The Gadget Connection
Paul Ockenden looks at a few business-class gadgets, all featuring wireless data connections.
Mobile & Wireless
The Gadget Connection
Paul Ockenden looks at a few business-class gadgets, all featuring wireless data connections
After last month’s round-up of some of my favourite smartphones, this month I’m going to take a look at some other “connected” devices and gadgets that have piqued my interest lately. As always, I’ll be considering the long-term benefits of these products in a real-world business environment, rather than reviewing their features (and, of course, I’ll be injecting a healthy dose of personal opinion).
I want to start with a device that aims to solve the problem of working with mobile data while you’re on the move. If you need to use a laptop away from base, your usual data connection options are Wi-Fi (where and when it’s available), or else GPRS or 3G, either via a Bluetooth link to your mobile phone or, more typically, by plugging a mobile data card into your laptop’s PC Card slot. Both of these methods can sorely test your patience to set them up, and laptop data cards in particular can be pretty awkward in use. I’ve found that they’re typically very power hungry and eat battery life like there’s no tomorrow, while also consuming a lot of memory and gobbling loads of interrupts, DMA channels and I/O ports. I’ve got a few laptops here into which the ubiquitous “Option” card supplied by many mobile phone networks simply refuses to install, because the machines don’t have enough resources free. The reason for this greed is that the cards actually present several interfaces to the laptop – GPRS/3G, Wi-Fi, phone and a control interface – so it’s a bit like plugging in four devices at once.
The other problem with the mobile data card is that it’s an ugly lump of plastic sticking out of the side of your machine, which means it will no longer fit into its slip case and it becomes far more vulnerable to knocks and falls. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen what happens to a laptop when it falls on a protruding PC Card but, trust me, it isn’t a pretty sight – the card is usually pushed deep into the guts of the machine, smashing the motherboard and often cracking the screen. It’s pretty much guaranteed to be instant death for any laptop.
So, if Wi-Fi hotspots aren’t sufficiently ubiquitous, Bluetooth links to mobile phones are too fiddly, and laptop cards are both unreliable and awkward, what’s the alternative? Step forward the latest version of a mini-laptop called the Dialogue Flybook V33i. That name might sound familiar, as PC Pro has reviewed various Flybook models over the years, but this latest model is a bit special because it includes a built-in 3G modem and, what’s more, this modem is HSDPA-enabled, so you can get broadband-like speeds from the mobile networks. The neat thing about the Flybook is that it has no lumpy cards sticking out of its side, and no worries over free interrupts and DMA channels – it comes pretty much ready to, er, fly. Merely open a little slot on its side, insert a data-enabled SIM and away you go. Crucially, it’s also quite neat as a small form-factor laptop – not so tiny as my trusty Sony VAIO U101 (see issue 141, p183), but nowhere near as heavy or bulky as a normal laptop. Its swivel screen enables it to convert into a tablet form too.
On paper, it all sounds wonderful, so as soon as I saw the press release I requested one for a long-term trial. Incidentally, the UK importer of this device is Widget, owned by a certain Mark Needham who used to write the Mobile Computing column in PC Pro. It’s a small world!