Friday, November 07, 2008

Living without a laptop for 5 days - not bad at all.

I reckon that its a pretty exciting time to be a geek - due to the rapid advances in battery and radio technology, being attached to a computer or the web no longer requires one to be sitting at a desk. Furthermore, computers themselves are getting smaller, and are now available in form-factors such as smartphones and mp3 players.

The no laptop challenge

With the smartphones and ipods being such capable internet devices, and with the majority of my web surfing needs not extending beyond basic websurfing and downloading the occassional podcast, I thought I'd set myself the challenge of leaving my laptop at home and relying on my smartphone and ipod during a 5 day conference in Adelaide earlier this year. So the first device I decided to bring was my smartphone, since a phone would be a must for safety as well as enabling contact with my work colleagues which were arriving on different flights. The phone also provided a source of 'reliable' internet access (based on the coverage maps of my provider), which I could use anywhere, and more importantly, at any time. The decision for leaving the laptop at home was made even easier by the fact that I didnt have to present anything this time around, so there really wasn't a need for the computing power of a full-sized computer. Sure my smartphone had powerpoint viewing software, and I could simply keep a copy of my talk on a usb stick, but I tend to be a little paranoid about things like presentations as it is without trying to add another variable to the mix. Anyway, in the end I decided to keep my gadget count to two - the smartphone and the ipod touch, both capable and extremely pocketable devices.

So armed with my smartphone (the Windows Mobile 6 based Dopod 838 at the time) and the first gen ipod touch, I headed off to the airport.

First off, I cannot tell you how liberating it is to not have to carry more than one bag into the plane, nor how much quicker it is to go through the baggage check - I think I even chuckled quietly to myself while watching the people around me trying to juggle their multiple bags in order to take out their laptops to place on the conveyor belts for scanning.

Also, this was around the ti,e when the airports had so many different rules on what you could and could not bring on board the plane with you, and I was adamant that I didn't want to have to check in any luggage, especially if my laptop was going to be in it. It turned out later that my worries were unfounded, but it was too late to do anything about it now.

Past the gates, I turned on my phone, and fired off a few work emails and a couple of tweets as I made my way down to the the boarding area, grabbing a slightly overpriced coffee and donut while browsing the news headlines on, the wonders of mobile internet. as I walk past some internet kiosks littered around the airport terminals, and the people hogging access to them, I had another smug chuckle, then had a quick virtual window shop at some online stores. when i got to the terminal, I thought I'd save some of my mobile internet quota for when I actually got to Adelaide and had a quick war-drive for any free wifi...unfortunately there was only a for-pay hotspot provided by the Airport, so it was straight back on the mobile internet. When it came time to board, I just got up and continued surfing until I handed the boarding pass to the nice attendant, put the phone in my pocket and walked the ramp and boarded the plane without skipping a beat. Once my bag was in the overhead locker, I settled down on my seat, fired a couple of sms's, looked at what was happening on my twitter feed, and feeling so smug about the whole thing that I would probably punch myself in the face if I ever saw me. When it was time, I activated flight mode on my phone, and got my headphones ready for when we were in the air, and were allowed to use electronic devices again. This time, the ipod was my source of entertainment , which contained about 3 hours worth of podcasts that I'd downloaded over the air via wifi, thanks to an app called mobilecast (thanks to jailbreaking).

Once I touched down in Adelaide and got to the conference floor, the phone came in handy for the periods when I was feeling bored and a little anti-social, and in the evening, the free google maps app was handy for navigating around an unfamiliar city, using cell-tower triangulation to approximate my location, since my phone did not have gps. I think even I was amazed at how capable the Dopod was at fulfilling all of my computing requirements, including downloading a couple of podcasts over the mobile internet when I settled in at the motel.

at this point I should say that my use of the smartphone as a source of internet access over the ipod touch was less due to usability and interface factors, than it is by the fact that there is absolutely no free wifi to be had where I needed it to be in Adelaide...I probably could have looked a little harder, but because I had already signed-up and am paying for mobile internet, my laziness kicked, and I defaulted to using that full time. A few months later, I came across some software that would allow a windows mobile phone to act as a wifi hotspot, which would effectively allowed me to tether the touch to my phone...unfortunately I did discover this after the fact, and would probably just result in draining both my phone and ipod batteries quicker anyway, but good to know that its out there. Incidentally, I now have the symbian version of that program running on my current smartphone (the E71), and though i rarely use it, it does come in handy for when O need to access sites that dont work on the E71's in built browser, like hotmail for instance.

Anyhoo, for 5 straight days and despite being in a new city, I remained connected to the internet where I want, and when I want, and though I had to put up with starring at the world wide web through a small 2'8 inch screen, there was not a point during the whole time when I was lamenting my decision to forego the laptop. Can I also say that being laptop free allowed me to travel lighter during the conference since I'm too paranoid to leave anything valuable in my hotel room, which left more space in my schwag bag for, well, shwag of course :)

So as an epilogue to this post, I find myself increasingly turning to my smartphone and ipod touch when seeking to access the internet since that little experiment, and I find that my laptop is spending more and more time on my desk, and has been relegated to performing desktop tasks like video encoding, image manipulation and word processing. I probably should note at this point that this blogpost was written entirely from my E71 while lying in bed :), though I did upload it (and performed some minor changes) on a full-sized laptop.
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