When Android first arrived on the scene, it was disregarded by the enterprise as a consumer-friendly, hip platform for Linux geeks and 20-somethings who don't use phones for any real work. However, in just a year and a half, Android has transformed from a cool, open-source project to a very real contender in the mobility space.

A variety of events have triggered this change. First, Android garnered significant support from phone manufacturers such as Motorola and HTC, who have shifted their focus from Windows Mobile to Android. Second, platform-agnostic third-party vendors such as Zenprise have made supporting devices other than BlackBerry and Windows Mobile phones a much more realistic prospect. And third, I'd argue that the iPhoneGoogle Nexus One's popularity has made employees more bold (or more picky, depending on your opinion) in requesting phones they really want.

To see how ten of the hottest Android phones stack up, check out this buyer's guide table. Below are some of the highlights for shoppers to consider.

 

Standard Features

Standard features that you can expect on any Android phone include:

  • Camera and video
  • Email (native Gmail support, and Outlook syncing through Exchange ActiveSync)
  • GPS
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
  • Contacts management
  • Touch screen/touch screen keyboard
  • Android market access

Points of Differentiation

Despite all of these phones using the same OS, there are some significant points of differentiation to consider.

Exchange and Outlook support. All Android phones \\[edit: version 1.6 and up\\] have ActiveSync, which allows for push synchronization between your Outlook account and your phone. However, many of these devices don't have native contact and calendar syncing, so if you're going to choose one of the devices that doesn't and you use Outlook, you'll need to download an app to sync them. The leading app for 2-way syncing is CompanionLink, which costs $39.99. Google also offers a free solution called Google Calendar Sync; however, you have to tie your Outlook account to a Gmail account in order for it to work, which will be an issue for some corporate accounts.

Different Android versions. Each of the phones in this list either comes with version 1.5 (or 1.6) or 2.0 (or 2.1). Android 2.0 is a significant upgMotorola Backfliprade from the past version, but the only two Android smartphones that offer 2.0 are the Motorola Droid and the Google Nexus One. One of the most significant new features in 2.0 is contact syncing. See all the new features of Android 2.0 here.

Different carriers. Some individuals strongly prefer one carrier to another, and some organizations have corporate deals with a given carrier. As such, it's important to realize that many Android phones (and smartphones in general) only bundle with a specific carrier. If your carrier of choice is T-Mobile, then many devices are available. If you prefer one of the other three carriers, your options are more limited. The Google Nexus One offers the greatest selection, and is available on T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon.

Physical vs. virtual keyboard. If finger dexterity is your Achilles' thumb, you may prefer a physical keyboard, which would lead you to one of the sliders such as the Motorola Droid or CLIQ.

 

Best by Category

What device you use is a personal decision and will vary by individual, so I'm hesitant to make specific recommendations. Once you do decide which Android device you want (if any), I strongly recommend taking some time to see what users are saying across the web—while much of it might be inane, you should get some very good nuggets concerning the pros and cons from people that use the phone on a daily basis.

With that in mind, here is a quick list of the phone winners in each category (some categories, such as camera, I didn't factor because there are so many draws):

  • Best processor: Google Nexus One
  • Best memory/storage: Motorola Droid
  • Best display size/resolution: Motorola Droid
  • Best price: HTC Droid Eris, Motorola Backflip, and Samsung Moment
  • Best battery life: HTC Hero
  • Best variety in carrier coverage: Google Nexus One
  • Lightest weight: T-Mobile MyTouch 3G

Be sure to check out the comparison table for an in-depth look at how each device stacks up, and let me know your thoughts.