Choosing a mobile device for your field service organisation [Part 1] - Smartphone, tablet or phablet?


Whether your organisation is making its first foray into mobile technology or looking to replace existing devices, choosing which hardware to purchase is an important decision. After all, the devices you buy are likely to be relied on every day by your field staff to do their jobs effectively.

Smartphone, tablet or phablet?

Firstly, it’s important to note than when we talk of mobile it doesn’t refer only to mobile phones, but tablets too (and phablets – read on for more info on them). So the first decision you’ll need to make is on the type of device you need.

From a functionality viewpoint, smartphones and tablets are very similar.  Of course, one glaring difference is that smartphones can be used for traditional (PSTN) phone calls whereas tablets can generally only be used for VoIP calls (there are some exceptions).

The other main difference between the two is screen size.  Tablets have a lot more screen real estate and therefore engineers may find it easier to view and input job details. At the same time, smartphones offer the portability factor.

Perhaps then, a hybrid device would be your best bet – something in between a phone and a tablet.  Fortunately, such devices do exist and they’re commonly known as phablets.  The Samsung Galaxy Note is perhaps one of the best-known of these (although it wasn’t the first).

Larger than smartphones but smaller than tablets, phablets offer all the features of a phone but have larger screens.  Therefore, they may well present the perfect choice for field service organisations.  However, if you are looking to buy them then it is worth noting that the line between smartphones and phablets is somewhat blurred, so you may find that the term ‘phablet’ is not always used.  In this case, just look at the screen size – those sized 5” or larger generally fall in the phablet category.

Should you go rugged?

Depending on the type of service you provide, you may need rugged devices.  In brief, they are devices that can function in harsh or extreme environments.  They’ve been a staple in the field service industry for years now, and continue to evolve as mobile technology improves.

There are various levels of ‘ruggedness’ and three common specifications are:

  • Ingress Protection (IP)
  • Military Standard 810

An IP rating consists of two numbers; the first defines protection against foreign bodies (such as dust) and the second defines protection against moisture. The highest level is IP68, which is defined as dust tight and protected against long, durable periods of immersion in water and under pressure.  For many, a rating of IP67 will suffice – this means it is fully dustproof and immersible in water up to 1m, for short periods of time.  The Samsung Galaxy S5, by the way, has an IP67 rating. In case you were wondering, the IP rating of the iPhone 5S has not been made public but it certainly isn’t IP67 (as any iPhone user who has dropped their phone in water will attest to). You can see a list of the IP specifications here.

The Military Standard 810, or MIL-STD-810, is a standard set by the US Department of Defense. Although comprehensive, the standard and testing involved are somewhat open to interpretation for commercial products.  As a result, if you looking to purchase a device that meets MIL-STD-810 specifications, you should ask for more detail about how the testing was undertaken before buying.

That concludes the first part of our look at choosing the right mobile device for the job in field service.

While I have your attention, have you considered what a mobile field service solution could do for you? Oneserve offers a complete field service management solution with complete field mobility, allowing you to bring together back-office staff and your field staff.  Request a demo today to find out what Oneserve can do for you.