The Best Tech for Your Mobile Office in 2021
After 18 months of living with Covid, many of us have come to terms with working remotely. Since we couldn’t travel, that meant making the most of working at home. But now that we can move around, working remotely includes the possibility of making your home base a coffee shop, Airbnb, or even a tent in a campground (assuming there’s cell service!). Frankly, it’s an awesome choice of work venues, but each have some constraints on power and connectivity. So, we’ve dug into what your options are for taking your home office on the road. This is a subject that is close to my heart, because as a tech-journalist slash road warrior, remote work is pretty central to my job, and I also have had to learn how to stay in business even during power outages.
Scale Your Laptop to Your Needs
Historically, a remote office meant lugging along a beast of a laptop (thinking back to the original nearly-eight-pound Thinkpads). Obviously, the world had changed a lot since then, and lightweight Ultrabooks or Macbooks are the most popular travel laptops. But an increasing number of people, especially those wanting to travel the world with just a lightweight backpack, are trimming down even further. Airlines getting more-and-more stingy about storage space is accelerating that trend.
So, it is worth asking how much “horsepower” do you really need? From leading lots of photo trips to various countries, the most common “laptop compromise” for people who don’t want to deal with a real laptop is definitely an iPad with a keyboard. But there are some other ways to travel without a laptop. We’ll explore a few.
Keyboard and Mouse
Trying to be productive on a small device, even if you have an external display, is tricky without adding at least a keyboard. Fortunately there are a lot of small Bluetooth keyboards to choose from. I still use the one that came with my Cintiq tablet, but a favorite among my traveling-light friends is the Logitech K380. They like the feel of the keys, and that it can be paired with up to three devices at once.
For a mouse, I enjoy the easy-portability of Microsoft’s Arc family of mice, since they “snap” flat to fit nicely in the typical narrow pockets found in laptop cases. The touch version replaces a more-typical wheel for scrolling with a gesture-controlled area between the buttons.
GMK Touch-Enabled 4K Portable Display: A Real Game Changer
I’m a big fan of portable displays, and have written about a number of them over the years. Typically, they are 1080p, 14-inch, and have decent color. That makes them a great choice for displaying press releases or datasheets alongside the article I’m working on. But they aren’t really a “work screen.” The GMK 14-inch 4K touchscreen () has totally changed that. For starters, it is a 4K portable display with excellent image quality and color fidelity. Plus, it is touch sensitive. I’m addicted to touch screens, so for me that is a big deal. It is also important when you’re using it as a large display for a touch-centric device like a phone or tablet. In many cases PDF media packets have been replaced by recorded presentations and videos. Being able to display them on a second screen while I write on my primary display is really handy — especially when I can simply reach over to pause and rewind.
The GMK monitor also has a large variety of connectivity options, including USB-C, wireless, and HDMI with an adapter. You can even plug a USB keyboard or mouse into it, which is pretty cool (although you might need a USB-C adapter). It has been a joy to use with my Dell Precision 5540 workstation, but it isn’t limited to that. It can mirror the screen of an iPhone, iPad, and many Android devices. My Pixel 5a didn’t work with it unless I added a Chromecast to the mix, so if you plan to use it with a phone, make sure to check the list of compatible devices. Being a 4K touch-enabled monitor, it is also somewhat power hungry, so for best results you’ll want to use wall power with it when it’s connected to a phone or tablet — although my Dell has no problem running it from its USB-C port.
Powering Your Mobile Office with the Intelli ScoutPro
Phone-sized battery packs are great for quickly recharging your phone a couple times, but quickly run out of steam when you have multiple devices, or if you’re using your phone as a hotspot for other devices. If you’re working with a phone, tablet, and perhaps a low-power monitor or power-sipping laptop, I’ve been really impressed with Intelli’s new ScoutPro. It is rated at a beefy 24,000 mAh, which of course means that it’s also fairly large compared to most portable chargers. The upside is that it can store about 90 watt-hours of energy that can be dished out via two Power Direct ports rated at 100 watts and 60 watts, and via Quick Charge compatible USB-A ports. Finally, it even has two wireless charging areas on the top. In total, it can supply power at a rate up to 240 watts, so you can power a small laptop, tablet, phone, and watch at the same time, for example. There’s even a handy display that tells you exactly how much power you have left.
A Quick Note about Mobile Battery Capacity
For anyone who tries to work out the capacity of a battery from its mAh (milli-amp hour) rating, you’ll quickly realize it is missing a needed piece of data — the voltage — to turn it into something meaningful like watt-hours. The shortcut is that since smartphones typically run on 3.7 volts, the ratings assume that. Of course, that’s a bit silly since lots of other things can get powered by portable batteries, but we seem to be stuck with it. Some companies like Intelli also helpfully provide the watt-hour ratings of their chargers.
Options for Power in the Wilderness and During Power Outages
One wonderful outcome of recent tech advances is a wide-array of options for powering your office off the grid for hours, or even days. How much power you need is of course dependent on the devices you’re using.
it’s hard to top a unit like the Jackery E500. Not only does it provide 500Wh of power and plenty of ports, but you can charge it from a plug, a car, or one of their solar panels. Unlike a typical home UPS, it is also designed to be carried, and has a high-quality battery that doesn’t lose its charge if you store it for a while.
Large Units: Jackery E1500 and Generark HomePower 2 Can Do Double Duty
If you’re going all out with a laptop, then you’re going to need a big battery to keep it running. Jackery makes an E1000 and E1500 that are basically larger versions of the E500. Beyond that, Generark has just released the HomePower 2, which packs a staggering 2.5KWh of power, but weighs in at around 50 pounds, so it’s not trivial to cart around.
What I like about the E1500 and especially the HomePower 2 is that they come in handy even when you’re not off the grid. For example, this week we lost power at home — where we were working — for a day. I took the E1500 and some solar panels outside to power my laptop and monitor, while I rigged up my smartphone at a corner of the deck with an Intelli Scout Pro to provide a hotspot.
Along with my office setup, the HomePower 2 was beefy enough to power our refrigerator and the ever-important espresso machine. Our outage only lasted a day, but my setup could have handled two days before needing to be recharged using solar panels. How you use your reserve power when there is an outage is a personal choice, but having it available is definitely a stress-reliever.
Figuring Out How Much Power You Need
For battery-powered devices, you can figure out your power requirements with some quick math based on battery capacity. Smartphones, for example, run on batteries that deliver around 3.7-3.8 volts. So, to estimate the watt-hours needed to recharge them, multiply their mAH (milli-amp-hour) rating by 4. For example, my Note 9 has a 4000 mAH battery, which means about 16 watt-hours per charge.
For devices that you can plug in, a simple $30 Kill-a-Watt power meter can measure the actual power used by a device over time. If you are running several devices, then there are also power strip versions.
Once you have a rough idea of how many watt-hours you’ll need while you’re working, then it’s easy enough to find the right capacity power supply you’ll need, and also figure out whether having solar chargers will be necessary.
Final Note: Road Warrior Accessories
I always travel with an HDMI cable, and a DVI adapter. Often the best second monitor is a hotel TV. A short Ethernet cable, and an Ethernet adapter for your laptop (since most don’t have a dedicated Ethernet port) also come in handy. Finally, I pay extra for an “un-limited” data plan that includes the ability to use my phone as a hot spot. It’s saved me many times when Wi-Fi was slow, expensive, or entirely lacking.