We are only as good as the tools that we use to get the job done. At least, that was what I used to think as I sat in front of my $1400 laptop writing emails and jumping on video calls. But maybe I’ve changed my mind a bit during the past few weeks.
Listen, I’m a senior programmer and a fan of gadgets. I appreciate a good lightweight and powerful laptop that can churn out compiled code, serve a hi-res Zoom call and edit a podcast without blinking an eye. But that doesn’t really come cheap and it requires a hefty power supply for anything requiring more than 3 or 4 hours of solid bright full-resolution work.
I recently decided to pick up a relatively cheap tablet to supplement my work. Nothing crazy. No $799 octa-core gaming tablet. Just a tablet. I knew I was going to be jumping on more online video calls this year and (more than likely) spending more time consuming digital content. So anything that could handle that work was great.
I went with a $249 dollar Samsung Galaxy Tab A tablet. The price was right and Samsung makes some of the best screens that I’ve seen. I picked it up and didn’t think too much of it. I tossed it into my backpack and probably didn’t really turn it on for a few days. In fact, I almost had buyer’s remorse shortly after getting home and turning on my laptop to work for the day.
Until a week passed passed and I realized that the battery on the tablet was pretty much still full. So I decided to take the next step. The first big thing that I did was to transition my Zoom call ritual away from the laptop and to the tablet.
It was odd initially, because I no longer needed to be sitting stationary in the same location with the same power outlet in the same corner of my home with the same painting that greeted everyone I met with. I had one Zoom meeting. Then two. Then all of them eventually. The battery was still pretty much full.
Writing is a big part of my day as well. Both on my coding blog, and on Medium. I enjoy it and it’s something I’ve done for years. Again, my laptop was the go to place or all things writing. I’d fire up the laptop, open up the browser and navigate through 60+ tabs to find the spot where I left off. Same corner, same power outlet. And when not near the power outlet, I was on the clock. Because batteries.
“Uh oh. Let me plug this in.”
Work would typically stop at that point. I would use it as a break point in my day. And it’s one of the most common phrases that I hear when meeting people online. Sometimes during screen sharing moments, I would glance over at someone’s battery level with a slight tinge of anxiety as it hit the single digits.
So I downloaded the Medium app on my tablet and bought a cheap Bluetooth keyboard. And there I was on the couch. Zoom calls, emails, writing. And still at an 80% battery level. I could probably write forever at this stage, I assumed.
It eventually became more convenient to grab the tablet and to respond to long form emails as well now with the keyboard not far away. Mainly because the tablet was always on and emails were literally one icon tap away. Compared to before where the process involved waiting for the laptop to boot up, connecting to wi-fi, remembering which browser had my password stored and then hopefully not getting distracted on that journey.
The tablet was like a shortcut through the forest that is my digital life. It was essentially my phone, but several times bigger and with a much longer battery life. I might be focusing on battery life too much you might think. But the truth is, there is an underlying anxiety that comes with both having to sit near a power outlet or watching the meter drop by a percent every minute or two.
With the tablet, I never question the battery. A full-charge can probably last me anywhere from 2–3 full days of work. And that involves watching videos online, hearing a podcast and other non-work related tasks. And since I charge everyday, it’s slowly becoming a moot point pushing me more towards that much sought after flow state.
And the same type of thing kept happening over and over with various apps throughout the weeks. Getting from point A to point C was several times faster on the tablet. Because tablets are limited in screen space, designers tend to have to focus on minimalism more. Which means important things are out in the open, and less essential items are typically tucked away in drawers or hidden menus. On a standard desktop though, you typically tend to include everything out in the open in the hopes that something catches the eye for a click.
Even gaming was just overall less restrictive. A Bluetooth gaming controller and a quick download and install and there I was playing Call of Duty much like I do on a console at times. I enjoy gaming on my laptop, but typically those are rather large applications that, while they look great, require much heavier resources. Again, more battery consumption and thus that corner in the house with the desk and power outlet nearby.
The full transition from laptop to tablet probably took a month. Almost every application that I used on my laptop had an app equivalent, with the rare exception. Everything from email clients to Microsoft Word to my entire Google Suite. And the update schedules seem to be much shorter for an Android app than a Windows application. I don’t really update the apps on my Windows machine as often, unless it automatically does it for me. I know I should, it’s just that finding the right download link can become tedious. The app store takes care of that for me relatively well.
I still use my laptop mind you. It’s high powered and can do things that a tablet simply can’t do just yet, like compile large amounts of code or do any type heavy duty video editing. But those things are only a small subset of my weekly work. The laptop is there for those times I actually need it. But for everything else, the tablet seems to be holding up just fine.
To end where I began, I realized that it really isn’t about how powerful and amazing the tools in front of us are as I once did. That can always help, sure. But now I realize that it’s really more about using the right tool for the right job at the right time. For me personally, that meant the freedom to work from anywhere at any point in time without having to worry about being plugged in all the time.