My Mobile Tools of Trade


I touched on my mobile rig in my post on Daily Tools, so today, let’s dig into my mobile setup in a little more detail.

My workhorse is my laptop, a Dell Latitude E5530 with SSD. SSD is blazingly fast and complements the Intel i7 chip in it nicely, as does 8GB of RAM. I particularly like the keyboard on this laptop; it’s a pleasure to type with.

It runs the same Linux desktop environment as my desktop computer, just with a single, slightly smaller screen. I can do basically anything I could do on the desktop while I’m mobile, and vice versa, which has come in handy more than a few times.

All the settings are synchronised using rsync, as well as a good chunk of data (that isn’t cloud or server based), so when I swap to the desktop I can just keep on working, and it gives me a handy “get out of jail” backup if something should go horribly wrong. It also means I don’t accidentally nuke all copies with a mistaken delete, which is what happens with sync-constantly technologies like Dropbox. I do use Dropbox for file sharing with people, but not as a primary copy.

I mentioned that I’ve now got a Samsung Galaxy S4, which is a move away from an iPhone 3GS. Firstly, let me say that the iPhone was a great step forward from the Nokia N95. As a phone, and for SMS messaging, the Nokia was fine, but for anything else, it just didn’t really cut it. I didn’t get into Twitter in a big way until I had TweetDeck on the iPhone, for example, and the GPS satellite sync took ages on the Nokia.

It all came down to the User Experience. The touchscreen interface was intuitive and responsive. When I first got the phone, I was impressed with the simple “Slide to Unlock” animation that cued you to sliding your finger along, without being intrusive for an experienced user. The swiping and pinching actions work really well.

But once they were copied — the S4 has all of these interface ideas — I was left with a phone that didn’t work well with everything else I already had. The iPhone has non-standard connectors, while the S4 uses a micro-USB cable. The iPhone didn’t use standard USB-storage protocols, so it wouldn’t talk to my Linux boxes; I’d have to load special drivers into a Windows VM. And then it insisted on iTunes for everything, and iTunes is abysmal.

The ecosystem, or platform, approach suits Apple nicely, because it provides barriers to exit. Once you’ve got an iPhone and a Macbook, you’re that much more likely to shell out for an iMac or Mac Pro. And if you’re happy paying the premium for that experience, great.

I have my own ecosystem based on Linux, and the Samsung was a good fit into this ecosystem. Going with an Android phone has actually made my life easier overall, compared to life with the iPhone. Android is popular enough that all the apps I want are there. It talks standard USB storage, so I can drag and drop files to my Linux desktop or laptop easily, including music. This was a big one for me, because with the iPhone, I had to hack up a shared directory for the VM to use as an iTunes repository in order to get my music on or off my phone.

The main apps I use are the offical Twitter app (I want to run TweetDeck, but it’s not available for Android, alas), the Kindle Cloud Reader app, Moon+ Reader (for non-Kindle books, which is most of them), and Google Play Books for the two or three I have in there. I’m a fan of the Buffer app, and I use BeyondPod for podcast downloads that I listen to at the gym. I also use the Public Transport Victoria Tram Tracker app whenever I’m using public transport (which is often, I avoid driving), and it’s pretty great.

If I’m not near wifi, I use a Telstra 4G mobile data USB dongle with prepaid data, though it’s run out of credit because I’ve not needed it in ages. If I really needed data, I’d be more inclined to tether to my mobile (another thing that just works with the Samsung and didn’t with the Apple) but if I have a medium-term need for larger amounts of data, the 4G dongle is more cost-effective than prepaid mobile data.

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