The best tools to keep your small business connected


Whether you're launching an advertising agency, a real estate office or a lawn-mowing service, you'll need to stay in contact with your customers - possibly around the clock - and there are myriad tablets and mobile phones to help you.

The good news is that the recent budget has expanded the FBT (fringe benefits tax) exemption for work-related portable electronic devices and increased the threshold for immediate tax deductions to $20,000.

Tablets for your business

small business

Tablets are a popular alternative to laptops today for many small business owners. Screen size is the most important feature, says Joseph Hanlon, the editor of comparison website WhistleOut.

"You can save a couple of hundred dollars buying a tablet with a smaller screen but you'll need to decide if this suits your purposes."

Internet access is another issue.

"A 4G SIM card slot will add about $100 to the sticker price of a tablet," says Hanlon.

"Plus you'll need a data plan for the SIM card you slip inside the slot." WhistleOut nominates the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, iPad Mini 3 and Sony Xperia Z3 as the most suitable tablets for small businesses on the move.

"The Surface Pro?3 is a great option for a new business owner," says Hanlon. "While most tablets run on low-power components, the Surface Pro?3 is built with the same parts as a normal laptop but has the convenience of a tablet."

The iPad Mini 3 won't replace a laptop but it is still impressively lightweight. It's possible to save money by going with the standard Mini version but, if you need a larger display, it might be worth splashing out an extra $150 for an iPad Air.

The Sony Xperia Z3 is a lightweight, thin Android device that feels like an iPad. It also has an excellent display and is water resistant, which is great for those who work outdoors, including builders, plumbers, farmers and fitness instructors.

Phones for your business

We all love playing with the latest gadgets but Hanlon says they're not necessary and you can save money by buying earlier versions of smartphones or Android devices.

"Rather than buying a new Galaxy S6, consider the older Galaxy S5 or Galaxy S4," says Hanlon.

"You can save a lot of money and you probably won't notice the difference when you use these phones from day to day."

Hanlon says that it's something of a furphy that a Samsung phone won't sync with a Dell computer or an Apple tablet.

"Matching your ecosystems has some advantages but it's not essential," he says.

"Most important business apps, such as Dropbox, will work seamlessly across all devices."

WhistleOut likes the Apple iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S6 and Nokia Lumia 930 for small business start-ups. Apple's smartphone is still the go-to device for millions of Australians, with good reason, says Hanlon.

"It is easy to use and tremendously reliable. Pair it with an iPad and you only pay once for the apps."

The Samsung Galaxy S6 is the South Korean manufacturer's best phone so far, Hanlon says.

"Its glass-and-metal design looks fantastic and it is exactly the sort of device you want to pull out during business meetings."

The Galaxy S6 offers great performance and a best-in-class camera. If you work outside our capital cities, the Galaxy S6 comes with a Telstra's "blue tick", which indicates it is suitable for use in rural areas.

WhistleOut says the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, with its bigger screen, is also worth a look.

The Nokia Lumia is another standout. It comes with the very best hardware, and with a price tag of $620 is much cheaper than the more popular phones, Hanlon says.


Anthony O'Brien is a small business and personal finance writer with 20-plus years' experience in the communication industry.
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