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A Year Without a Computer

Could you succeed in every aspect of your job using just a smartphone or tablet? One exec decided to try it for a year. Here's what he has learned.
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No laptop. No desktop. No landline. Sometimes, not even a desk. Could you succeed at every aspect of your job using just a smartphone or a tablet? That’s what Benjamin Robbins set out to do this year when he decided to use just one device--in his case, a Samsung Galaxy Note "phablet"--for an entire year. 

Six months into his work-life experiment, Robbins--co-founder of Palador, an enterprise mobility consulting firm based in Seattle--is happy to report he has made it this far without losing his sanity, his clients, or the device itself. “Doing this allows me to really speak to what’s possible when it comes to mobile,” he explains. “But I also wanted to consolidate to a single device on a personal level and see if it was possible to pull it off.”

The verdict? It's doable--with the right combination of accessories, apps, patience, and determination. 

The Right Setup

Step One in going with a single device is figuring out the right mix of accessories you'll need to create an efficient workstation, whether you're working from home, an office, or the road. Robbins chose the Galaxy Note specifically for its “small tabletlike” size (5.3 inches), high resolution, and MHL capabilities for easy connectivity to HD monitors and other devices. Add a standard monitor and wireless keyboard, and Robbins is good to go.

“I’m still staring into a screen, still typing on a keyboard all day,” he said. “It’s like working on an older laptop. The resolution isn’t as good as I’d want it, but it’s functional.” Here's the inventory of Robbins's gear:

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 
  • Standard monitor
  • Standard and foldable wireless keyboards
  • Wireless mouse and travel mouse
  • Tablet stand
  • Kickstand (for use as mini monitor)

The Right Apps

Of course, apps play a big role as well. Here's Robbins's lineup:

Work Efficiency

The combination of accessories and apps allows Robbins to work with the kind of fluidity that he had when using a PC. But making the switch required a certain adjustment period. Robbins compares it to learning a new language. It took him about a month, he says, to get phablet-fluent.

Now, an "average" workday runs pretty smoothly. Robbins typically powers through three or so major tasks that he'll attend to throughout the day. First is Twitter. He does a significant amount of content setup and scheduling, monitoring activity, and making sure he's responding to followers. For this, HootSuite has worked well, except that the mobile setup doesn't allow you to edit scheduling once it's in place. 

Next is writing and reviewing proposals. Robbins likes QuickOffice and uses this to draft blog posts. "I'm a terrible speller," he says, noting QuickOffice's spell-check capability. What's missing? Track changes. "In a collaborative, enterprise setting, that's a really handy thing to have," he said. 

Lastly, he focuses on design work. Robbins uses DroidDia if he's working on specific designs himself, Mindjet to brainstorm and collaborate on ideas, and QuickOffice to write up or review design structures. 

Lessons Learned

Of course, it’s not all fun and productivity. Robbins has had to wipe his device several times. When he upgraded to Android's 4.0 platform (Ice Cream Sandwich), it “totally screwed up my device.” Many features that were a given with a PC required a separate app. For instance, he installed QuickOffice specifically for its spell-check feature, as spell check isn't built-in.

“You can take care of things on the go, right away. I don’t have to wait to get clients things or to communicate to people,” Robbins says, noting that so many things require an extra step on a computer. Backing up, for example, is built in to mobile integration. "I've used Box frequently with clients. Every time they update things, I get a notification. It basically expands the concept of network file sharing and has made it native to mobile devices."

Skype's mobile app has similarly proven to be a great way to videoconference with clients. "Whenever you had to do a video call with a PC, you had to put on a goofy headset and make sure the levels were adjusted," he said. "The phone is already set up to do it--just turn the video on or off. It has so much more of a global reach."

All that said, going solo has its limits. Robbins admits that although he has Netflix on his Galaxy Note, he still watches movies with his wife and kids on the big screen at home.

Last updated: Sep 6, 2012

BZUR HAUN | Columnist | CEO, Visage

As CEO of Visage, Bzur leads all facets of the business, including the strategy and operations of Visage.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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