Laptops are not very portable, so go buy an iPad mini

A week ago, I received my iPad mini.  I do have to say that I love it, which probably isn’t too surprising if you read my other posts.  What surprised me was just how much I love it.

I decided to buy an iPad mini mostly out of curiosity.  The original iPads redefined computing mobility, but when the iPad 3 came out as heavier than the iPad 2, Apple was going in the wrong direction.  They needed the extra bulk to support the high resolution retina display, but the device was just too heavy to hold for any length of time.

I wanted the Star Trek experience, where data you could hold data in your hand without cramming it into a 3.5″ display:

Jake Sisko casually reviews a PADD on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

My sense was that the iPad mini would deliver on this idea, and I wanted to try it out for myself. I wanted Star Trek.

And boy did I get it.  The iPad mini has become my preferred device for just about everything.  It’s married the comfortable screen real estate of an iPad, suitable for surfing the web or emailing, with the portability of an iPhone.  I can stick in a coat pocket or tuck it under my arm without a second thought.  I can hold it in one hand and have a full, rich experience.

In the process, it’s made me realize just how not portable my work laptop is.

In theory, a laptop is a portable device.  It has a battery, so you can run for a few hours without needing to plug it in.  It runs all your programs, so you can do everything from check email to write software to edit documents.  It has a sleep mode to preserve battery life, a full size keyboard, and a track pad.

So that makes it portable, right?  If you are asking whether it’s easy to move it from one location to another in order to do some work remotely, then the answer is “yes.”

However, if I’m not actually moving locations, but just want to have access to email or notes during a meeting, the answer is not so clear.  In order to be as productive as possible, I have two external monitors connected to my laptop via a docking station.  When I want to take it to a meeting, I have to undock, which sends Windows scurrying for a few minutes while it tries to rearrange all of the different windows I have open into the much smaller built-in screen.

The laptop is too big to just casually tuck under my arm.  It weighs in at a couple of pounds, and if I want to carry anything else (like a cup of coffee), it gets awkward.

When I get to the meeting, if I’m going to actually use the laptop, it requires my full engagement.  I need to be sitting in front of it, with both hands on the keyboard.  It’s hard to just casually check messages or review a note.

When I get back from the meeting, I need to redock.  “Hot docking” will sometimes blue-screen Windows, so I usually put it to sleep, redock it, and then wake it back up again.  Then Windows starts the scurrying process in reverse as it tries to reshuffle all my applications again.

[Granted, Macs handle some of these problems a little more gracefully, but it’s not an option here in my Windows-only workplace]

The net effect is that I find myself really having to think about whether it is worth bringing my laptop to a meeting.  I’m going to lose time undocking and redocking.  How likely is it that I will need to respond to some urgent emails?  How much will I want to be able to access notes or look something up quickly?

The iPad mini, on the other hand, is a no-brainer.  It’s the size and weight of a spiral notebook, but it can do most of the things I could do on my laptop: email, notes, surf the web.  I can check and respond to emails casually, if needed.  If I don’t end up using the mini at all during the meeting, no big deal.  It’s just like bringing a notebook to the meeting and not taking any notes.  We’ve all done that.

People have questioned typing on the iPad mini, but I don’t have a problem.  I actually most enjoy holding it in both hands (it’s light enough for that!) and using the split keyboard in landscape mode with both thumbs.  It’s like typing on my iPhone, but twice as fast with fewer mistakes:

Split keyboard mode allows for typing with both thumbs simultaneously

When it comes to true “work”, my laptop (aka my computer) is still key.  However, I still often find myself using the iPad mini while sitting in front of it as a kind of third monitor.  And my iPhone is getting used much less, since the iPad mini is almost as portable and a much richer user experience.

This is a great device.  If you have any interest in a really usable tablet, go get one.

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