Is it time to upgrade your work phone? Tomorrow's launch of the iPhone 6 in Ireland is likely to see many business people asking themselves this question. But while attention is firmly fixed on Apple's bigger handsets, there is a lot more to choose from than simply iDevices. If you're thinking about how Apple's new smartphones compare with the best of the rest out there, here's a guide to what's worth getting and what might safely be ignored.
iPhone 6 Plus
Price: from €700 off-contract
I've been fairly neutral about iPhones over the last two years. But this is the iPhone upgrade many people have been waiting on for a long time. It is, without a doubt, Apple's best business handset to date.
The large screen is striking to anyone who is used to the small iPhone 5 devices or the miniature iPhone 4S phones. But the increase in screen size brings considerable benefits. First off, battery life is noticeably better. Whereas previous iPhones would only reliably get you to 4.30pm, this one gets you past tea-time and into the night. It's also better for things like email, web-browsing and work-related apps. In fact, if you've been using an iPad for work over the past year, there is a good chance that this device can genuinely replace it.
Apple has also been clever in dealing with some of the usability challenges that a large screen brings. For example, the screen -- and overall phone -- is slightly narrower than Samsung's Galaxy Note 4, making it easier to hold and operate, one-handed.
In fact, despite being almost exactly the same weight as Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 (a device I have been partial to due to its screen size and power), the 6 Plus is considerably slimmer at 7mm than the Note 4, which is 9mm in depth. For anyone who carries phones around in their jeans or jacket pockets, every little helps in this regard.
Apple has also added a feature called "reachability" for those with small hands. This allows you to double tap the screen to shift the top part down. It mitigates the extra size somewhat (but only somewhat) for those who find it a problem.
The phone has a Near Field Communications (NFC) chip designed mainly to take advantage of Apple Pay, the company's new digital payments service (which won't be available in Ireland until well into next year).
It also has a lot more power under the hood, thanks to Apple's 64-bit A8 chip. It's a shame that it doesn't have toughened glass to prevent cracks, but that will probably be added in the next update.
It comes with up to 128GB of onboard storage. This may seem odd in an era of cloud computing, but it's probably aimed at those with large banks of photos, music and video. It's also preloaded with iOS 8, which means that it has a host of new features for smart lifestyle and health apps.
There is a caveat: this is the most expensive phones you will have ever bought. The 16GB model starts at €800 off-contract, but few will buy this model because 16GB is simply not enough with iOS8, apps and stuff you're likely to download to it. That makes the 64GB model the most likely candidate, at €900 off-contract. (Or around €65 per month (for two years) plus around €250 upfront when buying as part of an operator upgrade.)
Nevertheless, a brief look at the positives may persuade people thinking of splashing out that it's worth every penny.
See video reviews of both iPhone 6 models on Independent.ie
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Price: from €750 off-contract
For business users, the Galaxy Note series of devices has arguably been top dog for the last three years. Samsung was the one to introduce the 'phablet' (half phone, half tablet) to the mass market and the Note has built up a large, loyal user base (including this reviewer).
Samsung's fourth iteration of the device keeps the screen at around the same 5.7-inch size as the last version but steps up its resolution, to a super '2K'. That gives it a pixel-per-inch score of well over 500, making it the best screen on the market. There aren't too many other major changes. The stylus (or 'pen') can do more things, particularly dragging and dropping items, like a mouse.
There's serious oomph under the hood, with a quadcore processor and a beefy 3GB of Ram. The phone also comes with a basic storage level of 32GB, which is a sweet spot for most users.
In terms of other features, the 16-megapixel camera has added image stabilisation and a better 4-megapixel front-facing 'selfie' camera.
Battery life has always been a strong point for Note models. The Note 2 remains the gold standard with well over a day's heavy use possible. The Note 3 pared it back a little, but still delivered a solid day's usage. The Note 4 is unchanged, meaning you won't run out of juice on the road in mid-afternoon.
Despite all these positive elements, the elephant in the room for the Galaxy Note 4 is Apple's iPhone 6 Plus. By and large, Samsung has had the pitch to itself for those looking for a business-focused 'phablet'. With the advent of Apple's 5.5-inch smartphone, the world has changed utterly. For users, this is unquestionably good news: I would be very surprised if the Note 4 isn't discounted to some degree within months of its launch.
HTC One M8
Price: from €650 off-contract
HTC has had a design edge on most of its rivals for the last 18 months: its flagship phone looks and feels beautiful. Indeed, if Apple made an Android device, it would probably look like this.
The question is: does the five-inch One M8 have anything else that makes it worth getting over Apple's iPhone or one of Samsung's Galaxy phones?
I'm not so sure. HTC used to have the best smartphone operating system around. Now, it has one of the most irritating systems ('Blinkfeed') which it tries to push on you as a default.
It also doesn't really have any aces up its sleeve. It has enough power under the hood to match most rivals, but its battery life is so-so compared to competitors. It's also a relatively heavy phone.
One other feature that HTC excelled at, its camera, has also fallen into also-ran territory because of advances in rival handsets. The wide angle and an 'ultra-pixel' approach that eschews a high megapixel count in favour of better performance in low light are still very good, but now lag, in particular, Sony and Apple.
To be fair, HTC has tidied up a few previous irritants on the One and One Mini devices, such as a cleaner keyboard that doesn't result in as many mistypes as the previous versions.
If you're upgrading from an older phone, the One M8's switch to a nano-sim card from a micro-sim format is mildly annoying. In the unlikely event that you're switching from an iPhone 5, the transition will be seamless.
This is not to take away from the stunning looks of this device. But if aesthetics are not your priority, this isn't the most compelling offering out there.
Sony Xperia Z3
Price: from €670 off-contract
It's been bad news for Sony, lately. The phones they're making aren't selling enough to avoid significant losses. Will they still be making them in two years? If they don't, that would be a shame. The five-inch Xperia Z3 offers just enough alternative features to Samsung (in particular) to be worthy of a serious look.
For a start. it's better looking than most of its rivals. The all-black model, in particular, looks and feels like a designer version of a Nexus 5; glass and metal are much more pleasing to the touch than plastic.
In fact, this reviewer has ended up switching between Sony's last model, the Z2, and Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 as a default device over the last 12 months. This has been down to a combination of screen size (at five inches, the Z series is just about big enough), attractive physical design and camera quality. Indeed, Sony's camera systems have generally bested rivals' devices with their high-end sensors and 21-megapixel lenses. But that's in the past now: with iPhone 6 Plus ending this camera dominance, can the Z3 do enough to keep people interested?
I'm not sure. Aside from incremental changes over the Z2, the phone has centered its appeal on two main pitches, neither of which I think will much attract business users.
One pitch -- its ability to be used as a Playstation 4 controller -- is simply irrelevant. The second feature is its enhanced waterproof status. I can see this being somewhat of interest to outdoors types, but all phones have some degree of water resistance now. So unless you regard a toilet-proof build as a killer feature, it's marginal.
As far as other things go, I'm not much of a fan of Android manufacturers' own software add-ons and Sony doesn't offer anything compelling to neutralise this: features such as 'Walkman' and 'Sony Select' are irrelevant to all but a handful of Irish people buying one of these devices.
In other words, virtually all of the discretionary pitch in choosing an Xperia over a Samsung or HTC relates to hardware (design and camera), not software.
In fairness, the Z3 doesn't slouch in terms of power, with a quadcore processor and 3GB of Ram (there are 16GB and 32GB versions available).
But its much vaunted two-day battery life did not ring true in my time using it. A day's usage was the best I ever managed.
Nokia Lumia 830
Increasingly, Nokia (or 'Microsoft' as it will soon be rebranded) is giving up trying to compete with €700 superphones from Apple, Samsung and the rest. Its alternative is to trim back a few features and cut the price in half. The five-inch Lumia 830 model is a case in point. It is being positioned as Nokia's first "affordable flagship" phone, meaning it costs less than half of what an iPhone 6 or Samsung's Note 4 sells for. It makes the phone an interesting proposition for business users, because much of what Nokia has cut corners on are high-end consumer features.
For example, it has pared back the camera a long way from the heights of its 42-megapixel sensor that adorned previous Lumia models. But is this a crucial business feature? While it retains a quadcore processor, it shaves other power metrics, resulting in 1GB of Ram. Again, while this isn't optimal, it's not enough to severely limit many business users' typical activities.
But it's not just the physical specification corner-cutting that the slashed pricing reflects. Nokia -- and Microsoft -- are tacitly acknowledging that a less complete app experience (which is what Windows Phone offers) cannot come with a price tag that sits on the same plateau as premium app stores, such as those offered for iPhones and Android handsets. Here again, this may be a fair bargain: many ordinary people only really use 10 to 20 apps, which are largely now available for Nokia handsets.
Nokia handsets do have a few original advantages, too. Aside from being generally well built devices, you'll get Windows 8.1 which includes access to Office and OneDrive (which some office software obsessives genuinely use).
I'm not saying that Nokia's Lumia 830 is a better phone than, say, Sony's Xperia Z3. It most certainly isn't. But there comes a point when value is as relevant a metric as pixels-per-inch of processing speed. And at €330, this phone represents excellent value as a business handset when placed in comparison to €600 and €700 rivals.