Can a smartphone be the go-to device for your computing needs?

We all talk about how smartphones have become so powerful these days that you no longer need to lug around a notebook computer. This is partly true as today's high-end smartphones come packed with quad core CPUs and as much as 2GB of RAM, just as much as some of today’s notebooks. Of course, doing a direct comparison between the two is not fair since both are based on different architectures and the apps for both are optimised as such. So is it possible to do away with the PC completely and just use your phone for all your computing needs? And if so, is it practical enough to do this on a daily basis?

My weapon of choice (Image credit: GetttyImages)

My weapon of choice (Image credit: GetttyImages)

 

My quest started with picking the right phone for the job. While most smartphones will let you do basic computing tasks, I needed a real heavy weight if this was going to be my only device for both work and play. Thankfully, Samsung made this task of finding the perfect phone for the job very easy. The Note II currently has some of the best hardware and software you can find and as a bonus, has a humongous screen that's actually pocketable... well, almost. So with my weapon of choice in hand, I set about my daily routine to see just how feasible it is to use just your phone and nothing else.

One of the first obstacles I encountered was obviously work. Reviewing and writing about tech products is my livelihood so not being able to use a PC for this is as good as being handicapped. This is where Google Docs and SwiftKey came to the rescue. With my work email configured, I could now write and share articles with my colleagues, just like I would on my PC. The only catch here is the typing speed. It depends on how fast you can move your thumbs and after a while (like about 15min) fatigue tends to set in. This is not so much because of the typing but due to the fact that the Note II is quite a heavy phone to begin with. I've never been a huge fan of Swype so didn't bother going down that route. The other option would be to get a Bluetooth keyboard, but that would mean carrying it around with you and also more strain on your battery. If you’re in the office, however, then it’s not much of an issue since plug points are easily available. One funny thing I did notice is that it's kind of hard to look like your busy working in office when everyone is glued to their monitors, hammering away at their keyboard and you’re sitting with your legs stretched across your PC cabinet, typing into your phone. I don't blame them for thinking otherwise. Of course, if you have a PC in front of you, it’d be quite foolish not to use it, so this scenario is more for those who are constantly on the move and situations where opening up a laptop may not always be ideal, like in a train or a bus, for instance.

You can carry out your daily routine using just the phone, however it won't be as productive

You can carry out your daily routine using just the phone, however it won't be as productive

 

Besides writing, my work also involves editing images for features and reviews. It was surprising to find that many of the popular image editing apps didn't support the 16:9 aspect ratio, including PicsPlay Pro. After some digging, I found Aviary to offer all the features I need, including 16:9 cropping of images. The interface is very well done and best of all, it's free! You get options to enhance the colour, contrast, brightness, add various filters and effects, sharpen the image, add text and lots more. There are limitations like you can’t have multiple layers and perform other complex actions like you would in Photoshop.

Thankfully, there are some pretty good apps for image editing in the app store

Thankfully, there are some pretty good apps for image editing in the app store

 

The next challenge was accessing the CMS to upload stories. While at work, there's no hassle of a VPN involved; moreover, not all browsers will allow you to perform a 'right click function'. Basic commands like the ability to save an image, copy, etc. appear after a long press on the screen and special commands like java scripts don't work. I tried the stock browser, Chrome, Opera, Dolphin HD and none of them allowed me to use the CMS like I would on the desktop. Firefox is the only browser that lets you execute these special commands after a long press. I also noticed that Chrome will not give you a dialogue box to select an image from your gallery whereas the stock browsers and others will let you. Firefox suited me the best despite it being slow and a little clunky. Accessing our CMS from the outside is also possible thanks to good VPN apps like FortiClient Lite.

All this really takes a toll on battery life and the only way to get around this is to have a portable battery charger with you since you won't be near a plug point always. You get these in different capacities and price points, but generally, a 5000mAh battery pack will set you back by around Rs. 2500 to Rs. 3000. That's a good place to start, especially when you have a phone like the Note. The next little obstacle is transferring files to and from the phone. While you have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for this, pen drives and hard drives pose a challenge. Actually, flash drives are still manageable since most high-end smartphones support USB On-the-go. All you need is the cable and you are set. Hard drives are obviously not possible to power, so that is one big problem. You always have cloud storage and services like Box, Dropbox, Skydrive, etc. to provide you decent amount of free storage for all your files.   

You'll need a portable charger like this from NewTrent if you plan go mobile exclusively

You'll need a portable charger like this from NewTrent if you plan to go mobile exclusively

 

Besides gaming, my PC is mostly used for watching TV shows, movies, listening to music and torrents. Since my entire video collection is on the PC and there's no way it's all fitting on my phone, my only choice here is to dump everything on an NAS device and access it over Wi-Fi. The experience of watching a movie on your PC with good speakers, however, will never compare to watching it on your phone, so that's a compromise you'll have to live with. The Note II does have a very good Wolfson audio chip and also 7.1 Dolby Surround effects, so with the right headphones (Sony XB-500 in my case), the experience is pretty good. Torrents is also possible on your phone as uTorrent only recently launched its Android app. Just like the desktop variant, the app is small and simple to use. You add torrents using the URL of your favourite site and choose the storage option. Just make sure you have enough microSD cards or you have to keep transferring stuff to pen drives.

Your smartphone can double up as a very good GPS device (Image credit: GetttyImages)

Your smartphone can double up as a very good GPS device (Image credit: GetttyImages)

 

Coming to some of the obvious use cases, the Note II easily doubles up as a backup camera and camcorder. While the burst mode is still hopeless, it really excels in macro shots, especially with good lighting. Apps for your daily commute also make life a lot more convenient – like m-Indicator, which is a one stop app for all your bus, rickshaw and cab fares as well as timings. Another very common use of today’s smartphone is GPS. Coupled with Google Maps, there’s no excuse of getting lost anywhere in the world. Your phone can also help you stay in shape thanks to apps like Endomondo. It lets you track your workouts and even share it with your friends.

So how has it been living the mobile life? Well, 'exhausting' sums it up just right. The Note II’s large screen cushioned the agony I would have to otherwise endure while chalking out this piece using just the phone and Google Docs. The latest smartphones have proven that they can be a very viable alternative to notebooks, cameras, GPS trackers, etc., but if you have the opportunity to use the devices designed for the task, you’d be a fool not to use it. I mean, you can use your finger to brush your teeth instead of a toothbrush and while it may not be that effective, it gets the job done. But you’ll still need a toothbrush if you wish to continue chewing food, say, 10 years down the line. Similarly, it's good to know that you can fall back on your smartphone (again, not all of them) to bail you out when you are away from your PC or notebook.


Published Date: Oct 20, 2012 04:28 pm | Updated Date: Oct 20, 2012 04:28 pm