The Gear of ZDNet: How Zack Whittaker goes mobile

The Gear of ZDNet: How Zack Whittaker goes mobile

Summary: My conversations with the ZDNet bloggers about their mobile gear continues as I focus on the Gear of ZDNet. Today ZDNet London Calling blogger Zack Whittaker takes the hot seat.


The bloggers of ZDNet are as technically savvy a group as you will find, and in this installment of The Gear of ZDNet Zack Whittaker shares what mobile gadgets he uses and why they work well in his work covering the tech scene in the UK.

Previous installments:

The Gear of ZDNet: Featuring Christopher Dawson

The Gear of ZDNet: How David Gewirtz stays mobile

Zack is the only criminologist I know, and he covers technology for ZDNet from his base near London. He regularly blogs for ZDNet Between the Lines in addition to his own blog London Calling. Zack has been blogging for ZDNet for a few years, until recently manning the iGeneration blog.

JK: Thanks for speaking to me Zack. How would you describe who you are and what you do to the Mobile News audience?

Until now, I've barely thought about it. I'm a columnist and a writer. That in itself has led to a multitude of various jobs, positions, and platforms that I could talk all day about. We may as well just stick with "writer" for now.

My technical ability is self-taught, and developed since being a young lad. Besides one formal year of computer science at university, which inadvertently forced my hand to swiftly change to a better suited degree of criminology, I am probably the least geekiest out of the ZDNet collective.

JK: What is your current smartphone and why? How do you use it daily, and how is it working out for you?

Holding on for dear life, a BlackBerry Bold 9700. An odd choice for someone who has been more than critical of the BlackBerry maker, Research in Motion. But a series of bad mobile relationships, I settled on the one phone I was least likely to throw against a brick wall in a fit of rage.

Not to say that my BlackBerry does not irritate the living daylights out of me — requiring sometimes twice-daily battery pulls, and regular sluggishness — there is no device that offers a clean, simple interface, a slim style and physical layout, and still enables me to send secure email from my handset.

I'm willing to jump; I make no bones about that. It's just a matter of 'when'.

JK: The way things are going for RIM you better make the move sooner rather than later. Is there a particular phone you are jonesing for?

In a midst of shame, I must admit I am vying for an iPhone. Perhaps my traditionalistic values of 'requiring' a hardware keyboard in a phone is the only thing holding me back.

My problem with mobile devices is that I am a stickler for design, and am stubbornly set in my ways. Should the iPhone 5 have a similar curved feel like the iPhone 3GS, then I'll jump immediately without a moment's hesitation. The iPhone 4 and 4S in my eyes are too thick, difficult to grip, and sharp around the edges. Such minutia can sway my decision away from even the most advanced of phones.

See also: Why I ordered an iPhone 4S

JK: Been there, done that with the iPhone; no shame at all. Do you have a tablet? Which one and why? How do you like it? Does it fit in your work/lifestyle well?

No 'tablets' for me. A 'tablet computer', however: yes.

When the HP TouchSmart tx2 was announced, its core feature was a multi-touch screen that was compatible with Windows 7. Going back a good few years back, it beat all modern tablets to the market. The iPad was still in-development and the consumer world had barely adopted touch technology.

But because it was an exciting new technology, as well as being a fully-fledged laptop, at the time it was a suitable balance. Though chunky and heavy, and the battery life was far from brilliant, I would say that my experience with touch has been an "interesting" one.

I still have it plugged in somewhere, running the Windows Developer Preview. But since 'going Mac', I'm reluctant to go back.

See also: Kindle Fire: Non-techie perspectiveTypical day in the life of the iPad 2

JK: Your tablet computer is what we call a Tablet PC. You may want to unplug it, since going green is the new black. Is there another tablet you have your eyes on?

Frankly, no. I can't say that I have taken to tablets as many of my colleagues have. Since rounding off the iGeneration column, I still maintain that tablets can offer a greater educational experience, and added productivity to students. For me, however, nothing beats an old fashioned keyboard.

While I recognize the in-between of a smartphone and a notebook, or a fully-fledged PC, I still have no need for a tablet in my life. Unlike many of my spend thrifty generational counterparts, I do not buy products that I have no use for. I'm a saver, not a spender.

JK: Practicality, the bane of those of us addicted to gadgets. How has mobile technology impacted your work/life?

Unlike most of my colleagues, I live and work in the UK, near London. Arguably, our mobile infrastructure is not as developed as that in the United States. Most of the UK has 3G coverage, but next-generation technology still has a way to go yet.

4G technology is still developing in the region, and though an exciting prospect to enjoy when it reaches the market, it will take at least two years for the technology to be brought to wider public use.

But for now, my smartphone can act as a 3G 'dongle', and I can access high-speed Internet from nearly everywhere I am.

JK: Your 3G dongle is otherwise known as tethering, something most of us in the U. S. have to pay extra for or risk drawing the wrath of the tethering police. How does the mobile gear you are using today play a significant role in your work?

Because I cover the UK and Europe, and other tidbits of breaking news throughout the world, mobile broadband allows me to keep connected wherever I am, even if I am on the Eurostar, being hurtled towards Brussels at 300 km/h.

I need to be constantly connected, and permanently plugged in to the 'Matrix', so to speak. But because I travel so often to cover the stories that need covering, it's difficult working out of trains, expo's, Parliamentary buildings, and more often than not — coffee shops near to where I am supposed to be, with a stable (yet costly) Wi-Fi connection.

JK: What mobile accessory do you recommend to readers?

Out of all the technological advancements, cool and geeky gadgets, and awesome accessories: a spare smartphone battery is what I would recommend. At least, should one find themselves on the road and travelling a great deal, and using their smartphones to connect to the resources they need, a smartphone can be far more useful than a laptop. And they'll last a great deal longer, too.

JK: Zack, thanks for sharing your thoughts on mobile gear with the Mobile News audience. Your gadgetry seems to work well for you (even the BlackBerry), keeping you fleet of foot while running across the UK for your work.

This wraps up a great conversation with Zack Whittaker in the continuing series, the Gear of ZDNet. Be sure and check out Zack's great work on the ZDNet London Calling and Between the Lines blogs.

Topics: iPad, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

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  • RE: The Gear of ZDNet: How Zack Whittaker goes mobile

    Depending on your UK Cell provider, Tethering rip-off is not unknown in the UK either.<br><br>"Most of the UK has 3G coverage" - Zack, you need to get out of London - 3G coverage in the UK sucks beyond belief, as widely reporting the BBC's recent extensive damning nationwide 3G survey<br><br><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a><br><br>For a tech journo, you seem to have very little actual tech. Overall article ended up being somewhat disappointing.
  • RE: The Gear of ZDNet: How Zack Whittaker goes mobile

    JK: Thanks for speaking to me crystalsoldier. How would you describe who you are????

    While I can???t answer the question ???who am I??? ??? that would involve a long, convoluted and philosophical discussion - I can tell you that I am an academic researcher and work in a reputed and influential thinktank. Much of my work involves assessing information and communication technologies and of their application in certain specific areas.

    JK: What is your current smartphone and why? How do you use it daily, and how is it working out for you?

    I am very late to the smartphone party! I got my first low-grade smartphone in the early months of this year. It is a Samsung Galaxy S5670 or something like that - a model cheaper than the Galaxy Ace. Till then I used to use Nokia???s E72 with the QWERTY keypad, which was OK but frustrating to use and before that a Palm Treo 700 (or was it a 750?), which I loved!

    Currently, my smartphone is used for calls (not many), text messages (again, not many), 3G data connection which keeps me online all the time regardless of my location.

    JK: Is there a particular phone you are jonesing for?

    Yes, and no! And this is connected to my response to the previous question. I would love to have either the latest Samsung Galaxy release. I have seen the phone and it looks beautiful with its large and bright display, which is all that I could admire since I was looking at it in a shop. I also keep reading about the Nexus, the Bionic and the Droid, and they all sound nice. Not available in my neck of the woods though. I have sometimes flirted with the idea of buying an iPhone but have never acted on it. But I have also come to recognize that perhaps getting the latest and greatest phone may not suit my purposes. While I would like a modern smartphone, its primary function would be to keep me connected to the internet while executing its most common functions ??? calls, text messages, and music ??? efficiently. In this sense, the Samsung that I currently have works well (well???it is a bit sluggish!). So, if I do upgrade, which I will in about 12 months or so, it will be to a more modern platform, but would not necessarily be cutting edge!

    JK: Do you have a tablet? Which one and why? How do you like it? Does it fit in your work/lifestyle well?

    Yes, I do have a tablet. It is the Acer Iconia A500 running Honeycomb 3.2. Recently, I have found myself traveling quite a bit. These trips are usually less than 24 hrs in duration, but they do involve flight times involving around 5 hours or so plus the time in cars. My main rig is a svelte ThinkPad X201, which is more than adequate for my computing needs (at work/ home, I have extended it using additional external displays etc.). But I also found that whipping out the laptop to check and write mails, access documents (primarily for reading and reviewing), playing games when bored on long and seemingly interminable flights ??? given that I travel by economy class ??? was becoming increasingly inconvenient. So, I thought about a tablet. Originally I considered the Samsung tab (at that time it was version 1.0), Transformer, the Xoom and the Acer Iconia. I opted for the last because of the full-size USB port. Before the 3.2 update to Honeycomb, I had a 8 GB USB stick formatted to FAT 32 and stuck my work files into it and via that onto my tablet. With the 3.2 update, the tab can now read (though there are hiccups) an NTFS formatted external drive. This works for me because I can carry my entire work-related documentation on the external drive and from which I move files onto and off the tablet. The other options needed docks etc., which I did not want to deal with. For my personal files etc., I use the cloud extensively and in this I am Google-centric for the moment. My work mail, personal mail, personal documents, non-confidential work-related documents and other misc. stuff is all on Google. I use my phone (which can be converted into a mobile wifi hotspot) to tether the tablet to the internet and the 3G connection works well for me in this scenario (which is quite often). It???s so much more convenient to read and work on stuff on the tablet than on the phone!

    JK: Is there another tablet you have your eyes on?

    Well, I like the ThinkPad brand. I have three Thinkpad laptops of which two work ??? the other is very old and lifeless. My experience with these machines has been excellent (and that includes after-sales-service). So, when I learnt that a Thinkpad branded tablet is available or will soon be, I have started lusting for that. I also think that what I would like in a modern tablet is the ability to actually write ??? with a pen of sorts. I believe the Thinkpad tablet offers this ??? at least in its Win 7 version. Not sure about the Android version though. I remain ambivalent about Win 8. I know that I will be on the Windows platform for some time???so there is Win 8 in my future. But whether that means that I will also convert my phone and tablet platforms to Windows remains undecided. If I do convert, that would mean clustering around the MS eco-system which, based on what I have seen thus far (so, for example, Office on the Web or whatever it is called which comes with a Live account), is not as flexible as Google???s services ??? though, Google Docs suck!

    JK: Practicality, the bane of those of us addicted to gadgets. How has mobile technology impacted your work/life?

    To tell you the truth, I did not pay much attention to this aspect of life till very recently, which is perhaps both a reflection of how behind-the-times I have become and a matter of deep regret. One of the additional contributory causes, of course, was the lack of money. But now that I am stable ??? financially ??? or even well-off in some people???s books, I have been able to engage with what I refer to as the ???age of unfolding mobility???.

    I have found myself thinking of my gadgets as being extension of myself. They allow me to extend my reach into places I never dreamed of before. Sometimes, I am still amazed by the fact that I can pull some information onto my tablet/ laptop ??? via my phone ??? off the internet ??? chew on it ??? create stuff ??? modify existing stuff ??? save stuff ??? distribute stuff - regardless of my location (I am fully aware though that connecting to the internet is not possible in some places as easily as in others ??? I face this situation occasionally during my travels). But on the whole, I find this concept fascinating.

    Let???s face it, my personal library has about 5000 books to which I add a few dozen every year. So, I do like paper-centric books. But I also find that increasingly my work-related reading materials are available as e-documents and I have over 500GB of such materials, which I use for reference in my work. To be able to access this ??? or at least a part of it ??? over the so-called ???cloud??? is very very convenient.

    If there is a problem, it is of my own creation. Perhaps I could be more organized in how I set things up. As soon as I get some free time, I will do this because I think it will only make my work easier in the long run.
    JK: 3G dongle is otherwise known as tethering, something most of us in the U. S. have to pay extra for or risk drawing the wrath of the tethering police. How does the mobile gear you are using today play a significant role in your work?

    I think I have answered ??? to a large extent, albeit tangentially ??? your question in my response to your previous question! But, I should add that where I currently live and work, there are no such tethering charges (lucky me, I guess!) and yes, I have also heard that in the US such charges do apply which, I think, is unfortunate. While in my neck of the woods 3G dongles are indeed available and at a cost, I see no benefits yet in using them givne that I can tether my phone with my tablet and laptop at no additional cost. In the future, I can see data connectivity (even for an individual in a private capacity) as being as critical (if not more) than even electricity! That???s when the data connectivity charges will start racking up! I just hope my income increases proportionately too!

    JK: What mobile accessory do you recommend to readers?

    Extra batteries where applicable, of course ??? though I don???t have any! Cases (I do have cases for my laptop and tablet)! USB drives (for a just-in-case situation)!

    JK: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on mobile gear with the Mobile News audience.

    My pleasure! Thank you!
  • RE: The Gear of ZDNet: How Zack Whittaker goes mobile

    With ref to my earlier post, I should have added the following:

    DISCLAIMER: Mr. Kendrick DID NOT send me the "questionaire". I merely copied it from the article above and inserted my responses where applicable.