Help me reconfigure my digital life.
April 4, 2012 10:03 PM   Subscribe

My cellphone and laptop are reaching the end of their runs (a respectable 5 years for the laptop, and a measly two for the phone). In the next several months, I will need to get new devices. But what should I do? New awesome phone (Samsung Galaxy IIS or similar) and keep the current laptop pretty much only for typing and image editing? New basic phone + iPad + plug-in keyboard for the iPad? New basic phone + MacBook Air? More on what I do with my devices (and what I'd like to do with them) after the jump.

My current phone is a really slow Android (like the interface and apps, hate the lag and random crashing—new Androids that I've played with recently don't seem to have these problems). My current laptop is a MacBook Pro from 2007.

Here's what I want to do with my devices:

On the go (literally as I walk around the city, on street corners and in the subway):
  • listen to podcasts and audiobooks
  • use Google Voice to place and receive phone calls; listen to voicemail
  • easily switch between podcasts/audiobooks and incoming phonecalls
  • read email
  • quickly retrieve maps and directions for navigation
  • browse the internet
  • read articles through Instapaper, Instafetch, or similar when I have no phone or internet connection
At home/school/library/cafe:
  • browse the internet
  • read, write, and send e-mail (I use Gmail in-broswer)
  • read large-format e-books (particularly textbooks)*
  • create documents and spreadsheets, and printing said documents and spreadsheets at home
  • viewing PDFs
  • watch long videos (specifically episodes of Game of Thrones on HBO GO's website)
  • do simple image editing**
*I would LOVE to not have to carry my current backpack full of heavy textbooks around.
**I am open to keeping the old laptop (which has Photoshop CS) around solely as an image editing machine, eliminating the need for this capability on one of the new devices.

Also, I will probably be a student on University campuses with computer labs for at least the next 5-6 years.

So, which configuration would be best for me?
posted by ocherdraco to Technology (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If your laptop is 5 years old, you're going to need a new laptop. An ipad is not a substitute. I'd say get a Macbook air + maybe a last-generation smartphone (e.g. iphone 4 for $100 on contract). Or just splurge for both the air + galaxy. Ipad is nice but definitely far from needed.
posted by shivohum at 10:42 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came to say pretty much what shivohum said. My combo is a 13" MacBook Air and an HTC Incredible 2. I'm a student. It's a great combo, super lightweight and portable. I don't even use a backpack - I just carry my laptop and a folder in a canvas bag.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:52 PM on April 4, 2012

Yeah, iPads are not laptops. They are, at best, satellite devices. Useful, but not really worthy of the central place a real computer can take in one's life.

Then again, I wonder if the MBAir is really a worthy laptop. It doesn't have a lot of the kinds of input opportunities that other MacBooks might have (no plastic media slot, for example).

If you're high on Teh Apple, then go with an iPhone and a MacBook, and if you have the money to spare, a WiFi iPad (because it's a much better form factor for much of what the iPhone will do for you other than making phone calls). If you don't need the cell connection of an iPad, then go with the latest model of the iPod Touch (of which there may or may not be a new one coming in the next half-year). If you need greater connectivity then maybe look at one of the MiFi-esque personal wireless hotspot options which will let you connect any of your devices to the internet without having to have a traditional cell plan.

Alternatively, get a superduper cell phone which lets you tether your laptop to the internet.
posted by hippybear at 10:54 PM on April 4, 2012

First off, I'd recommend either an HTC Sensation 4G right now, or an HTC One X in a few weeks over a Samsung Galaxy S2. I've had a Galaxy S 4g and a Galaxy S2 4G, and I really prefer my HTC Sensation 4G to both phones. A customer bought me a Galaxy S2 4G a couple of weeks ago. I used it for about two weeks, and decided to go back to my HTC Sensation. I'm hoping to pick up an HTC On X (quad core) when they're out in a couple of weeks.

For me, Samsung is the Apple of Android.

Second, I think it's a little strange to have a solution that includes an Android phone and an iOS tablet. I suggest that you take a close look at the ASUS Transformer Prime - it's powerful and comes with a detachable keyboard that makes it sort of a cross between a netbook and a tablet. One thing you should be aware of is that printing directly from a tablet to a printer is very hit and miss, so you may need to have another solution for printing. I've also worked extensively with the Toshiba Thrive and Samsung Galaxy Tab (both 10.1"). The Samsung is nice but has some annoying characteristics - no SDCard slot and a proprietary connector, for starters. The Toshiba is significantly cheaper, but still a nice machine - it's thicker than the Samsung, but it has several standard connectors (mini HDMI, mini USB, etc.) and an SDCard slot.

You'll have to take a close look at the various options available for creating documents and spreadsheets on a tablet, and see whether they can handle your needs. I've found that Google Docs does a pretty good job in this area, but it has nowhere near as many features as MS Excel or MS Word. You'll need to see whether the GDocs featureset covers your requirements.

If you decide to go the laptop route, you may want to look at a netbook. I picked up an Acer Aspire One a year and a half ago. I've been very happy with it, except for the keyboard - I type a ton, and I'm destroying the keyboard. Several family members and friends have asked me to buy similar machines, and all have been happy with them, so far.

A tablet with a detachable or bluetooth keyboard and a mouse can get you close to a small laptop, but not all the way there.
posted by syzygy at 11:52 PM on April 4, 2012

I vote HTC One X, iPad 3 (32/64gb and 4G if LTE is available in your area) and $400-$500 homebrew Win7/Hackintosh PC at home as a media server/work machine.

My hardware is all Mac, more out of inertia than anything: iPad, iPhone, Macbook Pro, iMac at home, Mac Mini at work. Plus a couple of linux servers. And a windows XP box that was forced on me by my office.

The battery on the MBP is usually flat because I'll use it for an hour to play Minecraft with my son on the iMac, set it down, and then not touch it until the next joint Minecraft session. I am *done* with laptops. The iPad has become my mobile computer, and I wouldn't consider any other tablet. The iPad knows what it wants to be, but Android tablets still haven't quite figured that out.

Laptopless living takes some rethinking of how you work, but it makes me more disciplined. Reading, text entry, email, web browsing, marking up PDFs for review, etc are all great on it. Reading on the iPad 3 really is a delight with the magic screen. Spreadsheets, MS Access or any professional applications are not fun/doable. But what I've realized is that those tasks were so unpleasant on a 13" laptop screen that I'm better off grinding through that stuff on machines with big LCDs anyway.

Worst case, in a pinch I can get onto any of my desktops via splashtop on the iPad. I can do a quick edit or move files onto my dropbox folder or whatever that way. It's super fast (way faster than VNC/screen sharing) and works really well with a bluetooth keyboard.

Media can get to the iPad or a smartphone via all sorts of streaming apps from your desktop at home. Plex, AirVideo, StreamToMe, VLC & XBMC are all fantastic. Keeping it all stored centrally makes life better. So that's not really a concern.

I'd probably go with one of the premium android phones if I weren't already so heavily invested in the ecosystem (5 iOS devices in the house). Android phones are a bit more interesting at this point, IMO. Hence the One X.
posted by pjaust at 9:13 AM on April 5, 2012

Thanks for all the suggestions, folks. When I decide what to get, I'll let you know.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:57 PM on April 7, 2012

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