6 great mobile writing rigs

One of the best things about being a writer is the ability to leverage mobile tech to do the job. The six systems I use are as portable as can be, which lets me work practically anywhere without compromise.

Writing for a living has many benefits, not the least of which is the ability to do it outside the office. I head out most days and end up working for hours in some coffee shop or other venue. What makes this work well for me is the mobile gear I use.

6 Mobile Writing Rigs open 2
Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

While my collection of mobile devices can be partially attributed to my documented tech addiction, it also lets me keep familiar with current technology. Even so, for me to buy a device to use for work it must be pretty good at what I need to do.

All of the systems I cover here are systems I purchased and that I use regularly. I rotate them often, picking one at random when I'm heading out the door. This works given the methodology that I use for work, along with the ecosystems I employ that help me access all my stuff no matter what mobile platform I happen to be using.

How I work

To understand why these systems work well for me it's necessary to understand how I work. Just about everything I do is online, so the ability to do that well is essential. Part of my online solution involves using various cloud services, which is covered in the ecosystem section below.

The beauty of using Evernote as my editor is that everything I write is immediately available on any device I use.

Because of my platform agnostic approach to work, the primary apps and services I use are multi-platform. It's essential that I be able to pick up any of the gear covered here and be able to access my information.

I do a lot of research online for my articles and this includes following hundreds of RSS news feeds. I also use some news apps that aggregate the information I may find of interest. I use the Feedly RSS service with various apps to handle the thousands of RSS items I follow daily.

A big part of my online research is conducted using social media. This includes Twitter, Google+, and Facebook, I follow a lot of news feeds and status timelines of a lot of people I respect for providing accurate information.

Once the research is done, I write my articles using Evernote. This is available on every platform I use and also available through a web portal. The beauty of using Evernote as my editor is that everything I write is immediately available on any device I use. This includes my phones should I need to reference something when I'm not working. Having my work in Evernote also gives me a backup of my writing should catastrophe strike.

Evernote is also a superb note app and I use it to capture a lot of information I may need for future writing projects. I also use it to store ideas I have, often made by voice notes on my phone. It is a big part of the methodology I employ for my writing projects. It says a lot how the Evernote people have improved both the app and the service, when I can use it not only for its intended purpose, note taking, but also as my primary text editor.

It's all about the cloud ecosystems

For this to work the cloud services are important. I've already mentioned Evernote which is a cloud ecosystem in its own right. Other services I depend on are iCloud/iTunes, Google Drive/Play, Feedly, and Chrome.

Of all the systems I use, the Chrome ecosystem is probably the most important. With one exception, I use Chrome on all of my systems for the majority of my online work, and it's vital that my Chrome environment be the same no matter what device I use. Google has done a good job with this, not only keeping the browser bookmarks in sync but also the Chrome extensions that I use with the browser.

I use Google Drive for keeping files in the cloud and it works on all platforms that I use. It is also the home for Google's office suite, which I use heavily. I have Microsoft Office on my Windows system, but I can't remember the last time I used it for work. Google's solution works fine for my needs.

Next: On to the systems!

6 good portable writing rigs

Now that I've discussed how I work it's time to cover the systems that make it all flow. They cover four different platforms and several different vendors. They all handle everything I need so it's not a matter of using a particular system on a given day when I need to do something special. I can just grab one and get busy.

I will share the apps I use on each system to make it clear how I use it.

MacBook Air

MacBook Air
MacBook Air Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

The 11-inch MacBook Air is the most powerful of the systems I use, yet it is small and light. Like all of the systems I use, the battery easily lasts all day so I just throw it in the bag and go. It would be nice if it had a Retina Display but I don't find that an issue for my work.

The apps I use with the MacBook Air for work are Chrome, Evernote, TweetDeck, and ReadKit. ReadKit is a fantastic RSS reader app that works with Feedly, among other services.

MacBook Air coverage:  New MacBook Air: Haswell ups the game (review) MacBook Air revisited: 12 weeks in  |  Why I bought a MacBook Air

Asus Transformer Book T100

Asus Transformer Book T100
Asus Transformer Book T100 Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

This system from Asus is a hybrid that performs double duty as both a laptop and a tablet. I use both of these forms in my work. In the writing phase I use it as a laptop as the keyboard dock is a good one for heavy writing. When doing research I often pop the screen off the dock which is a nice tablet. I can sit comfortably, with the tablet in hand, and do everything I need by touch.

The Windows apps I use with the T100 are Chrome (desktop version), Evernote, Tweetium , and Nextgen Reader for the RSS feed work. Tweetium is a great Windows app and I really like it.

Coverage of the Transformer Book T100:  Asus Transformer Book T100: First impressions Asus Transformer Book T100: One week in

iPad Air

iPad Air
iPad Air Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

When I'm looking to keep the bag as light as possible, I carry the iPad Air which can handle all of my work needs. I use a ZAGGkeys Cover for its great keyboard, which turns it into a solid writing rig. Like the Transformer Book covered, for online research work I can easily pop the iPad Air off the keyboard and use it as a tablet.

The iOS apps I use for my work are Chrome, Evernote, Tweetbot, and Mr. Reader for the RSS feed work. While I fall back on the Chrome browser if I have trouble with Safari, that is rarely happening these days. I end up using the Safari browser on the iPad almost all the time as it is faster and works smoother than Chrome.

See coverage of the iPad Air:  iPad Air: Best tablet ever made |  iPad Air: One week in

Acer C720 Chromebook

Acer C720 Chromebook
Acer C720 Chromebook Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

Since most of my work time is spent in the Chrome environment, the Chromebook is a good fit for me. This Acer is a solid performer and a decent laptop that is nice and portable.

Chrome OS doesn't have apps in the normal sense, but I can do everything in the browser without issues. Of course I use the Chrome browser which is the heart of the Chromebook. I use the web sites for the social networks with the exception of Twitter. I use TweetDeck for that as I like the multiple column support.

I use the Feedly web portal to work my RSS feeds but this is my least favorite way to do it. Their site is not very good, although it is functional.

See coverage of Acer C720 Chromebook:  Acer C720 Chromebook first impressions: Fast and cheap Acer C720 Chromebook: Why I bought one Day one with the Acer C720 Chromebook

Couple of short time rigs

The four systems covered above are what I use for heavy, ie all day writing work. When I head out with no plan to work, I still like to carry gear just in case a writing opportunity presents itself unexpectedly. I prefer these short time rigs to be as small as possible so I can carry them and forget about them.

iPad mini

iPad mini
iPad mini Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

The iPad Air works so well for my writing work due to the good keyboard option. While the iPad mini is small, there is a similar keyboard option available that makes it work for short sessions. The ZAGGkeys Cover for the iPad mini works surprisingly well given the small width of the iPad mini. I can touch type fairly well using this system.

I use the same apps with the iPad mini as I use with the iPad Air.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0

Galaxy Note 8.0
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

This tablet is about the same size as the iPad mini, and works well for me. This is also thanks to the folks at ZAGG, as the ZAGGkeys Folio for the Note 8.0 is virtually identical to the keyboard case for the iPad mini. Like the other tablets in my arsenal, it's easy to pop the tablet out of the case for use as a tablet.

The Android apps I use with the Note 8.0 are Chrome, Evernote, Plume, and gReader Pro for the RSS feed work.

See coverage of Galaxy Note 8.0:  Galaxy Note 8.0: Still the best small tablet Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet: Beating the iPad mini with features (review)


Not all of these rigs will work for everyone, but I suspect that most writers could use them with few problems. If writing is not your thing these systems will work for just about anyone who spends a lot of work time on the web. It's a testament to how well mobile tech has evolved that all four platforms I use work just fine.