Writing this feels a bit weird – new, yet also strangely familiar. You might have noticed that, in addition to the Real World section’s brilliant redesign, this column now has an extended title, “Mobile & Wireless”. PC Pro has had a Mobile Computing column for some years but that “…& Wireless” reflects a broadening of scope. In fact, I’m going to be broadening the scope of the column even more than the title might suggest: think of it as an “off-site computing” column and you won’t be too far off the mark.
I’m going to be covering all the tips, toys and techniques that are useful to the seasoned road warrior, as well as to someone who works occasionally from home – anywhere but the office. And if that mugshot at the top of the column looks rather familiar, well, as The Simpsons’ Troy McClure would put it, “you might remember me from such Real World columns as Web Business and Server-Side Computing”. Those of you who actually read those columns might remember that I often devoted a fair bit of space to the latest additions to my gadget portfolio: I’m a bit of a gadget freak, which is partly why PC Pro has moved me to this new slot.
I seem to get through new laptops at an indecent rate, to such an extent that it’s become a bit of a joke among my friends and colleagues. Perhaps I’m particularly hard on them (able to wear the legends off the A and S keys after just a couple of months’ abuse), but I’ll confess that I also chop and change in an unending search for the perfect form factor.
I’ve always been a fan of small, lightweight laptops for several reasons. First, you don’t need to be built like Hercules to haul them around – I find that anything in the 1-1.5kg weight range just slips into my rucksack almost unnoticed, and without inducing musculoskeletal trauma and trips to the chiropractor. Which leads directly to the second advantage. It isn’t just you who won’t notice that you’re carrying a small laptop, but also those scumbags who like to snatch them. It’s far less obvious to other people that you’re carrying over a grand’s worth of kit around with you.
I’ve never understood why so many people carry dedicated laptop bags, the kind with all those neat Velcro-sealed compartments for the machine, its charger and all the bits. Usually made of black nylon, occasionally black leather for the upmarket, they always look like, well, laptop bags. Sure they have padding in the right places to protect against knocks and bumps. Sure their compartments allow you to stow everything quite neatly. But equally, surely they’re a very bad idea. Often, they’ll even have a brand name such as Toshiba, Dell or HP blazoned across them, but it might just as well read “Mug Me, Now, Please”. I know several people who’ve had their laptops snatched, and in nearly every case the machine had been sitting there in a proprietary laptop bag. My tip of the month, therefore, is to carry your laptop in the scruffiest old rucksack you possess.
Of course, it doesn’t matter how inconspicuous your bag is if you’re travelling by train or plane and need to get some work done en-route. As soon as you get the kit out it’s immediately visible to those around you, and that leads me to the third reason I favour small, lightweight laptops: unobtrusiveness. I often try to work on the train between Brighton and London, and you wouldn’t believe some of the widescreen monsters that other commuters pull out of their bags. Not only do they have big screens, but big speakers too, so that every time their machine beeps the entire carriage knows about it (including any felons, who soon realise that the commuter has some serious high-grade silicon). I wonder whether they’re as nervous as they ought to be when they leave the station on a dark evening? I like to think that my smaller and quieter machine, coupled with a tatty old rucksack, make me less conspicuous and, fingers crossed, less likely to become a statistic of crime.