Thursday, 22 September 2011

travels with a laptop

Well I'm seven days into a 10 day circumnavigation of the world with a Project Bamboo meeting in Maryland at the end of last week, a trip to see family in Scotland at the weekend, a session with eduroam and a borrowed desk in St Andrews on Monday and now the DC-2011 conference at the Netherlands National Library in the Hague, where I'm presenting tomorrow, and then a 22 hour flight home from Amsterdam via Frankfurt and Singapore.

Throughout this marathon I've been toting my work 15" MacBook Pro which after what seems like three hundred million security checks, not to mention typing on my actual lap, seems increasingly heavy and bulky.

So I looked round this afternoon at a moment when nothing particularly interesting was happening at what my fellow delegates where using.

There was a sprinkling of people like me either using full size Macs, Dells or Thinkpads. Quite a few, mostly from the US, had Macbook Airs. The Europeans tended to netbooks in preference, and of course there were a few iPadistas. I didn't notice any Android tablets in use.

So, what do I find I use on the road?

  • Evernote - notes are typed directly into Evernote these days
  • Google Docs, for writing, reviewing slides and recording expenses in a spreadsheet
  • Gmail - which I've now got configured as allowing me to masquerade as my corporate email should I want
  • Google Calendar
and that's about it. While I have a local install of both Libre Office and Microsoft Office, I hardly use them, and the same goes for the standard mail client. Otherwise it's all websites for flight check-ins, conference stuff and seeing if it's going to rain.

So I need the web, but nothing particularly fast in compute terms. Given my use of the Google ecology, using Chrome as a browser seems to be a first choice, but what to choose as a lightweight portable computing platform?
  • mac book pro - too big and heavy  evernote ok, chrome's ok
  • mac air - expensive but long battery life evernote ok, chrome's ok
  • netbook - light cheaper than the air but shorter battery life, evernote ok, chrome's ok
  • chromebook ??? evernote support ??? web client ?
  • linux netbook, ookygoo interface, native evernote compatible client not stable, web client a possible alternative, installing chrome hampered by ookygoo window manager
  • ipad, good battery, glass keyboard, evernote, must use safari but some specialist apps
  • zpad, uncertain battery, android,  glass keyboard, evernote native, better though not perfect integration into the google ecology
On balance, I think the answer is a netbook with a native evernote client. Most times you can manage your battery life pretty well even when there's nowhere near enough powerpoints to go around, and there's usuaully more than enough in workshop sessions - just pack your travel adapters. My experience last year taking the ookygoo to Providence has shown me how little you need to stay productive. While the same might be true of a conventional laptop, they're heavy and bulky, and actually a pain to work with on your lap for an extended period.

The need for chrome and evernote drives me to a windows netbook. While I'm sure an Air has a longer battery life, is lighter and generally more aesthetic, the fact remains that the windows netbook cost me $250 as opposed to a touch over $1000 for an Air. If it wasn't for my lingering uncertainty about the zPad's battery life a zPad and a bluetooth keyboard might do the job, but again the cost is the same as a discounted netbook, so I'd probably go for the netbook on the grounds of greater perceived reliability, and a much wider software base.

As for the Chromebook, I don't know. The model is incredibly sound, and almost everywhere you go has wi-fi. In practical terms I'm using my laptops as internet terminals already, the only question is whether I'm emotionally ready to abandon having a local client.

I suspect my answer is no, purely because of my dependence on evernote and the fact that the local clients are much more responsive than the web based client.

So next time I go travelling, I think it'll be with a netbook. The zPad might tag along as well purely for it's instant on and general immediacy when checking schedules, flights and Google maps, but I think a netbook for note taking because of it's half way decent keyboard. A Chrome book could be an alternative, but at more than one and a half times the price of a discounted netbook, it would have to be a hell of a use case ...

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