Can I get a laptop that rolls up?
August 4, 2016 2:27 PM   Subscribe

I don't like to carry my laptop around everywhere. It's heavy and I don't like worrying about it getting damaged or stolen, especially when I'm travelling or using it outside. I would like to do a workaround where I use a roll-up keyboard, and have some kind of tiny computer that projects the computer screen onto a wall. Then I could have a lightweight, flexible keyboard and screen (maybe a piece of paper that I project my desktop onto?). Mefi, what are my options?

I'm also trying to work around using a tiny netbook with a tiny screen and a cramped little keyboard.
posted by ball00000ns to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You could use a pico projector and a NUC style desktop with a silicon membrane keyboard. If your netbook has a VGA output and a USB port, you can just skip the NUC and attach everything to the netbook.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:32 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

And I realized I need to explain.

A pico projector is a lightweight projector that is usually about the size of a smartphone. Resolution isn't the best, but it's easy to carry around.

NUC stands for New Unit of Computing, and it's Intel's catchall term for small form factor desktop computers designed for lightweight deployment scenarios. (Think something around the size of a Mac Mini.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:37 PM on August 4, 2016

What do you need to do on your computer? Do you need windows or can you do linux? What's your budget?

You can get an intel compute stick as a Windows solution, and connect it to something like this projector and then get a mouse and keyboard. I'd recommend looking at folding rather than rolling keyboards if you need something compact - the silicone rolling ones are really frustratingly mushy to use.
posted by brainmouse at 2:38 PM on August 4, 2016

How about a cheap Windows tablet, plus a foldable keyboard, plus a bluetooth mouse?

It's going to be really hard to build something that's smaller/lighter/easier than using a laptop.
posted by gregr at 2:41 PM on August 4, 2016

Also, depending on what you need to do with your computer - is it possible that your phone is sufficient as the computer part (or you can get one that is at your next phone upgrade), and then you just need the projector & peripherals?
posted by brainmouse at 2:42 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd recommend a tablet with a keyboard case. You don't mention how much computing power you need, or if you have a need for traditional programs like Office, but a Surface Pro would work well as a PC replacement (weighs about 1.7 lbs), or if a regular tablet would suffice, an iPad Air or Pro (a hair under 1 lb) or Samsung Galaxy Tab (13.3 oz) would be lightweight alternatives.

I don't see the whole projector solution as being convenient or particularly useful. You'd need a flat surface with enough darkness to see the projection, close enough for it to resolve sharply. What you would save in space and weight, you would lose in having to find a decent place to set up every time. By contrast, any tablet or similar device would at least let you use it on your lap and in a much greater range of ambient light. Would you still need to worry about a tablet being damaged or stolen? Yeah, but that's what warranties and insurance are for.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:47 PM on August 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

I second the Surface Pro recommendation. It's very portable and lightweight, and easy to use right away - setting up your projector and keyboard and compute stick or whatever is going to be a hassle.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:53 PM on August 4, 2016

Tablets have come a long way. I currently have an 8" tablet that is dramatically more functional than my previous 7" tablet. You might want t to test drive that option.
posted by Michele in California at 3:00 PM on August 4, 2016

I would recommend that, if one were explore the tablet option, that a good purchasing window will transpire in a couple weeks for Back To School. The major retailers will have sales to accommodate returning students, and you typically see some decent discounts then. Otherwise, if it's not an immediate need or you can put up with the current situation for the next few months, I'd wait until Black Friday for the best prices.

(Disclosure: I work for one of said major retailers, and tablets is one of my categories. I'm not trying to get anyone to spend money they don't want to spend, but at the same time, i don't think the originally proposed solution is going to meet all the requirements. You can have powerful, light, small, or cheap, but not all 4. Maybe 3 of those 4.)
posted by Autumnheart at 3:06 PM on August 4, 2016

It sounds like you actually just need a small light less-expensive laptop like a used Macbook Air. That addresses your concerns about weight and carrying an expensive thing without requiring an imaginary William Gibson projecto rollup computer.
posted by w0mbat at 3:15 PM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

I tried a cheap roll-up keyboard coupled with an old Nook ereader running a rooted Android system as a travel computer a while back. The Nook was still usable even with it's slow processor, long refresh delay, and old version of Android. They keyboard killed it, though - it took a lot of force and still didn't always recognize keypresses on the first try, and eventually some keys stopped working. I would strongly recommend a solid keyboard, unless there are high-end roll-ups out there that don't have these issues.

If you just want to get away from the cramped netbook system while staying light and compact, look into a Chromebook. I'm running Ubuntu Linux through crouton on a Chromebook and it's way more spacious than my tiny old netbook.

Otherwise, maybe a RaspberryPi or similar tiny thing that runs Linux could be coupled with a picoprojector and folding keyboard (or maybe just one of those super-thin Apple keyboards)... but I expect it would involve lots of work to set up.
posted by sibilatorix at 3:24 PM on August 4, 2016

Like sibilatorix, the rollup keyboards I've used are terrible. If you need a real computer, something like a Surface Pro with the snap-on keyboard is a good bet. The Macbook Air is a little long in the tooth, but is probably your lightest weight option on the MacOS side.
posted by cnc at 3:27 PM on August 4, 2016

I think this is not a great plan.
  • Pico projectors have low resolution compared to almost any other option.
  • Rollup keyboards are awful.
  • All the cords and crap you'll be carrying will be bulky and awkward and make you not want to use your setup.
There are laptops that are extraordinarily slim and light now. There are tablets that are fairly powerful, and which can be used with full-sized keyboards, folding keyboards, keyboard covers, etc. Either one of these options would be more satisfactory in every way than cobbling something together out of, say, a Raspberry Pi, a pico projector, some kind of external battery, and a rollup keyboard.
posted by adamrice at 4:18 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Take a look at the Yoga 900 by Lenovo. Light, a hybrid laptop/tablet, running Windows 10. A beautiful design- and sturdy.
posted by ecollie at 6:53 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

After Superfish, I cannot recommend any Lenovo machine in good faith.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:03 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lenovo notebooks are great. Just not the cheap ones (stick to the T or X series). No cheap notebook is great.
posted by gorcha at 12:44 AM on August 5, 2016

I use a Surface Pro as my primary machine - I have a janky old PC at one office, and a jankier old Mac at another, and an assortment of other PCs I can log into when I'm on other campuses. The Surface is not a whole lot smaller than my last laptop but is better for travel. Better battery life, more flexible, and it fits into an A4 folder so it's less conspicuous than a laptop in my bag or even on a table. Hell, it's gotten caught up with notes and books and magazines on my couch more than once. I've written a fair bit on it, with no concerns at all.

I've never had a good experience with the rollup keyboards either. And honestly? They take up about as much room as my surface. The keyboard attachment is smaller than a regular keyboard which was a selling point for me, but it isn't as small as an actual netbook.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:05 AM on August 5, 2016

Best answer: You could use a pico projector and a NUC style desktop with a silicon membrane keyboard. If your netbook has a VGA output and a USB port, you can just skip the NUC and attach everything to the netbook.

I have actually done this. I managed to get it done by a ridiculously expensive pico projector and a ridiculously inexpensive mk802ii pc-on-a-stick. I had to attach a USB hub and hub out a mouse, a fold-up keyboard, an ethernet adapter (the wifi on the mk802ii sucked), and a storage drive. It really didn't work all that well: the throw of the projector meant that I had to be too far from surfaces (and if I hadn't been able to use xrandr to compensate for keyholing, it never would've worked at all), and I never did find a material that was practical to lug around that had the right reflectivity (look into DIY Home Theatre threads/forums for more about the 'joys' of projection); as well as the mk802ii being limited in some serious ways.

In retrospect, if I were able to put the folding keyboard on some sort of frame that would house all the dingly dongly bits (like a modern laptop sits on the other guts of a laptop), get a better projector and put a small (but good) fresnel on it and mount that in the middle of the two halves of the keyboard, then consolidate all the power requirements into a single psu, you might actually have something worth talking about, if and only if you found a sufficiently reflective surface for a lumen that weak (ie. you can't just throw it up on the wall and expect to have anything but eyestrain headache in a couple of hours, if you can see it at all). Along with, of course, fixing the problems of using the mk802ii (weak wifi, odd drivers, etc, but there are plenty of linux-ready sbcs that would fit the bill).

I eventually gave up on the whole project and repurposed the various bits, but the experience left me with a better understanding of why laptops are built the way they are and haven't really changed in twenty years.
posted by eclectist at 10:09 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Since you're worried about damage, I want to mention that all the roll-up or folding keyboards I've seen are much more fragile than a decent laptop. Folding or rolling them tends to stress the wires that run through the flexible parts, and I've seen them simply die after less than a year of use.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:43 AM on August 8, 2016

Response by poster: I ended up getting a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and I am really really happy with it so far. Thanks mefi :)
posted by ball00000ns at 8:23 PM on January 1, 2017

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