My new modular micro-mini notebook

10+ hour battery life. Fits in pants pockets. Full size keys + touchscreen. Weighs under half a kilo. Thousands of apps. I like this!
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

10+ hour battery life. Fits in pants pockets. Full size keys + touchscreen. Weighs under half a kilo. Thousands of apps.

Will phones and tablets replace PCs? For many they will but not for me. They certainly augment my desktop by giving me a flexibility that even a MacBook Air can't offer.

Here's how - with pictures.

An iPad Mini and an iPhone 4s are the screens. I have a Nexus 7 too that would work, but the battery life isn't what I'd like, so it stays home near a charger.

Capturing keystrokes
I'm primarily a writer and researcher. I need web access, browser, decent keyboard and the flexibility to use these tools just about anywhere.

That means long battery life, light weight, fast no-hassle document syncing and flexible hardware configurations that work whether I'm biking a couple of miles to a coffee shop or driving 800 miles to San Francisco.

Home base
My office set up is conventional: Intel i7 ultrabook; 27" 2560x1440 monitor, and 14TB of block and file storage split among eSATA, USB 3.0, GigE and Thunderbolt interfaces. But sometimes I need to pick up and move: script tweaks at my editors; catching new ideas on the run; or just a change of scene.

The portable ultrabook - a MacBook Air - works well, but the docking process is more of a hassle than expected for a high-end system. Even a light backpack is too sweaty on a hot Arizona day.

Thus it is nice to put a keyboard and screen in pants pockets for a bike ride. Hand carry in case inspiration strikes.

The free iOS Simplenote app auto-syncs to their site. For OS X I use Notational Velocity which also auto-syncs to Simplenote. I can type or dictate into the iPhone and see the updates a minute later on the Mac.

iPhone 4S and iPad Mini. Both have screens big enough for writing and light editing. The iPhone updates wherever there's cell coverage, while the iPad is Wi-fi only.

Here's the two configurations folded up for travel:

DVD case for scale


Ready for travel



A Dell-branded iGo Stowaway Ultra-Slim Bluetooth Keyboard. Bought used. The layout isn't perfect, but the full size keys make touch typing easy and the size is unbeatable.





With the keyboard in one pocket and the iPhone in another, take a 5 mile ride - with 500 feet of vertical - and then stop at at a coffeeshop. Inspiration strikes: modular notebook!

Dictate first few paragraphs. Set up keyboard to edit and add. Fold up, ride home, shower, sit at MacBook Air and big screen to finish up.

iPad Mini requires cargo pockets. That's it.

The Storage Bits take
While many people who are light users and/or poor will make do with a single device, those who can afford a choice will want multiple devices for different uses. I thought my MacBook Air was perfect until I realized I could write without a backpack.

The failure of the Ubuntu Edge to reach its crowd funding goal reflects the fact that most people will be using either Android or iOS phones. Yes, you can do real work on a phone today, but not all day, and you probably never will.

Add on screens and keyboards will make phones, phablets and tablets suitable for much office work. But the key negative to multiple devices isn't cost but synchronization - and nobody has a great answer to that for multiple apps.

But it will get figured out (why Apple with their money and end-to-end control hasn't is a mystery), and when it does the main reason for a single device will go away. For now though, as a writer, I'm happy.

Comments welcome. How tiny can a writer's workstation get? 

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