back to article Mobile devices hit Trevor's spot

I have spent the past month using Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) as often as possible in my role as a systems administrator. I have worked on my Blackberry 8350i, my HTC Desire and an iPad, using native apps as well as working within a remote environment, to perform tasks ranging from writing articles to managing servers. Using …


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So a ten incher is good because its screen is big enough. Sure, but it's also not exactly handy to carry everywhere you go. I mean, if you can carry a 10 inches pad, you can also carry a 10 inches mini-laptop. So, is the pad really better than a mini-laptop? Take into account also the fact that working with an on-screen keyboard seems to be really clumsy.

Maybe the ideal sysadmin device should be a 6 inches tablet/phone with a sliding keyboard, Android or (better) any other linux-based OS, and an high res display. Or at least this is what I would like to have. I could take it everywhere like a (slightly big) phone and have it ready whenever I need it.

What would be your ideal (and non-existent) device?

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My ideal (and non-existent) device? The one I've been waiting for largely my entire life? Interestingly I can describe that to you.

It would be an 8.5x11 tablet (sheet of standard paper here in Canada.) It would fit inside a standard foleo and be a touch-based input device not dissimilar from an iPad. It would have at least 1366x768 resolution, though I would far prefer 1440x900. It would have reasonable internal storage: flash somewhere north of 8GB for applications with 1GB of RAM. It would have a Wacom digitizer in addition to the touch interface and an operating system that didn’t suck horribly at touch input. (In other words not Windows.)

It would run at least a dual core CPU and come with all the standard phone options. Data from cellular and wifi, GPS, and a plethora of sensors from accelerometers and magnetics to luminance and acoustics. It would allow removable storage via SD card and come with two USB ports. It would be open, allowing me to install whatever applications I wanted and direct access to the file system. There would be an app store for ease of purchasing new applications as well as access to a cloud-storage/synchronisation system that automatically backed up my system to a server of /my choice/ without my having to bother with it.

A lot of thought would go into the design of the case it was in. I want that thing to be able to support this foleo-pad in a number of different configurations at many angles whilst still carrying in the other flap a pad of real, regular paper. When set up at an angle, I want a laser-painted keyboard to be available to me*. I want to be able to use a Bluetooth headset in combination with it and have it serve as my phone. (One less device to carry that way.)

In essence; I want a totally open smartphone/ipad that fits into my briefcase, weighs as little as is humanly possible but has none of the restrictions of the existing gear. It is /my/ device, allows me to add peripherals if I choose, remove media, control my own files and generally bridged the gap between “locked down smartphone” and “full blown laptop.”

I don’t need to replace a full-on computer with it. I don’t even want to. I just want it to be the device to serve as my access to a) a browser b) an RDP window c) all of my cloud-synchronised data. It’s job would be to fill the gaps between when I have a real computer available, not to completely replace a real computer with a real keyboard.

But with USB ports…why couldn’t it have a docking station at home such that I could just hook up a real keyboard? With a fully open device, there would be so many possibilities.

Either way, as far as I am concerned, the era of requiring Windows on the physical device is over. It’s into the VM with that thing and all it’s attendant applications as well. With it goes the need for a lot of the “beef” I used to need on my endpoints. They can really now just be thin clients of various shapes and sizes from any vendor. I know VDI isn’t exactly “cloud computing.” (Or is it? Someone give me a definition, please!) Still, more and more I am designing my digital life around the concept of “my information is available to me anywhere from any device.” This takes “who makes the device” or even “what form factor the device is” completely out of the equation.

If the device comes with a standards compliant browser and the ability to RDP then what makes me choose a device no longer has anything to do with the OS or vendor. Capability/speed, power consumption/battery life, ease of use, connectivity, openness/freedom of me to control my own device, price/rate plan and design/form factor matter.

I have a quad core PC at home with a stupidly powerful graphics card. Velociraptors and Windows 7. Shiny shiny in all colours of the rainbow…and I haven’t turned it on in three months. I have two laptops and a netbook. I use one laptop – very occasionally - because it got migrated to the living room table and sort of never left. The netbook is somewhere in my car. Gods only know what happened to the other laptop.

My Desire has become my primary personal computing device – a remarkable statement for a sysadmin. At work, I use a puny C90LEW Wyse thin client.

Give me an iPad or a decent Android pad and I can pretty much be guaranteed that my laptop at home goes unused as well. Heck, as I type this, it is into an OOo Writer application inside my personal VM located on my home server. I am RDPed into that personal VM from within my work VM. I am RDPed into my work VM from my Desire.

So…ideal device? Apart from the specs I mentioned above it really boils down to one question:

What’s the most convenient device? Because that’s really the bit that matters.

*( for a primitive example.)

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Totally agree

I totally agree with you. Now, if only some vendor could actually listen to sysadmins instead of listening to fart-applications buyers...

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With the laptop you have to take a charger, mouse and all the USB junk like 3G modems etc.

With a 3G iPad you just need the device and that's it. Good for a working day without being attached to the mains. Of course for a lot of typing you might want a bluetooth keyboard.

As for the speed of WIFI the limiting factor is what the Internet link attached to the WIFI router is like.



I can highly recommend Swype for text input on a Desire, if you can get yourself on the beta. It speeded things up no end for me.

I'm sure the iPad is great for these type of tasks, but (for me at least) once you're up to nearly the size, weight and price of a netbook, it doesn't offer any real advantages. If I have a device that won't fit in my pocket anyway, I'd much rather it had a keyboard on it.


Great for typing prose, not for coding/sysadmin stuff

Plus I was getting too fast and found the learning non-existent. If they could combine powers with swiftkey and make it a little easier to, say change mode or something to make it easier for console access, then swype would be my only input. It deserves it's praise, but its still very immature and has a way to go.

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Some hove I think the Nokia N900 could be worth a try.

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Love to! one to spare?

Seriously though, I've heard so much rabid <3 for that device that I am exceptionally curious to give it a spin. Can't find one locally for love nor money, but $deity there seems to be a base of absolutely rabid fans here on El Reg for that device. Makes me curious…



"At first, I thought my Blackberry 8350i was simply too slow to handle most of the things [...] If, however, you are seeking a device largely for text-input, this is still the next best thing to a real computer."

Blackberry 8350i? The one with 320x240 pixels? And a tiny keyboard? Next best thing? Hmm, surely not on planet Earth.

"As for the HTC Desire,[...] it has been brilliant using Wyse’s PocketCloud application. In essence it is an RDP, VNC and VMWare View client and so good that it has to be used to be believed. [...] your tiny little smartphone becomes a functional window into your normal work environment."

HTC Desire? The one with 3.7 inch screen? I won't doubt that it is possible to do *some* remote work on it in an emergency, but a "functional window to your *normal* work environment" (use of "*" for emphasis is added by me)? I'll have whatever you are on. Surely not by regular humans, with regular hands and regular eye sight.

I've been working daily on an 11 inch, 1300x700 screen for more then 3 years. And this is as far as I would comfortably go. I doubt many people would manage to work long periods of time staring at screens much below 10 inch - not filled with large amounts of data anyway (websites, applications etc.). Not without a gun or other equally lethal weapon pointed at their head.

"As for the HTC Desire [...] Any more than 600 words and my manual dexterity starts to be worn down by the constrained keyboard."

Seriously? And you are part of the human, mortal, flesh-blood-and-bones race? Are you sure you don't mean 600 characters? Your enthusiasm is to be appreciated though, although it lacks any contact with daily reality.

"I have worked on my Blackberry 8350i, my HTC Desire and an iPad [...] configured entire fleets of servers using VSphere SSH and Webmin."

My belief will only stretch so far. Excuse me if I find the above hard to swallow. "Entire fleets of servers"? From a smartphones (sorry, I mean, MID's). Hmm, I'll believe it when I see it. I smell the sweet smell of exaggeration here.

Oh, sorry - this article was all a joke. Sorry about that. Took me a while to realise. I'll get my coat now. <grumbling to himself> "Somebody should have mentioned that it's 1st of April on some remote planet somewhere" </grumbling to himself>



"While Wi-Fi is certainly faster, 3G is dedicated spectrum."

If by that you mean "dedicated bandwidth" - not true, as far as I know. At least not in Europe. In Europe you are sharing the bandwidth with other users of the same cell mast - and, especially, with voice users. And voice users have priority over you. So the 3G connection's speed will vary all the time - even during the course of the same session. Maybe you were in a sparsely populated area - so once you get a signal - you have no competition on your local mast?

If somebody else knows more about 3G specs in North America, or Canada - feel free to bring enlightenment to the issue.

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No. I mean spectrum.

3G's speed will vary with time and loading on the Cell. That isn't the problem. You'd be surprised how LITTLE bandwidth you need. The issue is people here with 2.4Ghz portable phones (as in plug-the-base-into-your-landline) that don't play well with anything in the 2.4ghz spectrum. Someone turns one of these phones on and Wifi for over a km is ruined. Bluetooth devices simply stop working.

And they're EVEYRWHERE. The 2.4Ghz spectrum in my city is so hit-or-miss it's pointless to use. 3G on the other hand…that chunk of spectrum belongs to the telco. You might have to fight for contention…but all devices using that frequency are other phones/masts! For all intents and purposes they are devices designed to play nice and not act like a radio-frequency nuclear bomb.

So when using 3G…I /always/ have a 3g connection if I am within range of the mast. When using Wifi, I could be standing right next to the access point, but if some dick three blocks down picks up his phone…nothing can talk to that AP.

Frustrating doesn't begin to describe it.


Radio spectrum at 2,4 GHz

Here in Italy we have DECT phones running at 1,8 GHz (and incredibly they do actually work), but we have a LOT of wifi networks (I can see 20 of them from my home) and we have "video senders" (the thing you connect to a sat decoder and send your SCART signal to another TV in the bedroom) that use ALL of the allocated 2,4GHz spectrum. So you have one of them around, and you get intermittent connection, while the TV gets white rows all over the screen. The problem is that these things do never stop transmitting. Once they're on, they're on. Even if the sat decoder is off.

So unless you live in a cottage by yourself, with at least 100 metres of clearance from the nearest house, you'd better buy 802.11a (5,4GHz) gear.

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cordless phones in europe; ipad with keyboard is...

in UK/Europe cordless phones are 1.9GHz DECT, not 2.4. However, wifi is congested particularly in places with lots of businesses, so you really want to get a simultaneous dual-band WiFi access point, and get all the laptops onto 11a/5GHz band to keep 2.4GHz free for phones and tablets etc.

as to the "use an ipad with a keyboard", that's called a laptop, which also conveniently comes with a cat5 network socket, a flash memory lot, audio connectors, video connectors, webcam, and maybe even a DVDRW drive, all in one neat box!

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Traditionally, Laptops weight a lot. They also tend to be terribly to use while standing or in any way not being in front of a desk. On a bus for example. Or sitting in a doctor's office. Or pulling out to show a bunch of friends a funny YouTube by the water cooler. The closest hybrid devices so far are the Fijitsu P1510d/P1610d and the OQO. Their screens are too small however and the battery life too poor.

The iPad lasts for bloody ages, has a decent screen and is really only held back by the fact that Apple’s OCD means your device can’t actually /do/ all that much. Now, try to use a laptop in all of these circumstances, and the only pace where it proves superior is the “sitting at a desk.” Everywhere else, I’d be wanting a not-fail iPad.

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