Writing on the Go: My Android Laptop

I live in the mobile world most of the time. If nothing else, I live in a small world and I want to take most of it with me. If there’s any reason that I needed a newer laptop computer, that would be the one. Tabatha, my 17 inch Toshiba Satellite laptop was reaching the end of the line when it came to my wants and needs. She’s still a good laptop, but I need to be a little lighter on the go these days. When you’re hopping between branches, and out on the road or on the train, there’s not much point in lugging around a six pound laptop if you don’t need to.

I looked around, did some research, and decided what I really wanted was a very simple device. I don’t need a hardcore, powerful machine to be my walking around laptop. I do plenty of multimedia editing, audio visual stuff and things, but I don’t do them on the road. I might record something on the road. I might shoot some video or record a little audio, but I’m not going to edit it right there. All of my editing is done on a desktop computer and that’s what works for me. So I needed light and simple.

I almost bought a Chromebook. I researched the product, talked to a good friend who owns one, and I really like what I see there. I still do. I think a Chromebook could still be in my future, but I decided against it for now. I took a different tack and decided to upgrade something I already had.

Mah babeh.

Mah babeh.

My Asus Transformer Android tablet.

I love this little thing. It’s usually the first device I touch in the morning and the last thing I put away at night. I read on it, watch YouTube, listen to music, and occasionally write using a BlueTooth keyboard. That’s when it hit me. You can get a keyboard dock for this tablet and it comes with a lot of perks and spiffs.

The Asus Transformer Mobile Dock is the same size as the Transformer tablet. It consists of an island style keyboard with a small touchpad. It connects right up to the base of the tablet, locking it in, and literally transforms it into a small laptop, just a little bit smaller than the 11 inch MacBook Air. It adds a little heft to the tablet, but it’s still very light and portable. However that stuff is standard and kind of expected for a keyboard dock. For me, it’s the extra things that it does that really make my day.

Besides adding a keyboard and touchpad, the Mobile Dock brings along its own battery which adds to the operational time of the tablet. With the keyboard in place you’ll get around 12 – 15 hours of use between charges, and that’s more or less continuous use. As I’m writing this, I’m working on day three of a single charge. The way it works is pretty simple, but surprisingly elegant. The dock battery provides a continuous charge to the tablet. So as the tablet’s battery drains, the dock will keep it topped off and fresh. It doesn’t take much power to run the dock itself. Since it’s physically connected to the tablet, there’s no Bluetooth or other wireless connection to drain the battery.

The keyboard dock includes a small touchpad that’s great for editing documents and precise editing on everything else. This may sound a bit snark, but the nicest thing about the touchpad is how easy it is to turn off. When I write on this thing, my thumbs occasionally brush the pad and move the cursor. Since I don’t do a lot of editing on the first write, I don’t need the touchpad on anyway. There’s a one key press solution to turn it on and off, along with a whole row of function keys at the top of the board that are actually, well, functional.

There’s the back button, in the same place as an escape key, so that makes sense. Then there are buttons to toggle WiFi, Bluetooth, the touchpad, two buttons to adjust brightness and a third to set it to auto-adjust. You’ve got a one button access to the camera, default browser, and settings. Finally, you’ve got media control keys for playback and volume control of whatever happens to be playing. There’s also a lock button for quick locking the device, though closing it up does the same thing, so I only use it when I’m leaving it on my desk and want to lock it down.

This thing made a clicking noise long before the Microsoft Surface.

This thing made a clicking noise long before the Microsoft Surface.

The keyboard is kind of smallish, but keep in mind that, at five foot four (~163 cm), I have small hands. In other words, if you have large hands, then this is not the keyboard for you. Me, I type at just under my normal speed on it, probably sustaining around 60 – 70 words per minute. (I normally hit 80 – 90 on a regular keyboard with bursts of 100.) The great thing about the Android operating system over iOS, or at least as of iOS 6, is that many familiar keyboard shortcuts work in almost all the apps. That means CTRL + L in the browser selects and highlights the URL bar so I can type a new address. CTRL + X C V work for cut, copy, and paste respectively. Holding down shift and the arrow keys allows highlighting. The inclusion of ctrl and alt keys means I can easily use this for RDP into my Windows server at home or VNC to any other machine.

Like I said, I’m kind of a studio rat. If I need to edit video, audio, or create illustrations, I’m going to go to my studio because I’m very comfortable there. Meanwhile, I can write anywhere. I can write in a coffee shop as well as I can write in a quiet library. I don’t need a big, powerful, beefy machine to write. My workflow is pretty simple and only requires a couple of apps for the tablet and they all fit in with how I like to write.

When I write, I want a blank screen, medium to medium-large text, and a keyboard. I’ll do editing and fancy bolding and italicizing later. For the first go around, I just need to write. About all I’ll bother to correct right away is the odd spelling mistake here and there. In other words, I don’t need Word, or LibreOffice, or a word processor — I need a text editor. My Android writing app of choice is Denote and I adore it for all the reasons I just listed above. The other best thing about it is that it links to Dropbox. So everything I write can be picked up an any of my computers. So take this blog post, I wrote it entirely on my Android tablet. Then I picked it up on a laptop; pasted it into a WordPress post; edited, tweaked, and fiddled; and that was it.

Denote for Android - My preferred writing environment.

Denote for Android – My preferred writing environment.

In the end, I can’t recommend this solution highly enough, but that’s because it works so well for me. For you, you might want all the bells and whistles when you write. You might want to write directly in whatever will be the final destination for your work. That’s fine. One of my favourite writers and nerds, Cory Doctorow, says you should write at least 250 words per day. I do that on this Android laptop and I do it quite easily. The only difference is that I might write a 1,500 word article or essay every couple of days. That’s not bad and it gets me my week’s worth of 250 words per day all at once!

So yeah, I walk around with an Android laptop that does absolutely everything I need it to do and leave all my power tools at home.

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