Experiments in Portable computing

I use my phone a lot. Its the best for consuming media on the go sort of things, like reading, watching videos etc. Always on, always connected, ready to whip out in a moments notice!

I also hate using my phone for anything else: for a long time the reasons have eluded me, but this time I have a lead – I hate typing on my phone.

Obviously there are more fundamental problems here than those solved by strapping on a keyboard1, explained so well by this quote from 99% Percent invisible episode about Douglas Englebart -

The consumer market prioritizes simple and “user-friendly” devices over more complex and “learnable” devices.

They elaborate further

Englebart used to compare the sleek, simplified Apple products to a tricycle. You don’t need any special training to operate a tricycle, and that’s fine if you’re just going to go around the block. If you’re trying to go up a hill or go a long distance, you want a real bike. The kind with gears and brakes– the kind that takes time to learn how to steer and balance on.

Recently, I got to try a pocket reform. For the uninitiated, its a 7” pocket sized (arguably, depending on what kind of pockets you have) computer. It is a nifty little device with a lot of cool factor, including a compact mechanical keyboard and more or less running blob free software stack!

This got me thinking: Is it worthwhile to compromise extreme portability to gain learnability and configuration?

A device like pocket reform is not going to be as good as my phone for quickly reading through my reading list, at least not out of the box. Would I still prefer to stick with my phone? Obviously the answer is going to personal and subjective, but I believe its worthwhile to try!

Pocket reforms are currently only sold through the crown supply store in US, so I decided to wait until MNT starts selling them from their EU store, and spent the waiting time maybe hacking alternatives a bit – Can I strap a Blackberry Keyboard to my phone? Running mainline linux with the stack you are used to seems fun etc etc. Honestly, I needed some deliberation before dropping a cool grand on an experiment.

Also, after going through bit of internet searching, the options are not as limited as I thought; there are bunch of manufactures trying to make devices in this form factor: GPD seems to be the most popular, there are also no-name products with at least one very happy HN reader.

This nerdary also led me discover “Cyberdecks”. I have not read Neuromancer so I don’t know what makes something a cyberdeck; but the community seems to be building some of the coolest portable computing out there. Definitely check it out if you were living under a rock like me!

  1. Still, probably would try it when becomes avaible for my phone and comes down from its > $100 pricetag.↩︎