The minimalist mobile approach: Use only what you really need

The minimalist mobile approach: Use only what you really need

Summary: Having spent thousands of hours using every type of mobile equipment out there I have come to realize there is no point to implementing more resources than I really need.


I have been using mobile gear in my work for over a decade, and have come to embrace a philosophy of only using gadgets that do just what I need. I no longer worry about having devices that can handle every situation that may infrequently arise. I find the best fit for me is to use just enough mobile tech to get the job done and no more.

I am not suggesting that everyone should go small or go home, just that it may be a good idea to give this some thought.

This is why the Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook works so well for me in spite of what others might think. I've been told by some bright people in the industry that using a Chromebook is settiling for a "crap tool" compared to more full-featured alternatives. That may seem true on the surface but the fact is using solutions that do just what I need and no more means I don't sacrifice anything by going "bigger".

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Gadgets with a limited focus are invariably more portable than full-featured alternatives. That means smaller, lighter in the bag, and that usually means better battery life. It almost certainly means a much cheaper price tag such as the new Samsung Chromebook at $249.

Sure there are high-powered Ultrabooks out there and those are great solutions for many. They are overkill for my needs based on lots of actual experience. There is no need for a $1,000 laptop when a cheaper Chromebook does everything I need.

I am not suggesting that everyone should follow my lead, but I do think that most people would be surprised to find how little they actually need most of the time. I believe many folks could get by following a minimalist philosophy as I do, and better than they think they could.

Mobile solutions such as tablets, Chromebooks, and the Surface RT can probably meet the needs of many users. No, they can't handle absolutely every computing need but they can handle the daily needs of many quite handily. If others embrace the "lighter is better" approach they may be surprised to discover that these mobile solutions can do far more than they realize.

I frequently use tablets for getting work done, both with and without external keyboards. They are sufficient for many of my work sessions which makes them a solid minimalist solution. I couldn't do that for extended periods, however, as they don't handle everything I need to do all of the time. That's where a "larger" solution like a Chromebook comes into play which can handle everything I need over time.

I am not suggesting that everyone should go small or go home, just that it may be a good idea to give this some thought. Mobile gadgets are now extremely powerful and useful compared to those of the not-too-distant past so don't overlook the possibility of the minimalist mobile approach. You may be surprised at what will work, and at how little is really required to get stuff done.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Laptops, Tablets

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  • Well, the bright people are correct in this case.

    " I've been told by some bright people in the industry that using a Chromebook is settiling for a "crap tool" compared to more full-featured alternatives."

    - The bright people are correct in the case.

    For One's computing needs, the Chromebook is a crap tool, why not get a laptop that suits all purposes, simple common sense. The chromebook has no reason for even to exist...

    I see this article as more of a Chromebook marketing...
    • Another idiotic owlllnet post

      What a moronic statement:

      "why not get a laptop that suits all purposes, simple common sense"

      Suits "ALL purposes"????????? Have you lost your mind?

      "simple common sense"? NO, it is the ultimate in stupidity.

      Nobody buys anything that suits "all purposes". Such an item does not exist for starters, and only idiots pay for and carry around functionality they do not need.

      So why don't you carry around a modified Surface than can scan and print too? And has the power to play the latest games? And has an all day battery?

      "All purposes"? You are priceless.

      Give it up Dumbo
      • but please

        Apparently, there are still people who believe Perpetuum Mobile (Perpetual motion) is possible. They will never stop believing.

        Another Einstein quote comes to mind

        "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
        • Einstein's theory has holes

          without going into details, Einstein's use of infinity in his theories has problems with it. He was brilliant but not perfect.
      • $300 for a browser....

        DT Long or shall I call you smarty pants, paying $300 for a device that only runs a web browser goes against common sense. That is point, even SJVN or AKH are smarter than you. :-)
    • To quote Einstein

      You may not agree that Einstein was bright person, but here it goes:

      "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius --- and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."
  • If you live in a text based world sure

    I get the premise of this article. However it is the use case of the lower common denominator. If your entire computer use is web browsing, email and blog posting then sure
    • ZDNET the "lighter" solution

      However if, like most gainfully employed professionals, you need to do more then such devices are still just companions to a "full" PC.
  • You are right

    I agree 100% with you. It is the end of era of buying one laptop for everything. Steve Ballmer said few days ago that he is not happy with W8 adaption, and for us it's show the strong war between the all-in-one desktop laptop to cloud base laptop and services, and looks to me the second is winning!

    I really jealous that you can buy those laptops, down in Israel it is not available yet.

    Best regards,
  • Exactly, James

    There are still many people using cell phones. Cell phones are much cheaper than are smartphones and the associated calling/data plans are also much cheaper.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • the only one thing that matters

    for the usability of a mobile is the device's ability to remote (or vpn) to your main computer.

    If you have to take it with you and leave it in hotel rooms, the low price and less glamour is an advantage as it lowers a chance for it to be stolen, and in case it grows legs the financial impact is lower.
  • minimalist approach works for minimal range

    if your range of application is minimal, then a chromebook may cover your needs.
    all it means is you don't really do anything complicated which is the case with a lot of people.
    All it takes is 1 thing that a chromebook can't do to justify NOT using a chromebook. Something as simple as burning a DVD, or video editing.
    • Agreed…to a point

      @warboat, I agree to a point. First, I actually work as James suggests – I carry around what I need for most things throughout the day. For me, that is an iPhone and an iPad. The vast majority of things I can get done with those items. However, there are inevitably things that cannot be done (or not done fast enough). That is where I shunt off work to my desktop.

      I decided that if I'm looking to have something to back up my mobile stuff – to do what they cannot do – then I'm going to get as much power as I can. For me that is a desktop and not a laptop. A couple 27" screens and 32GB RAM that is what works for me.

      So I could see someone getting a Chromebook for doing the majority of their work day, if they have good back-up. I cannot see it if it is the only thing they have and as you pointed out, there is one important thing that they cannot do on it.
  • I've Actually Decided the Same Thing

    After years of bulking up with Windows programs, bloatware, physically heavy things, I've taken the leap to a new Samsung Chromebook and find it delightfully light, easy, capable, super-fast and responsive. I use it for my therapy practice -- taking notes, printing wirelessly to the printer -- as well as writing. The keyboard is acceptable, the weight of the whole thing can't be beat, it holds a charge old Lenovo laptop is looking on enviously. I don't see the need to buy any other laptop any time soon. I'll buy a Nexus 7 tablet, but it's actually a pleasure-indulgence, as this Chromebook can do everything I need it to you, presently. Good call, James.
  • James, Google must be paying you heavily

    Care to share the tips, I need some dough to cover holiday expenses.
    Ram U
  • sorry, the fact is...

    doing just what you want is OK, but having a full featured device, that can do a lot of good, fun computing and restricting it severly by using crap software is no good. That is the real point. If you only need the functions of ChromeBook, then you probably need to have that software on a device dedicated for that purpose only, with no disk, meagre amount of RAM and CPU. You should also get that device + the software for under 20$.
  • Got to agree with James here

    James calls it minimalist, I call it downsizing, and my wallet has thanked me for it. I'm not looking for every tool in the hardware store, just the ones that can help me do the job I need to. And while I love my big powerful i7 system, it doesn't beat the sheer usability of my Chromebox for 90% of everything I do on a computer. Instant on/off doesn't hurt either, since that saves on the electric bill. Knock a Chromebook all you want, it's really rather awesome.
  • Wherefore art thou, Series 5?

    It is tough, really tough to find one of these and I've been looking since the first reviews came out. Amazon is always 'Temporarily Out of Stock' while Google Play, Tiger and Best Buy aren't even alternatives anymore on the Chromebook website. Other than review units, has anyone actually gotten a Samsung Series 5 Chromebook?
  • From a programmer and gamer's perspective...

    Let me start by saying I agree with this article 100%. I own the newest Chromebook and as of so far I have been VERY happy with it. I have only found 2 things that I absolutely cannot do on it. One of those things is being remedied very quickly, and in the meantime I have a workaround in place. The other one...well if you are buying a Chromebook then it wouldn't be quite so important for you anyway.

    As I stated in the title of this comment, I am a programmer and a gamer. PC gamer, to be specific, and a PHP web developer, also to be specific. The only things that I have found I cannot do on my Chromebook are programming and using my Steam account for gaming. If you are getting a tiny Chromebook though, you probably did not intend to use it for Steam though, right? Let me slap you if I'm wrong.

    As for programming though, I have software set up on my bulky Windows gaming laptop back at my apartment. But I still only carry the Chromebook. Why, you may ask? Because for those rare occasions where I really need Windows and all the extra fluff, Chromebooks are capable of Chrome Remote Desktop for that. I just click my computer, enter my PIN, and I have my computer readily available.

    So I have mentioned the things I haven't been able to do directly on the Chromebook, now let me tell you what I can do on it.

    For you Photoshop/GIMP users out there, look up Pixlr. It provides a lot of the functionality of Photoshop within the Chrome web browser. By the way, it's free. And because it is web-based, it takes up little resources on your computer.

    Chrome remote desktop is a fantastic option when you need something from your computer back home or if someone in a panic needs your IT assistance. I have had many times where people need me to fix their computers, and so I ask them for a code via Chrome remote desktop and I fix the problem without ever coming to their door.

    I don't even own Microsoft Office anymore. I have completely switched to Google Docs, and I do not regret my decision. It is fully featured, saves automatically, very collaborative, and I can bring up anything I need from any computer.

    Those are just a few things I have gotten to work on the Chromebook, without having to lug around anything big and heavy.
  • Ubuntu on Samsung Chromebook?

    I don't want to use Google for everything. But the Samsung Chromebook hardware looks pretty nice. What I want to know is how people like the Chromebook with Ubuntu on it? Are there any problems or limitations?