port. The keyboard, a crucial element, was also comfortable and efficient to use.

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