MakeUseOf Experiments: Going Tablet-Only For a Week & Staying Productive
You took one look at the headline and thought “this guy is crazy“, right? That’s pretty much what I thought at first, but as the week progressed I found myself struggling with apps, multi-tasking and spending too much money in cafes (and I only went once!).
What’s worse is that this article was my idea. Anyone else could have taken it, but it fell to me. Perhaps the rest of the team were trying to tell me something; perhaps I should have heard the alarm bells ringing? Oh well, I didn’t. Which is just as well, as the past week has proved to me just how productive I can be working purely from a tablet rather than booting up my PC, having multiple open tabs and launching virtual machines whenever necessary.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the diary below…
I approached today with some trepidation; plenty of excitement too, but I was wary of failing early on. The rules are simple – I can’t use a desktop or laptop computer for a week, Sunday through to the following Saturday. I unplugged the keyboard from my PC and put it in a wardrobe, well out of the way. This week would be me and my tablet.
A certain amount of leeway in my scheduling was required. I avoided any articles requiring a virtual machine, for instance. Some apps had to be installed and tested beforehand, too. Fortunately thanks to the Google Play Black Friday sale I was able to get a copy of Quick Office Pro for pennies – if this hadn’t have happened, I would have been relying completely on Google Drive.
My Android tablet isn’t even a genuine device – it’s a HP TouchPad running a modded version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. I’m using it with the HP Bluetooth keyboard – the software keyboard is quite usable, but this is a light, slimline device and besides, I have previous experience of spending a week with just me and a tablet – last July it was my only link to the outside world during a week in a luxury cabin in the South West of England.
So I know what I’m doing (he said, panicking that his own website was inaccessible from the Android WordPress app…)
So, my blog had gone under, apparently either due to a DoS attack or dodgy plugin. Fortunately I had little need to worry as the host’s excellent technical support was dealing with the problem.
Faced with the first proper day of the working week, I set to work on the first of my articles, a pair of posts about WordPress blogging for a site I work with regularly.
In preparation for this (still, I think, insane) task, I installed the WordPress app on my tablet and set about adding each of my own blogs and those that I work with. Unfortunately, the website in question for today hadn’t enabled XML-RPC, which meant I would be unable to submit my articles through the app – instead, it would require some fiddly work in the Android browser.
With my Bluetooth keyboard set up and working (although God only knows how to force a UK keyboard beyond the Android settings screen) it wasn’t long before I was well on my way through these particular posts.
Later in the day, I set to work for my second session of research, collaboration for which is made simple using the Trello website. Fortunately there is an Android app for Trello; works surprisingly well, even down to the dragging of cards from one board to another.
I host a weekly podcast at Kasterborous (the website that had earlier gone down) – one of the major fears for approaching this task was whether I would be able to take part. Fortunately I have two co-hosts, and this week all I needed to do was turn up and take part in a Skype phone call. My colleagues handled the recording. We take it in turns to do the editing and fortunately, it wasn’t my turn!
More blogging in the evening revealed that there is a slight flaw in the WordPress app: you can’t browse your own blog’s gallery of images. This proved frustrating when trying to publish posts, and it was through using Google to search for images on my site that I discovered that the native Android browser prevents the saving of pictures to the tablet when using Google Images. The only recourse was to start searching again, only using my site’s own (slightly woolly) search tool.
Another day done, but the big test was still to come…
Using QuickOffice is a pleasingly painless experience – at least, when it comes to writing articles for MakeUseOf. The stripped down UI makes it perfect for distraction-free typing and with my tablet set in portrait mode writing suddenly becomes very easy; two pieces (the research of which took place before this lunatic assignment began) are easily typed up and proofed.
However, it was the submission that proved troublesome. All MakeUseOf articles are checked by an editor, but to get that far, they need to be added into a post submission tool in the site’s WordPress back end. Although I was successfully adding and editing content on three of my own blogs, I just couldn’t get the Android WordPress app to talk to MakeUseOf (beyond the initial connection).
At one point I had to get in touch with my MakeUseOf colleague Erez for advice on this. We eventually agreed that the worst case scenario should be me issuing instructions to my wife on how to submit the article and add the images on my PC, thereby enabling me to avoid using the computer.
Eventually I got there on my own, however, the result being a very slow article submission experience through my tablet’s Dolphin browser (native Chrome proving wholly and disappointingly unsuitable) which was held up further when the article images were added.
Largely taking advantage of my own photos, these were instantly uploaded from my Nokia Lumia 920 to my SkyDrive account; using the Android SkyDrive app I was then able to save them to my tablet, and eventually add them to the post (after taking advantage of the free Photo Editor app for Android to crop and resize the hi-res photos).
I would have preferred to submit both of the articles I had written that day. However, this plan was disrupted as time had run out. Article number two would need to wait until Wednesday, along with a few Skype chats…
My initial priority was to get the outstanding article submitted – however this was made temporarily impossible by an urgent rescheduling of one of my Skype meetings, concerning a magazine project that I am launching.
Two hours later, it was a little too late. Although I had plenty of time before the deadline I still prefer to have my contributions to MakeUseOf added early. On this occasion, however, I opted to set aside an hour in the evening and crack on with the next task – content research.
For this, as mentioned earlier, we use Trello. There is an excellent app for Android that has so far made using Trello very easy. Until today…
It seems that there is a limit to the app that prevents new cards being added to a board when a certain limit has been reached. Due to the other activities of my MUO colleague Erez, there wasn’t enough space to add my research to the usual place. Fortunately I could add them to a different list until Erez was done, but sadly the one weakness with the Trello app is the imprecise nature of dragging cards from board to board.
Again, it was a delay that I could do without, so I opted to resechedule my second Skype call, this time taking it on my Windows Phone (just for a change of device!). Fortunately I was able to submit all of my work for today by 7pm, and even spend some time reading the MUO Monetization Manual in the Android Kindle app before bed.
One of the revelations about owning a tablet in the first place is that it makes mobile working so easy; today would be a chance to see just how much I could get done outside of my usual comfort zone.
As a freelancer, every so often I like to take the opportunity to go and work somewhere else. Usually it is a branch of Starbucks or Costa Coffee or suchlike, and today I enjoyed a couple of hours’ work (and too much hot chocolate!) at my local Costa.
One thing that has come to light using just my tablet is the need to have a pen and paper handy, and this was certainly the case today as I brainstormed notes for research, updated blogs and took advantage of the coffee shop’s wireless Internet. I’m more used to keeping notes in multiple windows on my PC, something that just isn’t practical on this type of tablet – a pen and paper is the obvious and easy solution.
The beauty of working this way for the past few days is that I could have headed out for coffee at any point since Sunday. Sitting with a cream and marshmallow-topped hot chocolate and an almond and raspberry slice, it was obvious that I’d left this treat too late in the week!
The magazine which I’m developing (a professional-standard publication based on the popular British TV series Doctor Who) is kind of running behind schedule, and today I had pencilled in the important task of transcribing a series of interviews with the show’s stars.
Simple, you might think; except I’m no expert at shorthand; when I transcribe, it’s a case of play-pause-write.
This sort of multitasking is a piece of cake (mmm, dreams of almond and raspberry slice!) on a PC, but not so easy on my tablet. In fact, the whole app-switching element of it is soon discarded, and once again my notepad and pen come into play. With 30 minutes of audio to transcribe in the morning, I stumbled my way to completing just 10 minutes by lunchtime, mostly by writing by pen and then typing up, checking the recording once more to clear up any errors.
Due to my scheduling, this tiring experience has put me back a week on that single article. Not good.
My final day tied to my tablet rolled around this morning, with some relief. Today also happens to be the day in which my old HTC HD7 Windows Phone 7 handset was sold, listed the previous week on eBay.
Keeping an eye on the listing throughout the week was made possible with the eBay app, which also enabled me to keep an eye on the transaction after the auction ended.
The only piece of real work left in this project is to conclude and submit. After the previous experiences of submitting via the device browser, I was certainly prepared, and using photos and screenshots saved to the tablet kept the upload process streamlined at best.
But was it a pleasurable experience?
Seven Days & A Few Headaches Later…
When I first picked up this project, I was surprised that no one had already claimed it. Looking back, you might think that the rest of the MUO team perhaps had a good idea of what to expect.
However, I would disagree. Beside the fact that I’ve found some great apps in my quest to remain productive using only my tablet (along with my mobile phone and a notepad and paper!) this has been a fascinating experiment in efficiency, time management and mobile working.
Yes, there have been frustrations; posting to my own blogs seemed to be quicker than doing so via my desktop browser while of course submitting work to MakeUseOf was ridiculously difficult at first. Yet these aren’t necessarily bad things.
After all, my habit (as becomes a writer) of almost psychotic procrastination has been severely tempered by limiting my work to a tablet. Sure, multi-tasking is available, but it feels something of a chore in some cases (laggy Facebook apps and online forums, for instance). This has had the effect of focusing my efforts on work, and as a result the problems I had submitting articles to MUO didn’t end up being too time-intensive.
Over the week, I used the following apps:
- Google 4.0 native email
- Google 4.0 native browser
- Dolphin HD browser
- Photo Editor
- Google Drive
- Google Talk native
All in all it has been a great experience, one that proves that with the right preparation (software and scheduling) you can use a tablet computer in place of a desktop PC for work purposes.
As with any task, of course, it does depend on the capabilities of the hardware and the available software. But thanks to tablet-based office tools, online collaboration apps and wireless networking in cafes, I’ve managed (despite my initial fears and misgivings) to get through a week of intensive writing using just my tablet. While I’m proud of that, I’m also very tired. It’s not something I would like to do again in a hurry.
I doubt my tablet will ever be a complete replacement for my PC. However, while I don’t expect to buy another laptop ever again, this shouldn’t mean that tablets can replace laptops or desktop computers. Indeed, I think this week has proven that in the surge of progress, tablet computers are missing the flexibility of true multitasking, something which continues to give traditional PCs the edge.
Regardless of hardware, I don’t think that the tablet dynamic can even cope with multitasking.