Great communication capability when traveling is essential for the business traveler. As a “Tech” consultant, travel writer and photographer, voice and data communication is critical to maintain my connections to business contacts and family.

I use a smartphone (cellphone/PDA) daily, at home and when traveling.

I was an early adopter of cellphone technology. My first cellphone was a “transportable” (bag phone). The phone’s battery alone weighed several pounds. I’ve also used PDAs (Portable Digital Assistants) since I first purchased a Palm Pilot in 1997, and threw away my contact and appointment calendar books permanently.

Until last month, I had been using a Palm Treo 680. Its top Internet speed was Edge (2G). By today’s standards, its processor and Internet speed were slow. In particular, I’d dropped mine a few times and it’s battery cover was held on with tape. At times it refused to sync with my computer.

It was time for a replacement.

As a frequent business and leisure traveler I found there was a plethora of possible replacements, so I devised a checklist to compare them, which you might find useful when you’re ready for a new smartphone.

• The phone portion of the smartphone had to work well, have quality sound, pull in weak signals, and have a speakerphone which was actually useful (ie. we could hear and be heard in a car on the interstate).

• It should have a fast, stable operating system, and enough battery power to last more than a day, with normal use.

• It should be Bluetooth capable, and be compatible with most of today’s bluetooth headsets, and enabled car hands’ free systems.

• The screen should be bright, with high resolution, and reasonably large to permit web, messaging, email and other uses to be productive.

• The keyboard should have sufficiently sized keys so typing emails and text messages wouldn’t be tedious.

• As information in business persons’ contact lists, calendars, and notes often contain private and confidential information, the smartphone had to be able to sync directly with a computer by wire, or Bluetooth, not via files stored on the Internet, for backup and direct computer use.

• While on a phone call, there must be access minimally to the smartphone’s calendar, contacts, and notes.

• The smartphone should have both 3G and WIFI cabability, to connect to the Internet, and the office LAN, to obtain and share data, and if possible, to reduce international data usage charges, a setting for WIFI preference over 3G, when both exist.

• There should be readily available business and finance applications which could be run on the smartphone including: time and billing, package tracking, unit conversions, dictionary, etc.

In addition, as a travel tool:

• The smartphone should be suitable for international travel, minimally to Europe, the Middle East, and Central and South America, the locations outside the country to which I travel with at least some regularity, which means to me it should preferably use the GSM standard.

• It should have GPS capability, coupled with an excellent map utility, with availability for other GPS aware applications as well.

• There should be readily available travel applications which could be run on the smartphone including: destination and tour guides, subway, airport and train maps, flight status, currency conversion, etc.

• It should have the ability to run Skype to reduce international phone costs.

• It should have at least a 3MP digital camera so one can take documentation photos of prior damage to one’s rental car, etc.

Armed with my list, I scoured the Internet for devices. Three devices appeared to have real potential; Blackberry’s Bold, Palm’s Pre, and Apple’s iPhone 3GS.

The BlackBerry Bold has a bright, high resolution display and it’s very fast. It has 3G, good productivity tools (not very good travel tools), WIFI, GPS and Bluetooth. It’s email capability is great, as is its keyboard, but it’s on the bulky side, and its web browser isn’t as good as my old Treo.

The PalmPre is fast, with a small but brilliant display. It’s only available from Sprint (CDMA not GSM), you can’t sync directly to your computer by wire, only wireless via the Internet, it’s keyboard is tiny (I had a very hard time not hitting multiple characters), and it’s battery capacity is a problem.

The iPhone is fast, with a large high resolution display. It has 3G, WIFI, GPS, Bluetooth, excellent Internet capablity, and can sync by wire to a computer. It’s screen based keyboard works well. It’s GSM based.

I chose the Apple iPhone 3GS 32GB smartphone. Yes I’ve heard some negatives about it, but its capability comes closest to meeting my criteria than any other smartphone. In next week’s column, I’ll discuss my iPhone 3GS experience and how I’m doing with it.