Smartphone, tablet, netbook, laptop—what are a writer’s best tools for the road?
Many marketing writers either choose to or have to work on the move, at least often enough to justify buying portable equipment to do the job.
In practice, there are four alternatives: a smartphone, tablet, netbook or laptop. Let me give a quick overview of how I understand them:
Smartphones are quickly becoming ubiquitous in professional circles. Although they are fine for simple tasks like browsing the web, writing the occasional email or tweet, taking notes (typing or taking pictures—most smartphones come with at least a decent camera) or perhaps making an online payment, they are much too small for any more serious work. In practice, you’re limited to using just two fingers for typing: thumbs if you’re holding the device in your hand, forefingers if you’re resting it on a table.
The office applications, lightweight versions of course, that are available do not support much more than basic functions, although you can use cloud applications such as Google Docs or Zoho.
The by far best feature of smartphones is their pocketability (is there such a word?). Considering what they can do, it is amazing that it all fits into a box small and slim enough to fit into your shirt pocket.
Tablets are gaining popularity in the wake of the wildly popular iPad. Other manufacturers are scrambling to grab market share in what is clearly a lucrative business. I can understand the popularity of tablets from a content consumption point of view as the larger screen format improves the browsing experience in comparison with the tiny screens of smartphones.
Content creation is a different story. The on-screen keyboard might be marginally more usable than the screen or slideout keyboards on smartphones, but far from ideal for touch typing. There’s not much difference in CPU performance between the two, though, so in terms of processing power, what a tablet can do, a smartphone can too. As far as office software goes, you’re pretty much limited to the same solutions as with a smartphone. The connectivity of tablets, I understand, is rather non-existent with only a few models having a USB port. Application-wise, again, not much different from smartphones.
One thing I’m curious about but have never had the chance to try in real life is what the glossy screen will look like after you’ve been tapping, pinching, swiping and dragging with your summer-sticky fingers for a full working day, assuming you’re using the machine to that extent.
Netbooks, the next step on the ladder, have more processing power, usually a fair amount of hard disk space and a better keyboard, around 95% of a full one. It is wide enough for touch typing, which is a definite plus if you’re going to do some serious work. Netbooks also run full-fledged operation systems, Linux or Windows, which allows the use of any software that runs under them. Most netbooks have 1.6 GHz processors, which is quite enough for word processing and spreadsheets. With even the entry-level models having at least two USB sockets, moderate expansion is possible.
Netbooks weigh a bit more than tablets, but less than laptops. Where an iPad weighs around 600 g (1.3 lbs), netbooks start a little under 900 g (2 lbs). Laptops usually weigh clearly more than 1 kg (2.2 lbs).
Laptops have been around for such a long time that I won’t go into detail. The lowest price ranges may be a bit weak, being a compromise between performance and price, but the most sophisticated ones easily replace a desktop computer. What is crucial for on-the-road use is the weight, which for some upscale machines can be 2 kg (4.5 lbs). Battery life is a biggish question mark. The cheap ones usually manage to dry up in less than 3 hours while the best ones run for around 6 hours.
To me personally, a smartphone, although I own one, is far too small for work. The definite plus is that you can carry it in your pocket.
Both tablets and netbooks need a case and you will have to carry them separately. Considering that, it seems to me that a netbook might be the better choice because of its performance, even if it weighs more. The difference between 600 g and 900 g isn’t that big.
Laptops sort of fall out of this comparison in practice, because their smaller-scale colleagues can do all the word processing and spreadsheets I suppose most writers will need when travelling.
Now to the point of this post, at last
My faithful 5-year-old laptop will probably die soon, and there’s no way my smartphone, a very old one, too, can take its place. So I’m considering a variety of options:
- Ordinary mobile phone + tablet
The phone for phoning and SMS, the tablet for work and connectivity. When work is equal to writing 90 per cent of the time, I could probably manage using Google Docs or something similar. But when work is writing 90 per cent of the time, can I do it on a tablet? No touch typing, remember?
- Ordinary mobile phone + netbook
As above, but with more processing power, a more familiar operating system, full office suite software, almost OK keyboard and more disk space. Sounds ideal to me. The only question mark: If I don’t happen to have the netbook with me, will an ordinary phone carry me through the day alone?
- Smartphone + tablet
Sounds to me that this option will only produce two devices that ALMOST do what I want. The two primary concerns are the useless keyboard on the tablet and the fact that we’re essentially talking about two identical devices with the exception of the screen size. So, does a better screen justify lugging the thing in a separate case?
- Smartphone + netbook
Obviously the best choice in terms of performance and being able to use the devices independently. But is it a waste of money as the phone can’t be used for “real” work anyway?
From today’s Twitter discussions I know that at least one of my Twitter friends is a copywriter like me and is fascinated by his iPad. I don’t know whether iPad has some secret properties other tablets don’t, but for this discussion I’m lumping it together with the rest of the pack in the same category. Mac enthusiasts please don’t take offence.
If you have gone through the same difficulties in deciding as I have outlined, please reach out. What is your present setup? What were your criteria? How did you arrive at your solution/decision? Reading the above, do you think I’m not understanding something? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Just fire away in the comments (I’m sure it will also help others besides me). Thanks!