Important Properties Of Mobile Devices

My first laptop was a Targa one, bought cheap from the Lidl (a supermarket chain). It had a 15″ screen, weighted around 3.5 kilos and had a battery life of about two hours. I bought it because I wanted to have a laptop and this seemed to be a cheap and good choice. The specs were good, it had a 2Ghz processor, 512Mb of RAM and a 60Gb harddisk.

It was a mistake. For one I hadn’t really thought of how I’d be using this beast and second what the properties of a device for that use would be. I don’t believe in using your laptop for everything. Many people buy a laptop with the best specs they can get, get rid of their desktop PC and use only the laptop. I don’t like that, because there are so many trade-offs. Sure, you can connect your LCD screen, mouse and keyboard to the laptop and use it just like a desktop PC. What’s important to have in that case? Lots of RAM, huge disk drive (which is already a problem, because the larger ones I’ve seen are only 60Gb), fast processor. But if you use it as mobile device, what’s does your priority list look like then? It shouldn’t weight a lot, it should be small and should have a good battery life. If you want it small and light you will have to pay a lot of money and will probably end up with a not so powerful processor and small hard disk. These things take up space. A long battery life is even a bigger problem, you’d either have to settle for a more expensive power savvy processor like the Pentium-M (which comes with Intel Centrinos) which is slower, or a huge battery which takes a pick-up truck to carry.

It’s a problem, you can’t have both. And for those who settled for a fridge-sized laptop that they can use for both: I wish you good luck.

A couple of months ago I sold my old laptop and bought an iBook. My iBook is small (it has a 12″ screen), is not very heavy (a little over 2kg) and has a good battery life (5–6 hours). No, it doesn’t have a big-ass processor, but the 1Ghz processor it has is good enough for what I use it for. In these days of Moore’s-law-driven people always wanting to have the fastest of the fastest, there seems to be no concept of “good enough”. I use my iBook at university to take notes, give presentations, sometimes do some word processing and developing software. It’s not the fastest laptop you’ll ever see, but it gets the job done in a satisfying way. It’s good enough.

I had to think about all this because I was browsing around the web to find out a little about TabletPCs. I heard “Scoble”: talk about it so much that I thought I’d find more information about them. I always assumed that TabletPCs would be smaller devices than laptops (10″ screens) that had no keyboard but let you use a stylus to do the input right on the screen. The idea never really appealed to me, I don’t like writing using a pen. But when I looked around, I found out that many TabletPCs are both a laptop and a TabletPC. You can then just turn the screen around, like so:

Acer C110

Cool! I thought. Those devices (like the Acer C110) are very thin (2.5cm) and far from heavy (around 1.5kg). They don’t have the most powerful processors (in the 700Mhz — 1.2Ghz range), but hey, they’re not workstations. They’re more expensive than normal laptops but you don’t have to be a millionair to get one. But what about the battery life? Hmm. What!? 2 hours? 3.5 hours? Isn’t that a little short? I mean, these things are made to work with wirelessly, on planes, in trains. These things need battery lifes like 5–12 hours. But that would need them bigger batteries, which would make them bigger and heavier.

I hate trade-offs.