This week in Mobile News Manor #11: Phone as laptop

This is a peek into a technology writer’s home office, aka Mobile News Manor, discussing gadgets, apps, best practices using same, and ebooks. This week the Atrix laptop dock got its due.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

One of the primary benefits of being a technology writer is the ability to work in my home office, aka Mobile News Manor (MNM). It is a bustling place, with evaluation gadgets constantly arriving and going back to the vendors. As part of my daily work I spend a fair bit of time testing these gadgets for review, and also looking at new apps for various platforms to streamline my work methods.

This column is my look back each week to share pertinent experiences that I believe you might find useful. There is no telling what you might find in this column, but you’ll definitely get a feel for what it is like testing gadgets for a living. Welcome to the Manor.

The gadgets

A couple of laptops that I have recently reviewed grabbed my time this week as I continued testing them to get a feel for how they fit my routine. The first has become my mobile system of choice, the one I grab when I head out the door to work for the day. The ThinkPad X220 is my preferred laptop for mobile work primarily due to its size and battery life.

While the slice battery option of the X220 yields a whopping 15+ hours of battery life, I leave it at home for day trips. The 6-cell battery on the notebook is giving me a solid 7-8 hours of battery life, so the slice is not needed. The notebook is a svelte 3 pounds with the 6-cell, which fits almost flush in the body of the X220. I can head out for the day with the ThinkPad in hand without concern about needing to find a power outlet, leaving the power brick at home. This laptop is the epitome of what mobile computing is all about, as it has the portable form without a compromise in capability.

The slice battery option would be a good fit for business trips. For those I would attach the slice to the X220 and throw it in the bag for the trip. Even with the slice attached the notebook only weighs about 4.5 pounds, the same weight as my 13-inch MacBook. That's still quite portable and with the extra battery life it would be possible to last an entire 2-day trip without a charge. I would leave the slice battery in the bag and use the X220 without it on such trips, but pop it on when needed. As I shared with colleague Mary Jo Foley on Twitter this week, there is not a single thing I don't like about the ThinkPad X220. I can't remember the last time I could say that about any device.

This week I continued my evaluation of the Motorola Atrix 4G with the laptop dock, and I am impressed with the functionality of the duo the more I use it. I wanted to test it in the real world, so one day this week I used only the Atrix and laptop dock to do all of my work. I figured it was the only way to put it to the test and it fared better than I expected.

The laptop dock is an empty shell that turns into a computer when the Atrix 4G Android phone is popped into the dock. The secret sauce that makes this all work is the full desktop version of Firefox that turns the combo into a full cloud computer. If you can do it in Firefox on the desktop, you can do it on the Atrix in the laptop dock.

My day of the Atrix was not without frustration, as the combo exhibits occasional performance lags. I quickly learned to keep simultaneous activity to a minimum. The Atrix can multitask like any Android phone, but when driving the high-res display of the laptop dock things frequently bogged down. I was able to do everything I normally do at the desktop while using just the Atrix/laptop dock, so it impressed me in that regard. While it is not something I would want to do every day, it would be adequate for occasional business trips. My experiment makes me think the Atrix/laptop dock combination could be a competitor to the Google Chrome OS notebooks that are coming to market soon.

App of the week and a free Ebook »

App of the week

One of my most-used apps on the Android platform is Thinking Space Pro. TSP is a mind-mapping tool that is designed to use the touch interface of Android phones to good benefit. It works especially well on the larger display of the Galaxy Tab, and an update this week makes it even better.

The developer of TSP makes frequent improvements to the app, and the latest is a real doozy. An on-screen set of toolbars provides easy access to commonly performed tasks, yet keeps them off the screen until needed. A simple tap on a translucent icon brings the toolbars up around the left and bottom edges of the screen, and a second tap sends them away. This leaves the entire display available for the actual mind map, which is very appreciated.

I have Thinking Space Pro running on my Galaxy Tab all of the time, and it just keeps getting better for productive work. There is a free version available with limited features, and the Pro version is £3.00.

Ebook of the week

This week I continued reading Best Little Stories from the Civil War: More than 100 true stories by Kelly C. Brian. It is rare that a book occupies me for longer than a week, but this collection of true stories from the Civil War is so extensive it has kept me immersed in the period. It is easily the best free book I have ever gotten from Amazon. It is a fascinating look at the Civil War through the eyes of hundreds of people actually on the scene, and is highly recommended.

That's a wrap

That was my week in Mobile News Manor, I hope you found something to take away with you. I believe this weekly column is unique in form, as it covers anything and everything that crossed the threshold of my home office.

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