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James and I have been involved in the mobile technology space for quite some time now. He’s been using mobile devices “since they weighed 30 pounds.” Those are the days when I weighed 30 pounds, but you catch my drift. Between the two of us, we […]

jkotr-logoJames and I have been involved in the mobile technology space for quite some time now. He’s been using mobile devices “since they weighed 30 pounds.” Those are the days when I weighed 30 pounds, but you catch my drift. Between the two of us, we have years of practical experience in this space. And while new gadgets, operating systems and software appear on a daily basis, there are still some common fundamentals that are useful — mobile maxims, if you will. While the specific tools supporting them might change, these mobile suggestions never go out of style.

1. Always buy a second battery for your main device — This one is really simple. If you can afford it, buy a second battery for your main notebook or netbook upon purchasing the device. I do this for a few reasons. Doubling the battery life on any of my current — and presumably future — devices means that I have all day mobile computing. This frees me from having to work only in locations where I may be able to find an electrical outlet. I don’t have to be constrained to locations with electricity when I have two batteries. This also helps with leveling the “wear” in my batteries. Eventually, the batteries will hold less of a charge when full. By rotating batteries on a regular basis, I can even out that wear over time. If I don’t do that, I end up with two batteries that offer a wildly variable run time. Need another reason to buy a second battery at time of purchase? You don’t have to worry as much about battery availability in the future. There’s nothing worse than to have a device — and its batteries — become discontinued or hard to find when you really need a spare power pack.

usb-flash-drive2. Carry a toolkit for drive restores – It helps to expect the unexpected. In the case of mobile computers, it could be a hard drive failure, file corruption or who knows what. While you can’t anticipate every issue, you can easily prepare yourself for disaster with nothing more than a small flash drive. I carry one around with me and make sure it has software like a partition manager, certain device drivers, portable apps and anything else I might need in the event of a major issue. These days it’s not all that hard to build up a collection of such tools and drop them on a cheap USB drive. Why not even carry an OS with you? Ubuntu can be booted and run off of a flash drive in a pinch.

3. Have a backup plan for wireless connectivity — You can’t be totally mobile without some type of connectivity. So I pay for a monthly 3G plan with Verizon Wireless and use the very common USB adapter for it. This lets me use the connection with any Mac or PC, plus I can share that connection over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi in a pinch. But I also pay $10 a month for access to the Boingo Wireless network. I consider it cheap insurance and I often use it at a Starbucks or other location. I also have my iPhone set up for Internet Tethering, which is why I’m not upgrading beyond iPhone OS 3.0. I recommend having at least one backup connectivity plan, just in case your primary one goes on the fritz. It happened to me once before and because I was prepared, I was still productive.

4. When not in use, turn off the juice — There are many strategies for this mantra and they’ll vary based on your needs and your devices. For me it means to turn off radios and put devices into sleep mode when possible. I often use this strategy with my mail and RSS feeds. Because I use Google for both services and Google supports offline use via Gears — except for Snow Leopard installs — it’s common for me to fetch mail or feeds and then shut down my Wi-Fi or 3G. Although idle radios today are more efficient than they used to be, why have them use power when I can work offline for a while thanks to Gears? I also reduce the screen brightness on everything to the lowest usable level that’s still comfortable. For me that’s around 30% or so, but of course for you it could be different. The point is: aside from using the built-in power management features of your device, reducing your power needs can help bring more run time during the day.

Image 1 for post SugarSync app for iPhone: what Live Mesh for Mobiles should be?( 2008-08-28 14:10:10) 5. Invest in a useful web-based data storage and synchronization service (or provide your own) — I actually use several tools in this area, mainly because if one experiences a service disruption, chances are one of the others will be fine. The idea behind this mantra is to have your data available to you regardless of what device you have with you. And if your device itself goes bad, a web-based storage service like Dropbox, SugarSync, Box.net, or ZumoDrive (to name a few) can be used with a public or borrowed machine. Ultimately, you don’t want to have data only available to one local device. When you do, you’re limited to using only that device. If you can’t use that device because the batteries ran down or because you left it somewhere, you’re dead in the water with local data. The corollary to this mantra is to provide your own remote storage. I’ve done just that with my Windows Home Server project, but you don’t need to buy or build another machine. Installing remote access software or using a service like LogMeIn can get you back to the data on a computer at home.

6. Consider using the “lightest” tool for the task at hand — Think about pairing the right tool with right task when it comes to mobile activities. For example, if I’m simply consuming basic content like email, I use my phone. Why? Because the phone battery lasts far longer than a laptop battery. It’s a “lighter” tool for the task and saves the battery on a “heavier tool” like my netbook or notebook for doing things I can’t easily do on the phone. I realize that it’s far more comfortable to reply or compose long emails on a larger device, so I often read my mail and mark items so I know I have to take action or respond. I later take action on those messages on the laptop if they require much typing. The same goes for checking a few items on the web. Why waste CPU cycles and battery life on a notebook or netbook if I can almost as easily hit them on a handset? Would I sit and surf the web for hours on a phone? Nope. But if I’m just checking the latest Techmeme headlines, browsing the most recent blog comments or something else that’s a bite-sized chunk of the web, why not do it on a “lighter” device? It seems a shame to waste precious battery life on a laptop for small, Internet morsels.

Image 1 for post Plantronics MX203S stereo headset for mobiles( 2006-04-20 15:52:03) 7. Tote a headset -- I make sure to always carry a wired headset and mic combo. At first, this one might sound frivolous, but I’ve found it to be very useful. It doesn’t add much weight to your gear bag, yet it can reap big rewards. I still carry a Bluetooth headset from time to time, but you run the risk of a dead battery. With a wired headset, battery life is one less thing to worry about. It comes in handy when you’re trying to work in a noisy area or you simply want to hear some relaxing music. I can also hear much better on a headset when a call comes in because I can be in any number of situations. It could be noisy when that phone rings unexpectedly, but I’m prepared to have my conversation regardless.

So those are my mobile mantras. Pick and choose to see what works for you. Even better — share yours in the comments so we can build up a nice useful list!

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  1. That’s pretty useful stuff. Still struggling to get Wake-on-LAN working so I can use my desktop as a file server when I’m out and about. From an environmental point of view I don’t like the idea of having it on all the time.

    1. Completely agree about using wake on LAN if you can. I have it set up on my Windows Home Server for the same reasons — no need for it to be on all the time from either a security standpoint as well as one of wasted energy.

  2. Kevin, good article. Question about the off-site back up sites you mentioned. Do any of them back up like time machine on the mac? I kind of like the way that works and can’t tell if they do. Thank you.

    1. by default, Dropbox saves revisions for files up to 30 days by default. i haven’t had much experience with time machine, but i’m assuming it provides a much more robust solution.

  3. Great article Kevin! I wrote a similar piece on my blog a while back for notebooks. There’s a ton of tips and accessories you can get to bring the best out of your mobile experience – things that not only enthusiasts, but beginners too can really benefit from.

    As I summed it up in my piece, “…with the right accessories and a little thinking, you can get a huge amount of potential out of your notebook alongside boosting your productivity. This can be especially significant when mobile, as these are often the times when the ability to adapt to circumstances means the difference between a successful day with your notebook vs. a very bad one.”

    Keep up the great work!

  4. First of all Thanks for the toned down background it’s unreal how much easier this is on the eyes…

    Secondly Thanks for the reminders. I’ve been off the road for years now but still live on mobile devices. My main computer is a laptop. My house phone a Nextel. I have spare a/c adapters in addition to spare batteries. I use a CF for a toolkit but just realized I have no idea if this comp will boot from it in need. Guess I best go check that out huh?

    Keep the great work flowing.

  5. Excellent list.

    I’d add one, don’t go out live with untested gear. Don’t take a new toy into a meeting without knowing its tricks, don’t check out a laptop from the tech department without knowing how to tell it to run VGA-out, don’t hand the guest speaker a wireless mic you just unboxed (untested or charged up), and don’t walk in with your presentation on a thumb drive and discover the shop is on Windows 95. Nice gear can fail in the best of circumstances, but not knowing how to operate it, or not calling ahead, isn’t gear failure.

  6. Great list, Kevin. I’d add one other thing I’d add is a USB cable. Great way to recharge phone off computer, and you never know when you’re going to need to move info from one device to another or connect to another computer.

    I also carry a thumb-drive-style card reader. If I’m giving a presentation (or whatever), I always put backups on my MicroSD card on my phone. Usually I can email the file to someone I’m working with, but it’s invaluable to be able to pop the MicroSD out of the phone and into the reader for backups in an emergency. I’ve run PowerPoints off my SD card more than once in a pinch.

  7. Nice article. Carry power; I bought a power plug for my phone that resides in my bag. I’ve forgotten this before and charging via laptop to phone is clunky and slow at best. I also found a battery driven phone battery charger. AA batter charges phone battery on the plane. Print out key phone numbers too.

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