The Gear of ZDNet: How Zack Whittaker goes mobile

My conversations with the ZDNet bloggers about their mobile gear continues as I focus on the Gear of ZDNet. Today ZDNet London Calling blogger Zack Whittaker takes the hot seat.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor on

The bloggers of ZDNet are as technically savvy a group as you will find, and in this installment of The Gear of ZDNet Zack Whittaker shares what mobile gadgets he uses and why they work well in his work covering the tech scene in the UK.

Previous installments:

The Gear of ZDNet: Featuring Christopher Dawson

The Gear of ZDNet: How David Gewirtz stays mobile

Zack is the only criminologist I know, and he covers technology for ZDNet from his base near London. He regularly blogs for ZDNet Between the Lines in addition to his own blog London Calling. Zack has been blogging for ZDNet for a few years, until recently manning the iGeneration blog.

JK: Thanks for speaking to me Zack. How would you describe who you are and what you do to the Mobile News audience?

Until now, I've barely thought about it. I'm a columnist and a writer. That in itself has led to a multitude of various jobs, positions, and platforms that I could talk all day about. We may as well just stick with "writer" for now.

My technical ability is self-taught, and developed since being a young lad. Besides one formal year of computer science at university, which inadvertently forced my hand to swiftly change to a better suited degree of criminology, I am probably the least geekiest out of the ZDNet collective.

JK: What is your current smartphone and why? How do you use it daily, and how is it working out for you?

Holding on for dear life, a BlackBerry Bold 9700. An odd choice for someone who has been more than critical of the BlackBerry maker, Research in Motion. But a series of bad mobile relationships, I settled on the one phone I was least likely to throw against a brick wall in a fit of rage.

Not to say that my BlackBerry does not irritate the living daylights out of me — requiring sometimes twice-daily battery pulls, and regular sluggishness — there is no device that offers a clean, simple interface, a slim style and physical layout, and still enables me to send secure email from my handset.

I'm willing to jump; I make no bones about that. It's just a matter of 'when'.

JK: The way things are going for RIM you better make the move sooner rather than later. Is there a particular phone you are jonesing for?

In a midst of shame, I must admit I am vying for an iPhone. Perhaps my traditionalistic values of 'requiring' a hardware keyboard in a phone is the only thing holding me back.

My problem with mobile devices is that I am a stickler for design, and am stubbornly set in my ways. Should the iPhone 5 have a similar curved feel like the iPhone 3GS, then I'll jump immediately without a moment's hesitation. The iPhone 4 and 4S in my eyes are too thick, difficult to grip, and sharp around the edges. Such minutia can sway my decision away from even the most advanced of phones.

See also: Why I ordered an iPhone 4S

JK: Been there, done that with the iPhone; no shame at all. Do you have a tablet? Which one and why? How do you like it? Does it fit in your work/lifestyle well?

No 'tablets' for me. A 'tablet computer', however: yes.

When the HP TouchSmart tx2 was announced, its core feature was a multi-touch screen that was compatible with Windows 7. Going back a good few years back, it beat all modern tablets to the market. The iPad was still in-development and the consumer world had barely adopted touch technology.

But because it was an exciting new technology, as well as being a fully-fledged laptop, at the time it was a suitable balance. Though chunky and heavy, and the battery life was far from brilliant, I would say that my experience with touch has been an "interesting" one.

I still have it plugged in somewhere, running the Windows Developer Preview. But since 'going Mac', I'm reluctant to go back.

See also: Kindle Fire: Non-techie perspectiveTypical day in the life of the iPad 2

JK: Your tablet computer is what we call a Tablet PC. You may want to unplug it, since going green is the new black. Is there another tablet you have your eyes on?

Frankly, no. I can't say that I have taken to tablets as many of my colleagues have. Since rounding off the iGeneration column, I still maintain that tablets can offer a greater educational experience, and added productivity to students. For me, however, nothing beats an old fashioned keyboard.

While I recognize the in-between of a smartphone and a notebook, or a fully-fledged PC, I still have no need for a tablet in my life. Unlike many of my spend thrifty generational counterparts, I do not buy products that I have no use for. I'm a saver, not a spender.

JK: Practicality, the bane of those of us addicted to gadgets. How has mobile technology impacted your work/life?

Unlike most of my colleagues, I live and work in the UK, near London. Arguably, our mobile infrastructure is not as developed as that in the United States. Most of the UK has 3G coverage, but next-generation technology still has a way to go yet.

4G technology is still developing in the region, and though an exciting prospect to enjoy when it reaches the market, it will take at least two years for the technology to be brought to wider public use.

But for now, my smartphone can act as a 3G 'dongle', and I can access high-speed Internet from nearly everywhere I am.

JK: Your 3G dongle is otherwise known as tethering, something most of us in the U. S. have to pay extra for or risk drawing the wrath of the tethering police. How does the mobile gear you are using today play a significant role in your work?

Because I cover the UK and Europe, and other tidbits of breaking news throughout the world, mobile broadband allows me to keep connected wherever I am, even if I am on the Eurostar, being hurtled towards Brussels at 300 km/h.

I need to be constantly connected, and permanently plugged in to the 'Matrix', so to speak. But because I travel so often to cover the stories that need covering, it's difficult working out of trains, expo's, Parliamentary buildings, and more often than not — coffee shops near to where I am supposed to be, with a stable (yet costly) Wi-Fi connection.

JK: What mobile accessory do you recommend to readers?

Out of all the technological advancements, cool and geeky gadgets, and awesome accessories: a spare smartphone battery is what I would recommend. At least, should one find themselves on the road and travelling a great deal, and using their smartphones to connect to the resources they need, a smartphone can be far more useful than a laptop. And they'll last a great deal longer, too.

JK: Zack, thanks for sharing your thoughts on mobile gear with the Mobile News audience. Your gadgetry seems to work well for you (even the BlackBerry), keeping you fleet of foot while running across the UK for your work.

This wraps up a great conversation with Zack Whittaker in the continuing series, the Gear of ZDNet. Be sure and check out Zack's great work on the ZDNet London Calling and Between the Lines blogs.

Editorial standards