The laptops, tablets, and other gear that keeps me mobile

Summary:I own and use many devices on different platforms, and I regularly get asked what I am currently using. Here’s a snapshot of my current gear and what is the best of the lot.

The gear
The gear Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

Most people have a single laptop, maybe a tablet, and of course a smartphone. I’m not most people, as my work and my addiction to tech leads to my owning more gadgets than you'll find on some displays in Best Buy.

My collection of gadgets and my mobile lifestyle leads to frequent questions about my favorites. Those are hard questions to answer, as the truth is I like them all. After careful thought, these are my top gadgets and why that is so.

Laptop

There are four laptops in my collection running three different platforms. The Asus Transformer Book T100 is a Windows laptop/ hybrid. While a tablet with a strap-on keyboard, it gets used mostly as a laptop so that’s how I classify it.

When I head out each day I often grab one of the laptops as any of them will do what I need. I also carry one of the tablets for the 4G.

Next is the Acer C720 Chromebook with Chrome OS inside. It was the cheapest of all my laptops, yet is fully capable and can do everything I need.

The last two laptops in my stable are both from Apple. First came the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display followed by the 11-inch MacBook Air. They are both very thin, light, and very mobile.

The MacBook Pro has become my desktop replacement and it never leaves my home office. The last time I took it out of the office was just before I bought the MacBook Air.

The Air has become my main mobile laptop as it is so good in every area. It has a battery that lasts about as long as any of my laptops, and it is the lightest one for carrying around all day. I especially like using the MacBook Air with the iPad Air in a two-monitor configuration . That’s like having a big desktop system with me no matter where I work.

If I had to get rid of all my laptops but one, I’d keep the MacBook Air. The only thing I wish it has is a Retina Display, and if Apple upgrades the Air with the high-res display I will sell both my MacBooks to get one. I’d likely stick with the 11-inch model, although I’d look at the 13-inch Air.

Tablet

Working mobile
Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

My situation with tablets is no better than it is with laptops as I own four of them. These cover three different platforms. First up is the Asus Transformer Book T100 previously mentioned, with Windows. While I use it most often as a laptop, I do occasionally pop the screen off the keyboard dock and use the slate. It’s a darn good tablet.

The iPad Air is a solid all-purpose tablet that I regularly use with a keyboard for my writing. Keyboard use aside, I estimate it’s used 70 percent of the time without a keyboard. The 1 pound weight and thin casing make it a great gadget for use in the hand.

I own not one Kindle Fire HDX tablet, I own two. The Kindle Fire HDX 7 is the one I grab when heading out the door when I don’t want to carry a bag. It fits easily in my cargo pants pocket and even in the back pocket of my jeans. The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 usually gets used at home for doing tablet things. At least, that’s the case when I’m not using the iPad Air.

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When I head out the door and don’t plan on doing any writing, I sometimes take the Kindle Fire 8.9 in the Poetic keyboard case. This is a decent writing rig for those times when the muse strikes and I want to get something written fast. The keyboard on the Poetic case is removable, so it is comfortable to use no matter the environment.

If I had to get rid of all my tablets but one, I’d keep the iPad Air. It does everything I want a tablet to do, and with a keyboard case it is an outstanding writing system. I write over a thousand words a day, so this is a huge deal to me.

Smartphone

I only have two phones, and they are both old. That’s probably why I don’t like either of them, and plan to replace them both soon.

My feelings about the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 started off well, but as the phone has aged it has started to aggravate me a great deal. The placement of control buttons around the edge of the Note 2 causes me to inadvertently activate some control every time I pick it up. That interrupts what I picked it up to do as I have to exit out of something first. I can’t wait to get rid of this phone.

My backup phone is even older. The iPhone 4S is not a bad phone but it’s very out of date. It’s also too small for the way I use a phone.

Why have two phones? Partially for data network redundancy when I travel, and also to keep tabs on both the Sprint and Verizon networks. I am leaning toward dropping Sprint and just having one phone on Verizon, but I haven’t decided, yet.

Neither one of these is my favorite phone but Verizon is by far my preferred network of the two. Both voice and data coverage is better around town, and usually when I travel. I believe Sprint will not be in my pocket much longer.

Software

I use different apps on the various platforms, but the glue that makes this smorgasbord of gadgetry work for me is Evernote. I do all of my writing in Evernote without exception. This gives me a backup of everything I do, which has saved my bacon more than once when the online editor has taken a tumble.

There is a version of Evernote on every platform so it’s present on every one of the devices I own. This is why I don’t have to make concessions nor change my work routine no matter which laptop or tablet I use for writing.

I just grab one, any one, as I head out the door. This is a big difference from the past when I had to stop and think about what I expected to do that day, and take the gadget most appropriate. Now it doesn’t matter what I take, all of the devices meet my needs.

Mobile broadband (aka 4G LTE)

My work requires online connectivity so I depend on mobile broadband for times when wi-fi isn't a viable option. While many places have wi-fi, often it is so bad that it’s no better than not having any . The result of having such poor public wi-fi is that I usually leave wi-fi turned off and use Verizon 4G LTE for my daily connectivity.

Both of my Kindle Fire HDX tablets and the iPad Air have 4G, which is shared on my Whatever It's Called Now Everything plan with Verizon. I pay $100 per month for 10GB of pooled data, which is too much but I use it a lot and don’t want to take any chances of going over the data cap. It’s a business expense for me, so I’m willing to shell out the bucks.

When using one of the laptops without 4G, I use whichever tablet I bring as a mobile hotspot. Any one of the three tablets can serve as a hotspot for a very long time on a charge so I don’t have to worry about that. This is why I don’t use my Note 2 phone as a hotspot, it drains the battery that already has trouble lasting all day without feeding 4G to my laptop.

What I carry each day

All of the laptops and tablets work well for my mobile writing. When I head out each day I often grab one of the laptops, as any of them will do what I need. When I bring a laptop I also carry one of the tablets for the 4G. I wouldn’t do that if Apple would make 4G LTE an option for the MacBooks.

Some days I don’t carry a laptop, I take the iPad Air or the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 in a keyboard case. I can use either with a keyboard just as well as a laptop, and they are even more portable. The integrated 4G makes them stand-alone solutions for my work.

What I bring on trips, day length or longer, comes down to my mood, not capability. This shows how far mobile gear has evolved, and how capable it is today.

These gadgets are not for everyone, and I'm not suggesting they are. I am not recommending that others should get any one of these devices. I firmly believe that everyone should use what works best for them.

But if you could only use one device…

It’s clear I am not your typical mobile device owner, and that leads to the regular question of which one gadget would I keep if I could only have one? I understand the reasoning behind the question, but I’m not sure I could stand having just one. I love mobile tech so much, and find things about each that I really like.

I guess if I had to choose one of these mobile devices (maybe at gunpoint), I’d go with the MacBook Air. It is the most complete mobile package and can handle everything, all the time. Except for the lack of 4G...

Reviews of gear covered:

Topics: Mobility, 4G, Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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