Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My Portable Office

I recently had to send my Toshiba M400 Tablet PC in for service, and did not want to be without a mobile device for very long. I have been using the M400, a smallish (12 inch, 4.5 lb) notebook device with touch screen (using a special pen) for 2 years. I also use an AT&T 8525 as a data collection and management device (In addition to being a great cell phone). It was the in-between device I lacked that I decided to pursue, at least temporarily while the M400 was in service.

Our IT consulting firm does a fair amount of work in the health care arena, and the opportunity to try a mid-size device as an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) unit was ideal. Additionally, I wanted to spend more time in the "cloud", using online email, word processing and spreadsheets, (aka Google Docs), and reading. In general, the goal was to try a small, highly portable device that may lack power, but offload processing to internet or intranet servers.

After searching various devices, I decided on a Fujitsu U810 UMPC. This is a clam shell type notebook that has a 5.7" display, which also serves as a touch screen. It also has an 800 MHz processor, 1 GB of RAM, and a 40 GB hard drive. One of the most compelling reasons for such a device is the 5.5 hours of battery life it offers. To be able to get from 8:00am-noon on one battery is ideal, especially in the medical world.

My only real complaint is that the U810 lacks an active digitizer. This is important on a touch screen device, so that errant pinky-finger touches do not cause odd input (known as “vectoring”). My M400 has an active digitizer, and while the U810's smaller display means less space to rest a palm or finger by accident, it does happen. The small keyboard is usable, but not especially easy to use. This makes it a better "output" device than an "input" device.

A second shortcoming, though clearly known when purchased, is the lack of any wireless connectivity via a 3G or EDGE network. It has 802.11b/g, but without a cellular type access it is limited, especially when you consider my goal to work in the cloud. There is a version of this device that offers this, but mine did not come with it. I can use my cell phone though, as you will see later.

Operating System and Software loaded:

For now I opted to use Microsoft Windows Vista basic. The U810 came with both the Vista and XP Tablet images on CD, and since I use Vista on my M400, and appreciate the better handwriting recognition, I went with it on the U810. Performance is fine, but someday I may try the XP image to see the difference in speed.

I also loaded Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook) for the fat client needs I have. For a browser I prefer Firefox, and on a low-performance cloud connected device, add-ons like AdBlock Plus and NoScript can improve performance by reducing the amount of data retrieved and processed, as well as the amount of screen real-estate that can be used by a page (not to mention cache and cookie space taken up by third party sites and ads).

Mobile Office:
I have assembled all of the tools for what I think makes a great mobile office. I can of course use the U810 by itself, with its built in keyboard and mouse capabilities. But to truly be productive for the hours needed, I wanted some more capability. I had a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse previously purchased for an older Windows Mobile cell phone, and saw them as ideal complements. They both come from Stowaway, and are small and easy to carry. The keyboard is about the size of a large wallet when folded in half and in its case, and the mouse is travel size with its own little bag in which to carry it. The last piece was the AT&T 8525 phone, which via blue tooth serves up a high speed connection to the internet (up to 1.5Mbps at times!).

I also needed a bag to carry it all in, and located a small leather bag in e-bay that allows me to carry the U810, keyboard, mouse, and power adapter along with items such as pen, a few business cards, some flash memory cards, and other small odds and ends.

It makes for about 3 lbs or less to carry it all – that is about as mobile as it gets!

Here is another shot of the U810 in mobile mode:

Home Office:

The home office setup is a bit less mobile, and still works very well. I can of course use the U810 with small keyboard, etc. but since a docking station was available, I picked one up off Amazon and use it with a full size keyboard and mouse, along with an external CD/DVD burner. The last piece was the external monitor, which is a 22” Dell. When looking for the monitor, I took the tiny U810 into the local Best Buy, and the even the Geek Squad could not believe the miniscule U810 would drive a 22” monitor. But it did!

Docking Station
The home office setup gives me a full size environment, though performance is slower than you would expect from a normal notebook or desktop. All in all, still a satisfying experience, especially when I can just pull it from the docking station and throw it in my bag and walk out. A second AC adapter makes it quick work.

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