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

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.

SHARE:
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.

Special Feature

Tablets: Where's the Productivity?

Tablets: Where's the Productivity?

The hottest device in the enterprise remains the tablet. Executives have pushed for them, IT departments have accommodated them, and users continue to clamor for them. Are they a fad or game-changer? We examine the productivity benefits, opportunities, and myths.

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

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

23 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Consolidate

    Toss out all that mess and just get a Surface 3. (with docking station if you want to get fancy)
    Sean Foley
    • Macbook Air

      He already has a Macbook Air. Can't top that one.
      mytake4this
      • Can't top you for stupidity

        Modded MBA with a hardware switch to turn on the glowing Apple logo only without booting it up so you don't waste battery power on the cpu and other useless electronics.
        warboat
  • Consolidate - Version 2

    While I personally like Sean's approach (actually, I thought of it first - he's just faster on the draw), based on reading your posts for years (JKOnTheRun; Gottabemobile) it's time to seriously consider a muscle car phablet (Galaxy Note 4, iPhone 6L, LG 3) and the upcoming 12" MacBook Air Retina. Simplify your life old friend. That newer thinner MBA 12 won't add much weight to your backpack, and the phablet will get you 4G connectivity and the leisure use (reading and gaming) of a tablet. It has to be schizophrenic to juggle so many devices on so many platforms...
    dksmidtx
  • One device - Surface 3

    One device Configuration

    - Surface 3
    - Surface 3 dock
    - Two large monitors
    - Microsoft keyboard and mouse
    Owl:Net
    • Or a $200 laptop

      ... without overheating issues.
      (by the way I've counted 6 devices, 7 with the charger).
      AleMartin
      • Acer

        Acer Chromebook would do, but he already has the king -- the Macbook Air -- ain't none better.
        mytake4this
    • One device -Surface 3

      You described my configuration to the "T"
      Best all around device I have every had (and I have had a lot of devices)
      Replaced my aging desktop, aging laptop, provided a significant upgrade to my surface RT.
      I have a dell Venue pro that I love, but if I was forced to leave everything but one device, I would not hesitate to leave it and go with the Surface Pro 3
      gregory_morton@...
  • If your MacBook Pro never leaves the office, I have one obvious question 4U

    James, why not use a large HiRes monitor as an extended display to your desk bound MacBook Pro?

    Surely, your eyes would thank you for it over time.
    kenosha77a
    • Then again, you could always use your HDTV as an extended display

      when the need arrises since you are surely aware that OS X supports that feature. All you would need is a Magic Trackpad or Mouse and a Wireless keyboard and you could surf the web from your chair or couch -- although I prefer to do my desktop computing - at a desk. Grin. So, an extended large screen display, I would think, would be on your Holiday wish list this year. Just saying.
      kenosha77a
  • That's quite a trick, James! :)

    You've been paid off by Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and Tim Cook all in one shot! (joke :) )
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
  • Bit of a gadget collector myself.

    Galaxy Tab Note 10.1, iPhone 5s, iPad, Acer One (Windows 7 HP), HP Elitebook (Core i7, 8 Gb RAM Linux Mint/Windows7 Pro, MacBook Pro, Dell Desktop upgraded to Windows 8.1 Update non-touch, Surface Pro, Nokia Icon and a smattering of old to antique systems. I can't seem to bear giving any up and try to "play" with each at least once a month. Never any thought required for mobility though. Grab the Surface and the Icon...done!
    The Heretic
  • so what's wrong with the chromebook?

    as above, if you have BIG displays, as long as their are jacks for them, the "retina" thing is only important if you are watching fancy videos while walking around. I run lots of apps with need for hi-res and RELIABLE network. I wonder if any vendor's 3g or 4g can actually do that without chaining me to an urban area all the time. I live in a rural one and there is no 4g at all here that I know of, at least not sprint.
    tavent
    • As I said

      There's nothing wrong with any of these. Please read the article.
      JamesKendrick
  • Only two devices are needed for me.

    Dell XPS 27 and Surface Pro 3
    Foreseen
    • Me too...

      But in my case, it is the Surface Pro 3 and the iPad Air. Phone is a mid-range Windows Phone (running Win Phone 8.1). Recently gave away my Nexus 10.
      crystalsoldier
  • Too Many Choices

    I'm not going to list all the tech from iPod Touch through iMac 27" desktop, because it is a long, embarrassingly, long list. My tech addiction is out of control.
    Much of what you have, I also have, and it's all the OS's, and sometimes multiple versions, one desktop, two phones, maybe 7 tablets, and an ultrabook. Like you, no way could I pick one device, but gun to my head, it'd also be my Macbook Air (13.3" late 2013).
    Best tablet (close call): iPad Air.
    Phone: Samsung Galaxy S5 which I prefer over the iPhone 5s I sold, and is the best phone I've ever had, including the Note 3. However, I have found that Samsung specs frequently promise more than they deliver...but not true with this S5.
    What I'm craving: Macbook Air 13.3 with retina screen and a spec bump, then the rumored iPad Air 12.9 (have the Samsung Note 12.2 and really like large tablets), and last, a 13-13.3" Chromebook with HIGH specs that is way lighter than my former Pixel, is scaled, and has the latest internals...for $600 or less:-) I really don't need anything other than a large-ish, really good Chromebook because I'm Chrome all the way, but who's talking "needs..."
    What I wanted to buy because it's so cool, but didn't because the cost, all in, is highway robbery?: Surface 3.
    I think the MS Windows 8.1 desktop/tablet hybrid OS is brilliant, despite maybe the worst rollout in history with Win8. But I believe it's the structural future of every OS.
    rdspafford
  • So Now That You Have Proven You Are Into Mobility

    Answer this. How many of your devices are protected when it comes to loss or theft? At work, all mobile devices used (down to the jumpdrive and floppy disk) have to be completely encrypted in order to be able to be used in the enterprise. We lost one unencrypted laptop and the postage to notify all of the case data participants was over $500,000 and this was just for the postage. We had to hire three more people to answer the telephone at the call center. Think we went overboard? No. It was required by law and this procedure is required by law in most states. If it was medical data, we would have been looking at HIPAA fines in the millions of dollars. Same issue for PCI-DSS. Or criminal records? CJIS.

    So, if you use these things for work, what data protection do you use on each of your devices. As a data security specialist, I'd like to get your take on that.
    hforman@...
  • BYOD

    I'm not sure how many or which of your devices are BYOD, how many are purely personal and which are "office provided". By I wonder if you are subject to BYOD rules for any of them. We started a BYOD project where I worked (government) and the pilot got rejected by the users. Even though they would have been paid for their use of personal devices rather than office-supplied, they rejected the plan for multiple reasons. First, all BYOD devices would have had to be initially inspected by a central group. Second, there would be periodic inspections. Third, MAM/NAM and other security software would have to be installed by the higher-ups. There would have to be reported any loss (even temporary) with the resultant wiping of all data (including grandma's photos). These may sound like a "big deal", remember that users would be expected to back up their devices anyway so remote wiping would have been no big deal. But, there were no takers! Weird. I mean, you can wipe my cell any time. It is all backed up.

    So my question here is that if you are using those devices for work, what rules do you have to abide by for the different types (personal, work, byod)?

    I'm just curious as a security/privacy person.
    hforman@...
  • OT But...

    ...you raise a pertinent and challenging issue(s). Very much so.
    Perhaps fodder for another full fledged Article. I think so.
    PreachJohn