For the Tech of It: Hardware (Mobile)

So we have discussed the desktop side of writing tech, both hard and soft, with a brief detour into backing up. Now, we turn to mobile.

Let’s face it — when most people think of authors these days, they think of laptops. And probably coffee shops.

I’m no stranger to the coffee shop grind1, but I haven’t used a laptop since 2010, when Sir Steven of Jobs bequeathed unto us the iPad.

As I watched the unveiling of the iPad (on a pirate video stream, natch), I was waiting for two bits of information. The first one came relatively quickly, when Jobs revealed that the iPad would run a version of Apple’s iWork suite, including the Pages word processor.

Okay, so that was one down — I would be able to compose on the iPad.

A little while later, the second domino fell: The iPad would support hardware keyboards over Bluetooth.


I sold my ancient, heavy iBook as soon as I got my greedy little hands on my iPad. No longer would I have to lug that thing around. I could now tote a light, slender tablet and a tiny, skinny keyboard. Perfect.

Here’s what I carry when I force myself to leave my writing cave and interact with the humans of the world:

iPad — Duh. My model is the iPad Air ’cause the screen-size-to-weight ratio is great. An iPad mini would be lighter still, but the screen real estate just isn’t there for serious writing sessions. I went with the 32 GB model, which was a miscalculation on my part. I should have sprung for 64 GB. I routinely run out of space and have to delete music or videos. Fortunately, Apple’s iCloud storage allows me to keep my music at the ready, even if it’s not on my device.

I spent the extra bucks to upgrade to the T-mobile cellular version of the iPad Air. T-mobile has a great program whereby they give you 250 MB per month of cellular data…free. As in no dinero. That’s MB, not GB, you’ll note, so we’re not talking a huge amount of data. Still, it’s free. And what I do is this: I leave the cell data off most of the time. If I find myself stuck somewhere without wifi and a desperate need to go online, I switch on the data, grab what I need, then turn it off again. For an emergency rescue feature, it can’t be beat, as long as you can swallow the initial upcharge for the cellular model.

I also use the iPad at school visits, where I hook it up to a projector (via an adapter) and run the presentation from my…

iPhone — Other than controlling presentations (about which more next time), I don’t really use my phone for writing-type tasks. When I’m out and about, I will sometimes be struck by something, in which case I usually email a thought or idea to myself for safe-keeping. I have the iPhone 5S, at 32 GB, like my iPad. Unlike my iPad, 32 GB is plenty on my phone. (Smaller apps, less data.)

When I’m home, I have a standard, boring Apple Smart Cover on my iPad. But when I go out, I want a little more protection and flexibility. So, I slap the Air into a Versacover by Moshi. As you can see from these photos, the Versacover is, indeed, versatile. It can fold into several configurations, allowing you to prop up the iPad in landscape or portrait mode.


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It does a good job setting up the iPad for typing, too. I use Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard. Bought it the day I bought my first iPad in 2010 and I’ve kept it ever since. (You think maybe I have a thing for keyboards?) I’m not hugely in love with the Apple keyboard, but that has nothing to do with the quality of the keyboard or the quality of typing into an iPad and has everything to do with my neurotic fixation on my original MacAlly iKey. In short: It’s impossible to make a portable keyboard that I’m going to fall in love with (and that goes for laptop keyboards, too), so I don’t even judge them on that basis. The Apple keyboard is good enough, which is as good as it gets for me in this category. And it seems to be gentle on batteries, too. (It takes two AAs, and they seem to last quite a while.)

Phonesuit chargerSpeaking of batteries… When you’re mobile, you’re always looking for your next hit of juice, right? After having my phone die at the end of a long day one too many times, I picked up a Phonesuit. It has enough power to recharge my phone from the dead, or to give me a good jolt on the iPad. It’s about the width of an iPhone, maybe twice as thick. Under the cap lurks a Lightning plug, so you don’t even need a cable — you can plug the Phonesuit right into your gadget. The little dimple you see in the picture is touch-sensitive: Touch it to light up the blue power meter and see how much charge your Phonesuit still has. Cool, eh? It has a micro-USB plug that you use to recharge it, and it comes with the appropriate cable for doing so.

There’s only one problem with the Phonesuit: When plugged in to your phone, it’s wide enough to block the audio port. So, if you want to eke out some more iPhone time to listen to your jams, that’s not gonna happen. You’ll have to wait until you power up, then rock out.

When not actually in motion, but still away from my home base, I like to carry the XtremeMac InCharge Home charger. It sports two USB ports, so it charges up my phone and iPad at the same time, taking up only a single outlet. In a hotel room, that can be a godsend — there are still hotels out there that hide their outlets, hardwire their electronics right into the wall, or dole out plugs so parsimoniously that you’re forced to choose between charging your phone or watching TV. Needing only a single outlet helps. Also, when out in public, you can find that person hogging an outlet and say, “Hey, you let me plug in instead, you can plug into my second port and we can both drink in that sweet, sweet electricity.” Works a treat in airports especially.

That’s what I take with me when I leave the house for some writin’ time! What I wish I had: After losing my iPad on a flight a few years ago, I wish I had a Bluetooth fob that would sound the alarm when I leave my iPad behind somewhere. I tried one out a few months ago, but it was finicky. Anyone have any luck with such a gizmo? If so, tell me the brand and model in the comments!

  1. I’ll be here all week, folks! Don’t forget to tip your waitress!


  1. I love this series! Maybe I need to just travel with an iPad and a keyboard!

  2. I did replace my laptop with tablet+keyboard combination 2 years ago. Even though I was using 11″ MacBook Air, still the new iPad Air+keyboard combination is a lot lighter and mobile. Atm I’d never go back to laptops if I didn’t have to!

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