The changing laptop landscape: Can I have LTE with that?

The mobile world is changing due to the spread of fast LTE to populated areas. The utility provided by an 'everywhere' connection has changed my purchase preferences.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

I embraced long-term evolution (LTE) as soon as it began rolling out a few years ago. Having a connection in unexpected places that was as fast as that in my office was liberating. I came to depend on LTE heavily in my daily work outings and I now find it difficult to do without it.

LTE speed
Image: Screenshot by James Kendrick

For years, I was firmly in the "I don't need the cost of integrated 4G/LTE in my laptops" camp. I used MiFi hotspots at first, and then my phone as a hotspot when LTE became the standard. I was happy having wi-fi only in my laptops so they wouldn't be tied down to a carrier.

Then the iPad came along with integrated LTE and I picked one up. I figured it wouldn't use that much data, so it wouldn't be too expensive having its own data charge. Being able to add it to my bundled data-sharing plan was a plus. I paid for a bucket of data and used it on my phone and my iPad.

For a while, I have been using my iPad for work, along with one keyboard or another. The tablet/keyboard combination is a decent solution for my work. Using the iPad this way quickly demonstrated how convenient and valuable the integrated LTE on the tablet is for working anywhere.

My remote work shows me that wi-fi is anything but ubiquitous. I am still surprised at how many establishments do not offer free wi-fi for patrons. Even more common than the disconnected business is the one with poor connectivity. Often, when I work remotely, I either find no wi-fi available or networks so bad that connectivity is terrible.

I estimate I use my LTE almost half the time when working remotely as a result of the lousy wi-fi situation. The fact is my solid LTE bandwidth is usually far faster than that of most public hotspots. I can work with speed without messing around with stuttering networks.

I tend to rotate among several different laptops as part of my job. Most of those are wi-fi only, since 4G is not widely available on the laptop side of things. When I carry a laptop without LTE on work trips, I throw the iPad mini with LTE into a pocket on the bag for use as a mobile hotspot. This works fine, but it is not as convenient as a laptop with its own LTE connectivity would be.

This became crystal clear when Google sent the Chromebook Pixel for me to test. It is the LTE model, giving it fast connectivity everywhere. I discovered how nice it is to take the laptop out of the bag and get connected without concern about the local network or worry about getting a mobile hotspot going.

Having integrated LTE is so darn convenient that even though I have several very nice laptops to throw in the bag, I find that I am more often than not taking the iPad or Chromebook Pixel. This is largely due to the integrated LTE both devices have that makes my work easier. When I carry one of these, I don't even think about finding wi-fi or pulling a second gadget out of the bag for use as a mobile hotspot.

I find it liberating to not have to plan my outings around the availability of good wi-fi. I like to work in stimulating places, and having LTE onboard is the best way to do so.

I just bought the HP Envy x2 and I really like it as both a laptop and a tablet. Unfortunately, the lack of LTE means it often requires me to turn on the mobile hotspot using one of my gadgets with the capability. That's not a big deal, but it's big enough to affect whether I throw it in the gear bag. Having LTE is better than not having it, and given a choice, I will more frequently go for integrated LTE.

Adding a laptop to my shared data plan only adds a few dollars a month. I'm already paying for a big bucket of data and it makes sense to have a laptop that taps into what I'm paying for. My next laptop purchase will almost certainly take integrated LTE into consideration. If I can find one.

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