This Macbook Pro is the last computer I will use for inditramp.
This may seem a bit extreme but it has been fermenting for over 3 years now. Interacting with the web has changed. Any mid-range smartphone is a viable (though not perfect) replacement for a laptop for content creation. Smartphones and tablets have always excelled at content consumption but historically they have been poor content creation devices. But now with flagship features trickling down to midrange phones this scenario has changed. Hardware like AMOLED screens, big batteries, decent cameras, storage over 128GB etc is available in phones that come in under Rs. 15000. I know I prefer well-made smartphone apps over the laptop and browser. This shift in both hardware and software enables mid-range smartphones to do most of the heavy lifting that once was a laptop only prerogative.
So today, when I don’t have electricity and am snowed in with over 18 inches of snow outside I, can still sit outside and work without worrying about when the electricity department decides to repair my snow collapsed wires. And this is the advantage of a smartphone work setup – I don’t have to worry if I’m home, on a bikepacking trip or out hiking.
The world is my office.
So what is it that makes using a smartphone so lucrative to me?
- Low power. A big battery phone will last you over 3 days and it needs a small current to charge itself. Power banks, Car chargers or a 10W solar panel – the size of an A5 sheet. A big boon for those working and living off the grid or at places with poor grid reliability.
- Less Weight. My phone-based content creation setup weighs half of what my laptop does. Extremely important when I have to carry it on my back or in my panniers.
- Less cost. A half-decent laptop is expensive. Chances are you already own a midrange or better phone. So there’s no further list of expenses. The peripherals cost less than Rs. 3000
- Greater reliability. A phone is solid-state, meaning it has no moving parts, unlike cheap laptops that still come with spin up drives.
- Constantly improving the software. The innovation and improvement curve in mobile OS and apps is far higher than their computer brethren.
- Better performance. A Rs. 15000 phone if chosen with care will have better performance at content creation tasks than a Rs. 30000 laptop. This again has to do with the rate at which mobile hardware i.e. processors/memory and storage is improving.
- Security. A laptop left unattended is a theft magnet. A smartphone stays in your pocket. The additional keyboard can usually be parked anywhere.
So let me share how I use my smartphone as a content creation device while out trekking, bikepacking and camping in my Gypsy. While most of this workflow is specific to me, but I think there are lessons for most bloggers and content creators who have to work in remote locations, often without access to grid electricity.
So what do you need to get started with a smartphone-based workflow?
- Smartphone. My perfect smartphone has to fulfil the following criteria
- AMOLED screen. I am a sucker for AMOLED screens. They are far easier on my eyes as the screen can go down to 0 brightness which makes working in pitch darkness a breeze especially when like say a tent or back in my Gypsy.
- Big Battery. I cannot stress this enough. Out on the field, it doesn’t matter how powerful your phone processor is. If it has no juice to power it, it is no use. I tend to buy the biggest battery phones that come with fast charging and the most power-efficient (rather than powerful) processors. If your priority is video editing, then I would suggest opting for the latest Qualcomm / Apple flagship.
- Decent Camera. iPhones and Pixels have changed what can be done with small sensor phones. Couple a midrange phone with Pixel camera port (available on XDA for most phones) or Adobe Lightroom Camera app and you have an excellent quick draw, always in your pocket camera that supports RAW capture. As Chase Jarvis once said – “The best camera is the one that you have with you”.
- OTG support – More or less a given in today’s day and age but still worth checking.
Given my criteria list what I own is a Samsung M30s (Available on Amazon India). I bought it on the day it was launched for it met all of the criteria above and now after 4 months of ownership, I am quite satisfied with the overall package. The 6000mAH battery lasts me a long time and the AMOLED screen has good colour reproduction. I am not a phone reviewer but GSMArena recently tested this phone and no surprise its turned out to be one of their best battery performers.
- Keyboard – I have tried the best on-screen keyboards and voice to text software but nothing beats the productivity of a dedicated keyboard. It might not matter to you if your content is visual, but for inditramp text still rules. I started my external keyboard experiment will roll up keyboards because they were the lightest and took the least amount of space. However, I quickly realised that roll up keyboard requires a flat surface to work with. This is fine when working at home on a desk but out on a trek, or on a bicycle or train – good luck trying to find one. After much experimentation I’ve finally switched to a Logitech K480 Bluetooth keyboard (available on Amazon India) because
- It is built like a tank and has survived in my backpack for 2 years now.
- It comes with a dedicated tray that holds my phone and tablet in place.
- It is mac/win/ios/android compatible which means I can use it with my Macbook, Ipad and Android phones
- Can be connected to there devices simultaneously using a built-in switch dial.
- Uses AAA batteries that last for over 8 ro 9 months.
- OTG card reader for transferring videos and photos (available on Amazon India) from your camera / GoPro. Transferring using the MicroSD/SD card is a lot faster and reliable than using the built-in apps that rely on a wireless connection. Especially when you have tonnes of data after each day of shooting. Don’t skimp on the OTG reader as I’ve had cheap ones die on me. Not the end of the world, yet something to keep in mind.
Nevertheless, all this hardware doesn’t mean Jack**** without some great software to back it up. Here are my picks for apps that have consistently stood the test of time. Most of them are paid but I don’t mind paying a small amount if it saves me time and more importantly my data and makes me more productive.
- Best writing apps – Jotterpad and IA Writer (both integrate with cloud document storage like Google Docs and Dropbox so you can start on one device and finish on another)
- Best copy-editing software – Grammarly keyboard
- Best photo editing app – Snapseed (supports RAW files) and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Mobile
- Best video clip editor – Gopro Quik and
- Best blogging platform – Squarespace / WordPress app allows you to upload your content from the field.
- Best social content creator – Adobe Spark
So there you have it, a simple yet effective way to work on the field. All peripherals and software costs under Rs. 4000 in total and gives you an option to work just about anywhere, which is invaluable.
P.S. This 1300 word article was written and copyedited in Jotterpad using the Samsung M30s and Logitech K480 keyboard.