Do you find it’s hard staying productive when traveling? That’s because most mobile productivity hardware and software suck. In this article, I present some of the best equipment for working out of your smartphone.
I just got back from a tour of California’s beautiful Sonoma County, internationally known for its extraordinary wines and verdant, rolling hills. Unfortunately, with a deadline looming and no laptop available, the task of composing an article fell to my trusty smartphone, a suite of productivity software and a handful of peripheral devices.
Plan Your Trip
First things, first: Prepare for your trip.
Knowing the weather ahead of time will allow you to pack accordingly. On my wine-tasting trip, an unusual weather pattern brought in sprinkles and cold weather. Fortunately, having used Weatherbug and Google’s search feature, I managed to pack my bags accordingly. Unfortunately, not everyone in my party prepared and two found themselves huddled together around cups of coffee while I gloated and snapped pictures.
Another handy tip is to download maps of your travel destination ahead of time, using Google Maps. As I’ve mentioned before, Google Maps offers an offline mode. Simply download and install the app. From the menu tri-dot, select the “make available offline” option. Maps will prompt you to manually indicate the region that you’re traveling to and will then save the entire region to your phone’s memory.
Check the weather: As Joel can attest, it’s possible to check the weather of your travel destination using Weatherbug‘s forecast feature. If you’re on a desktop, searching Google + the region you’re traveling to will produce prediction results from the Weather Channel’s Weather Underground.
The most useful productivity software to take on a vacation is a combination of office apps, offline navigation, theft recovery and place of interest discovery apps.
Offline Navigation: Offline navigation can help when visiting locations where data access is poor, absent or expensive. Two of the best offline navigation apps are OSMand and the outstanding Google Maps. Both provide excellent turn-by-turn navigation, in addition to offline functionality.
Office Applications: For free office apps two of the best apps are KingOffice and Google Drive. For paid apps consider DocumentsToGo or OfficeSuite Pro 7. While each app possesses various strengths and weaknesses, my preference is for OfficeSuite Pro 7 of the paid apps and KingOffice for the free apps. But overall, I don’t know if the additional features of the paid office suites justify their $15 price tags.
Unfortunately, many office productivity suites lack important features found on the desktop or laptop. A big issue among Microsoft Office users is the lack of higher spreadsheet functions on mobile devices. While mobile software improves constantly, it doesn’t yet appear to be on the level of the desktop.
SwiftKey: Joel first suggested SwiftKey in his article on the best Android apps money can buy. And as I can personally attest, SwiftKey provides one of the fastest virtual keyboard experiences on any platform. I cannot suggest this app enough.
Yelp: The Yelp app finds businesses pertinent to whatever you crave, in addition to offering augmented reality. Augmented reality apps visually overlay locations pertinent to your needs on the phone’s screen. Simply select a category from a number of Yelp’s predefined filters, such as restaurants or bars and Yelp takes care of the rest, using your phone’s camera to display places near you. Just wave the phone around and it shows the location’s proximity and direction.
Cerberus: Cerberus provides a formidable defense against thieves. One of its most effective features includes the ability to track a stolen phone even in the event of a SIM card swap. Another handy feature lies in Cerberus’s ability to activate the phone’s microphone, which helps in identifying the thief and assisting recovery of the phone. It also includes remote tracking from a desktop, and the ability to activate if another SIM card is swapped in – handy if the thieves resell the phone. Frankly, Cerberus is the ultimate security for your phone.
Unfortunately, Cerberus doesn’t come free. Alternatives that cost nothing, fortunately, do exist, although they don’t provide the same features. Plan-B is among some of the better alternatives.
Essential Smartphone Gear
One of the best features of smartphone gear is that it’s lightweight. Compared to many laptops, even ultraportable Chromebooks, a bag full of smartphone gear feels like a bag full of feathers. Additionally, they often provide a redundancy not found in a heavier computer. For example, if any individual device fails, such as a battery or charger, you can rely on the phone’s internal keyboard or battery. It may shock you that the SwiftKey app helped compose half of this article.
Bluetooth mouse: Having a mouse makes the mobile computing experience very similar to the desktop in several important ways: First, the mouse scroll-wheel perfectly integrates into Android, providing a seamless means of zooming around a word processor. Second, a mouse allows you to completely detach from touchscreen dependence, freeing you up to focus entirely on typing and editing. In my experience, almost all Bluetooth mice work with Android Honeycomb (3) and above.
The mouse pictured is the Eclipse Touch. While not well reviewed, in many ways it beat its two-star Amazon rating by offering good performance and portability. However, at $25, better mice can be found. Regarding peripheral devices, you may as well go as cheap as possible since not much of a difference exists between expensive and cheap mice. For example, some of the expensive “touch” mice on the market don’t require mechanically activating a mouse button and instead incorporate a touch-sensitive material. While the technology feels more organic than “clicky” traditional buttons, you’re better off with something inexpensive and disposable. Theft runs high while on the road and minimizing your risk should take precedent over novel or unique features.
Bluetooth keyboard: A keyboard provides many times more “words per minute” typing efficiency than does a virtual touch keyboard. While a travel keyboard may require batteries and drain quite a bit of energy over Bluetooth, they provide an optimal means of typing papers. They also oftentimes include keyboard shortcuts to the phone’s core functions, such as the dialer.
Unfortunately, most keyboards that can work on older versions of Android tend to run a high cost and offer poor functionality and performance. On the other hand, newer versions of Android (4+) offer excellent keyboard compatibility with Bluetooth devices. And some can in fact be found for relatively little money.
OTG Cable: On-the-Go cables allow newer Android devices (4+) connectivity with many USB devices. Erez did a great write-up explaining how OTG works. Christian also elaborated on how-to implement a keyboard-tablet pairing, which he actually used as his primary computer for a full week. One of the advantages of using a standard keyboard is that it doesn’t require its own batteries, instead drawing current from the mobile device itself. OTG cables sell on Amazon for just a few dollars, too.
AC adapter: When you’re not out and about, or sleeping, an AC adapter, AKA charger, keeps your device from draining out. Unfortunately, if you’re anything like me, you make extremely poor decisions and frequently purchase incompatible or poor quality computer parts. To illustrate, my AC adapter ended up failing, necessitating that I rely on a backup battery.
Backup battery: A backup battery will help in the event that you are unable to charge using your AC adapter. In my case, the AC adapter failed – however, the backup battery provided an entire additional day of charge. It also doubled as a flashlight.
Man-bag: While the majority of you would scoff at a man carrying a purse, I defy such rigid gender stratification. The canvas man-bag comfortably fit all my gadgets, including a Nexus 4 Smartphone, prized rooted Nook Simple Touch, Bluetooth travel keyboard, Bluetooth mouse and Cocoon gadget case. The whole kit weighed only a few pounds, to boot.
Towel: Never forget your towel.
If you hate lugging around a heavy laptop, and mobile productivity ranks high on your list of priorities, try rolling your very own mobile productivity kit. It takes little more than a handful of the best travel apps and gear to get up and running.
Anyone else love working on the go? Let us know in the comments.
Image Credits: Cellphone via MorgueFile.com