last updated: 6 September 2018 (approximate reading time: 6 minutes; 1183 words)
When you’re away from home or the office, it’s great to leave the computer behind. But what if you want, or need, to do the computer thing when you’re not in familiar surroundings? The most obvious answer is to drag a laptop along.
I have a preferable option…
Best Mobile Computer…
The best mobile computer is the computer you’re already carrying. And we nearly all carry computers with us—we call them phones.
A mobile phone may not be ideal device for typing, but it’s a pretty good tool for many tasks. And it’s already in your pocket, so why not use it a bit more if you need a computing device when you’re on the go.
It’s what I use, but the phone does need a bit of help to be really useful.
Phone screens are not great for typing anything more than the shortest of notes, but that problem can be easily remedied: use a separate keyboard.
If you head over to Amazon and search for “foldable bluetooth keyboard” you’ll find many, many choices. Most will be “no name” brands and typically will cost something in the region of £17 to £25 ($20 to $30).
For this sort of price, you’re unlikely to find something that you’ll want to use all day everyday. However, you will find a keyboard that is quite acceptable to type on.
I suggest a foldable keyboard because when opened you’ll have something that is about the size of a regular keyboard, but since it folds, it will be smaller to carry. These keyboard have keys that are similar to those you find on a laptop—proper keys where each keys is separate and will move when you press it.
There are more images of my ultra-mobile setup later in this piece.
Taking a Stand
The second problem with this form of mobile computing is that phones don’t stand up. Again, head over to Amazon and look for a cellphone stand. You should be able to pick up something plastic for around £1/$1.
You can pay more if you want, but with greater expense, you tend to find greater size and greater weight. However, larger stands can also give you more control over the angle that the phone is held at.
Of course, you don’t need a stand. You can always lie your phone flat or prop it up with whatever is to hand.
One of the key advantages to this approach is weight—or rather lack of weight.
Let me illustrate the gains with my current setup (as shown in the photo above). Your hardware will differ from mine, but when I pull out the scales, this is what they tell me:
- phone—168 grams
- keyboard—176 grams
- stand—20 grams
- laptop—1533 grams
If I travel with a phone, keyboard, and stand then I’m carrying 364 grams. However, with a laptop I still need to carry a phone so the total weight carried is 1,701 grams (168 grams + 1,533 grams). I’m ignoring chargers in both cases.
In other words, by using a phone rather than a laptop, I can cut the weight I need to carry by nearly 80%.
And so, for under $30, I can make a phone into a practical mobile computer, and cut the weight of electronics that I need to lug around.
I am an author—my world is all about creating text—so this approach works for me. I wouldn’t want to get into editing a full length novel—in particular, I wouldn’t want to be dragging sections of text around and deleting large chunks—but as tool for writing, this is perfect. Equally, I don’t think this setup would be practical for certain other computer-intensive tasks such as audio, image, or video editing. But for my uses, it’s great.
As an aside, of course this approach is not the only option. You could, for instance, use voice dictation instead of a lightweight keyboard. I prefer a keyboard, so this works for me. If voice works for you, then your phone may be enough.
When it comes to the writing application with this setup, my main choice is iA Writer.
iA Writer is a straightforward text editor which does a really good job of just getting out of the way and letting me work. It also connects with Google Drive so all of my files are automatically—and more importantly, immediately—copied up to the cloud. By using Google Drive:
- My files are available on my phone and my desktop, simultaneously and automatically—I don’t need to remember to copy them from one to the other.
- I can lose or break my phone without a problem—my files are safely stored.
On my desktop, my writing app of choice is Word—to my mind, it is, by a long way, the best application for long-form documents. There is a phone equivalent which I do use, however, I find iA Writer to be a more pleasant experience on the smaller screen, so that’s what I go with. That said, I have no problem using Word if that’s the tool I need to use (for instance, when I’m editing a document that’s already in Word).
Isn’t a Laptop Better?
Undeniably, a laptop is a better “computing device”. It also offers other physical features:
- a bigger screen
- a friction hinge so the keyboard and screen stay at the right angle (this, for instance, means that you can balance a laptop on your lap)
- a bigger battery so the device can be used for much longer
A laptop probably also has more computing grunt which—in combination with the larger screen and the ability to easily connect a mouse—makes it easier to perform certain tasks. For instance, anything beyond rudimentary video or photo editing is nearly impossible to achieve on a phone.
However, there are significant downsides to a laptop. Specifically:
- the weight
- the size
- (often, but not always) the need to carry a dedicated charger
And also, when travelling, a laptop is just something else that’s easy to steal.
Certainly a laptop is the obvious mobile computing device, but given the choice, I much prefer my phone and a keyboard.
In summary, for me, there a significant advantages to this lightweight approach.
- I’m using what I already carry.
- It’s cheap. The keyboard and stand are inexpensive to acquire, and if I break or lose either, then they’re cheap and easy to replace.
- Its lightweight. The additional weight above what I would already be carrying is (roughly) equivalent to carrying a second phone.
- The three pieces are small in size and being separate items I can put them into different pockets.
- Since the screen and keyboard are separate, I can position the screen in an easily viewable location.
- I can take this combination to more places—not just where I’d normally take a laptop. Since there’s no weight/space premium, I can always have a keyboard and stand with me.
- Since the keyboard and stand are so cheap, I can get several. If I wanted, I could then leave one in the car, one in a case, another in a backpack, and so on.