The new year has begun and it's a good time to evaluate mobile technology strategies for 2016. I do this yearly by reviewing what worked for me in the prior 12 months and determining some new - or re-emphasizing some old - approaches to being productive on the go.
All throughout the calendar year, I seem to acquire more phones, tablets, laptops and accessories.
Some I purchase for review reasons while others feel a specific need. Either way, I always seem to end the year with too many things, causing unneeded complexity while also using funds that I could have put to other uses.
Obviously, my choices won't work for everyone, but that doesn't mean you can't pare down the number of devices you have, use and carry in 2016.
A Surface Pro 4 can work well as both a laptop and tablet for some, for example. A dual-SIM handset or a phone that supports both work and home profiles can take the place of two phones. Heck, even if you only need access to Windows, OS X or Linux a small amount of the time, a tablet with Remote Desktop access could be your primary device.
Put another way: Take a long hard look at the devices you use and consider finding ways to get multiple purposes out of single devices.
Carry portable power
One thing I'm adding to my mobile tech bag for every single trip outside of the home in 2016 is a portable power bank. You can have all of the best mobile tech devices with you but they're all useless with a dead battery. You'll also save time searching for electrical outlets or fighting for that one spot near an outlet while out and about.
There are plenty of good options out there when it comes to portable batteries but I'll be using the 6,000 mAh battery Google included with its Project Fi welcome kit. The power capacity is more than enough to recharge most phones at least three times or even a tablet once or twice.
When shopping around, look for power banks that offer higher Amperage outputs as well: You can often recharge your mobile devices quicker with them.
Consider an MVNO or other wireless service plan to save money
As smartphone contracts continue to wither away in the U.S., it's easier to move away from the big-four carriers to save money but still reap the benefits of their extensive networks. You can either buy an unlocked device and take it to another provider or, if it makes sense, buy out your current cellular contract or handset and make the move.
Take Cricket Wireless, for example. The most expensive plan it currently offers is $60 per month and gets a $5 discount for setting up automatic payments, bringing the final cost before taxes and fees to $55. That gets you 10 GB of 4G LTE data per month, unlimited voice minutes and text messages. But you also get the coverage of AT&T's nationwide network because AT&T owns Cricket Wireless. And if you use less data, there are cheaper plans after the $5 autopay discount: $45 for 5 GB and $35 for 2.5 GB; both with unlimited talk and texts.
That's just one example. See Ting, Straight Talk, or other virtual network providers that often piggyback on the networks of larger providers. As for me, Project Fi is working well due to its use of both T-Mobile's and Sprint's networks - along with Wi-Fi calling - and monthly credits for any unused data.
Spring for LTE on that next tablet purchase
Looking for a tablet in 2016? Consider paying extra for that LTE radio option inside. It generally runs you $130 or so but the benefit can greatly pay off by acting as a backup hotspot for connectivity.
I've often used an LTE tablet for that purpose, specifically in areas where my phone coverage is weak or when the network is crowded. Consider it a backup network and one where you only pay when you need to use it since most tablets support pay-as-you-go services. ProTip: Choose an LTE provider that's different from the one your handset uses.
Add secondary lenses to your phone camera and leave the DSLR behind
With smartphone cameras improving across all handset price points, the need to carry a dedicated camera is greatly reduced. I used to tote a DSLR or small point-and-shoot to press events but these days, the sensors in my iPhone 6s and Nexus 5X are more than good enough. (Yes, I need to consolidate down to a single phone!)
What's often not good enough is the ability to zoom in or take wide-angle shots. Optical zooming trumps the digital kind but that doesn't mean your smartphone has to give way to a dedicated camera.
Consider add-on lenses for your smartphone that support a closer or wider optical view. Lensbaby, Olloclip, iPro and Moment are just a few of many accessory makers that provide smartphone camera lens in a variety of options. You'll probably find more choices if you use an iPhone over an Android device but there are a few Android options available.
Opt for cross-platform apps and services
One of the best ways to be productive on the go is to rely heavily on cross-platform apps and services. That way, you can essentially work anywhere on any device, even if it's not your own.
Don't misunderstand, there are benefits to less universal solutions tied to single platforms or devices. Notably, there's a consistent user experience and less concern about compatibility.
Still, such choices can be limiting if your device is damaged, lost or stolen: Relying on cloud-based services and apps that work across multiple platforms or devices can come in handy on the go.