gordon gecko cellphoneThe fall of 2010 is shaping up as a wonderful time to buy a smartphone for work — but if you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for, it can also be a particularly confusing time. It used to be a simple matter of picking up the latest BlackBerry. Now business users can safely choose the iPhone or any number of Android devices.

We write about the ins and outs of the mobile industry. While industry moguls splash out hundreds of millions of dollars on innovative companies, the entrepreneurial buyer is thinking about spending hundreds of dollars of their own money. While the long-term prospects of a platform and the company behind it are a factor, you can’t pick a phone just because its maker’s stock price is riding high. It has to work for you. Here are our picks:

The Contenders

iPhone 4
iPhone 4Specifications: 3.5-inch touchscreen, Apple A4 processor (estimated at 1 Ghz), 512MB RAM, 16 GB/32 GB storage options, 5-MP camera with HD video recording, front-facing camera for video conferencing
Platform and carrier: iPhone operating system (iOS), AT&T
Pros: The most polished hardware and software (iOS) among this new breed of touchscreen smartphones. More apps, accessories, integration with other devices, than competitors. Retina display offers sharp text and images.
Cons: Apple’s notoriously closed app ecosystem (though that’s getting better), married to AT&T’s notoriously flaky network.

BlackBerry TorchBlackBerry Torch 9800
Specifications: 3.2-inch touchscreen, slide-out hardware keyboard, 624 Mhz processor, 512 MB RAM, 4 GB onboard storage, 4-GB memory card included (expandable to 32 GB)
Platform and carrier: BlackBerry 6 OS, AT&T
Pros: The best (and only) combination of a BlackBerry keyboard and modern touchscreen. First device with BlackBerry 6 OS. The fastest BlackBerry hardware out right now.
Cons: Still technically slower than competition, BlackBerry 6 isn’t very competitive, married to AT&T’s network

Droid XDroid X
Specifications: 4.3-inch touchscreen, 1 Ghz Snapdragon processor, 8-MP camera with HD video recording,
Platform and carrier: Android 2.2, Verizon
Pros: Giant screen, 3G hotspot capabilities to connect your laptop, powerful hardware
Cons: Size may be unwieldy for some, Android app marketplace is still lackluster

Droid 2
Specifications: 3.7-inch touchscreen, slide-out hardware keyboard, 1GHz processor, 5MP camera
Platform and carrier: Android 2.2, Verizon
Pros: One of the few Android options with a keyboard, 3G hotspot capabilities
Cons: Android marketplace is still lackluster

Droid Incredible
Specifications: 3.7-inch touchscreen, 1-Ghz processor, 8-MP camera
Platform and carrier: Android 2.2, Verizon
Pros: 3G hotspot capabilities, less of a monster than the Droid X
Cons: Again, Android app marketplace

Hardware

When it comes down to hardware, the clear loser in this comparison is RIM’s BlackBerry Torch 9800. While it’s fast enough for RIM’s software, the Torch’s slow processor prevents it from doing as much as the competition — particularly when it comes to creating and consuming media. Yet BlackBerry addicts may find it the only usable device on its list thanks to its physical keyboard.

The Droid X is an impressive-looking device, and it’s the only Android phone among this list with HD video recording, but its sheer size may be too imposing for some. A good compromise is the Droid 2 — though if you have no plans to use its hardware keyboard, you’re probably better off with the Droid Incredible. Ultimately, all of the Android devices feature very good hardware, and their variety allows users to pick one to fit their needs. What’s most impressive is how much better the Android devices are than their predecessors from just a year ago.

While the Android devices have all made a good effort, business users may find more to like from Apple’s iPhone 4. It’s far more polished than the competition, and the iPhone 4 also offers a front-facing video camera for FaceTime video conferencing, which lets users easily take virtual meetings. It’s currently limited to other iPhone 4 and new iPod Touch users, but Apple is expected to open up FaceTime to Macs and PCs. There’s also a good chance that we’ll see third-party services like Skype taking advantage of the iPhone 4’s video conferencing camera as well.

Winner: iPhone 4

Software

Again, BlackBerry addicts may find themselves unable to avoid BlackBerry 6 OS’s siren call. For everyone else, there’s little reason to jump on RIM’s platform when Apple’s iOS is by far the most polished mobile platform available, and Google is quickly improving Android.

Despite its progress, Android still fails to compete with the iPhone when it comes to overall feel. Android is more prone to crashing, and it’s easy to come across aspects of the OS that feel archaic. Android’s immaturity is most evident in its lackluster mobile app marketplace, Android Market — which is full of low-quality apps and doesn’t offer as many choices as Apple’s App Store. Apple has been criticized for the way it runs its App Store, but it’s slowly relaxing restrictions on app developers, and at the moment it has the best mobile app selection by far.

Winner: iPhone 4

Network

There’s little that needs to be said when it comes to US cellular networks. AT&T is notorious for slow and spotty service in major cities, particularly with the iPhone. Verizon, on the other hand, has a much larger 3G presence and a more reliable network overall. A recent survey conducted by Credit Suisse showed that 23 percent of iPhone users would switch to Verizon if they had the chance — a figure that isn’t too surprising given my own personal frustrations with AT&T, and reports from countless other subscribers.

Winners: Droid X, Droid 2, Droid Incredible

IT Readiness

As I mentioned above, IT departments are slowly coming to grips with employees using iPhones and Android phones. But given that BlackBerry devices have been around for a better part of the last decade, IT departments are generally better prepared to handle those devices. Many organizations have been using RIM’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) solution to let employees synchronize their e-mail, calendars, and contacts for some time — making the BlackBerry Torch 9800 the most IT friendly device among this group.

The Torch also wins out when it comes to security. IT departments are already familiar with threats to RIM devices, and it’s particularly helpful that IT folks can maintain their own BES servers. But it’s another story entirely for the iPhone and Android. Apple has done a decent job of maintaining iPhone security, but Android’s open nature could easily lead some hapless employee to install malicious software on their device. Android is more of an open threat, and it will require more work by IT departments to maintain network security.

Winner: BlackBerry Torch 9800

The Verdict

Just a few years ago, a BlackBerry would have been the no-brainer choice for business users — with its great email support and BlackBerry Messenger service. Now, things aren’t so simple. The incredible popularity of the iPhone is forcing many IT departments to accommodate the devices on corporate networks, and it’s long been a status symbol for many young entrepreneurs. Technically inclined users are beginning to look more closely at Android, particularly since great devices like the above are readily available.

With the above criteria, the single best choice for business users at the moment would appear to be the iPhone 4 — especially if you don’t have to worry about rigid IT departments. But as an iPhone user living in New York, I’m also well aware of the drawbacks of AT&T’s network in big cities. My recommendation: See how other iPhone users in your area are faring, and adjust your expectations accordingly.

If cellular reception is your primary concern, then you’d be better off with the Droid X, Droid 2, or Droid Incredible on Verizon. (Though if rumors of a Verizon iPhone actually come true next year, then the iPhone 4 will truly be the perfect business smartphone.) Alternatively, there are some great Android devices on other networks like Samsung’s Galaxy S lineup.

Finally, if you’re stuck in a BlackBerry-only organization, your only choice is the Torch 9800. Even though it can’t quite compete with other modern smartphones, it’s still the best BlackBerry on the market right now.