The 5 best smartphones for business in 2019

With flagship phones topping $1,000, IT departments need more affordable options that deliver quality, speed and security. Here are the best midrange smartphones for enterprise deployment today.

Computerworld > 5 Best Smartphones for Enterprise 2019 [cover]
IDG / Google / Samsung / BlackBerry / OnePlus / Apple

Top midrange phones for the enterprise

We have this discussion all the time at Computerworld: what makes a smartphone “enterprise-worthy”? Is it raw power? Security features? Manageability? Price? As with any long-running discussion, there’s no single right answer. (That’s why it’s long-running.)

But lately, there’s been a split in the smartphone market, with flagship phones crashing through the $1,000 barrier while midrange phones offer nearly as much while being far kinder to a business’s bottom line. And with the market on the cusp of 5G, it makes less sense than ever to be paying top dollar for flagship phones that can’t run it.

So we set ourselves a project: could we find five up-to-date smartphones that cost more or less half what a flagship phone would run, but still have enterprise-class performance and features? Turns out, it wasn’t all that hard. This is what we found.

Computerworld > 5 Best Smartphones for Enterprise 2019 > Google Pixel 3a
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Google Pixel 3a

At $400, the Pixel 3a is Google’s mid-priced Android smartphone, half the price of the Pixel 3. So what do you lose with the cheaper option? The Pixel 3a’s 5.6-in. OLED screen is slightly larger but less vivid than its more expensive sibling’s. It uses a much less powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor and doesn’t offer wireless charging. The construction is plastic instead of aluminum, and the Pixel 3a is not rated as being water-resistant, which may be a deal breaker for some. Yet the 3a’s 3000mAh battery is a little larger, and the terrific camera is the same.

Google promises three years of Android updates — important for security and performance and at least one more year of updates than most vendors provide. Also, Google’s updates have historically come faster than any other vendor’s.

Computerworld > 5 Best Smartphones for Enterprise 2019 > Samsung Galaxy S9
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Samsung Galaxy S9

Most of the phones in this roundup are the latest models, just to keep a reasonably level playing field. But the enterprise-friendly features of Samsung’s Galaxy line made us bend our self-imposed rules. The Galaxy S9 has the specs of a 2018 flagship, including Snapdragon 845 chipset, Android 8 (Oreo), and a 5.8-in. Super AMOLED screen that is vivid and dense with pixels. The camera, though excellent, is a step behind those found on the Pixel 3 and Samsung’s own current Galaxy S10.

But the Galaxy S9 has the enterprise-specific features we’ve become accustomed to from Samsung. Knox security lets you wall off a section of the phone’s memory behind a separate password. And a Dex attachment lets you use your phone as an Android desktop by hooking up a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. At the S9’s current street price of $400, living a year in the past is actually kind of attractive.

Computerworld > 5 Best Smartphones for Enterprise 2019 > BlackBerry KEY2 LE
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BlackBerry KEY2 LE

Nothing, but nothing, says “enterprise” like BlackBerry's KEY2 line. The machines are optimized to be text processing monsters — the last refuge of lovers of hard keyboards.

The BlackBerry KEY2 LE is a less powerful version of the company's flagship KEY2 with an equally great keyboard. It runs Android 8.1 (Oreo) on a Snapdragon 636 chipset and packs a 3000mAh battery. The screen, an LCD that’s a mere 4.5 in. diagonal, is nothing to brag about. The 13MP + 5MP dual camera is likewise nothing to write home about; you won’t see a lot of Instagram shots taken on a BlackBerry (which may say as much about user demographics as it does camera quality).

But there’s a reason that the Masters of the Universe carry BlackBerries. The phones are secure enough for governments and banks. They are solid, manageable, no-nonsense devices designed for writing and reading, and they are brilliant at that. They’re not waterproof (a big drawback of the hard keyboard) and there’s no wireless charging. But for $450, it might be all the phone your business users really need.

Computerworld > 5 Best Smartphones for Enterprise 2019 > OnePlus 6T
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OnePlus 6T

OnePlus owners may be more enthusiastic about their phones than even iPhone owners, and with good reason. The company makes top-notch phones at not-quite-premium prices. The current flagship, the OnePlus 7 Pro, is a little pricy for this roundup. But the six-month-old 6T fits perfectly.

The $550 OnePlus 6T is an elegant piece of glass. Its 6.4-in. AMOLED screen is large for this class of phone, and the Snapdragon 845 chipset is up to the challenge of driving it. OnePlus uses its own OxygenOS on top of Android 9 (Pie), and OnePlus is faithful about updates. The 6T has a big 3700mAh fast-charging battery.

The OnePlus 6T costs a little more than most phones in this roundup, but it's a lot of phone for the money.

Computerworld > 5 Best Smartphones for Enterprise 2019 > Apple iPhone XR
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Apple iPhone XR

You’ll have noticed that the phones in this roundup have clustered in the $400 to $550 range. The iPhone XR starts at $750, which is more. There’s a discussion to had about whether it’s worth the extra cost to have the Apple UX and ecosystem, including the privacy and security benefits of iOS and the App Store. That’s a conversation to be had between you and your CFO. We won’t judge.

The thing is, if your enterprise is built around or allows Apple devices, the iPhone XR is where you can save at least a little bit of money. The screen is bigger than that of the flagship iPhone XS (6.1 in. to 5.8 in.), though it saves money by using lower-resolution LCD instead of OLED. It’s water resistant, runs on the most recent A12 Bionic chip, and contains a fast-charging 2942mAh battery. If you want a “budget” iPhone, this is the best you’re going to do.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.