In search of a Mobile Internet Device

I bought my first laptop about a year and a half ago nd I’ve been really pleased with it. It’s a 15.4″ Toshiba laptop sporting a 3.2GHz AMD Turion, 1 GB of RAM and a 160GB hard disk. I dual boot Windows Vista and Arch Linux and I haven’t had any problems with it so far. I think 15″ is a good size for a laptop that I use for a lot of coding and real work, not just light internet stuff. However, it’s getting a bit of a pain to carry around. I don’t mind taking it from my room to the engineering building to ‘set up shop’ for a few hours, but I think twice about lugging it about with me all day. And the battery life is nothing to write home about.

With professors piling on the homework, midterms around the corner and activities shifting into high gear, it’s getting really hard for me to keep my schedule in my head. I use Google Calendar with the lightweight Todoist as scheduling tools and it works pretty well when it’s time to sit down and make a plan. But I have to remember to actually put down my to-dos on my calendar and I tend to forget that. When I’m moving from one class to the next, it’s easy for me to forget when my friends asked me to meet up. I’ve missed one meeting already this week and almost skipped another. I seriously need to reconsider my scheduling strategy.

I’m seriously considering some sort of mobile internet device. I have wifi almost everywhere on campus and so anything that let’s me get to the internet with a decent size screen will do. Looking around the web there are a number of options that I’ve come across:

1. A Netbook

Take a laptop and make it drop a few pounds. Netbooks are becoming pretty popular on college campuses. The only major downside to these devices is the small screen size. The one in particular that I’m looking at is the MSI Wind. With 1 GB of RAM and a 1.6GHz (which looks like it can be overclocked to almost 2GHz), this is a very powerful package in a small form factor. Another great advantage is that it’s a full computer which means that I’m not limited to just using the internet. On the flip side, being a full computer means that it is something that needs to be turned on and off, or at least opened and closed. Though it’s small enough to be carried around almost anywhere, it’s a bit too much for a quick information recorder. I really would like something that could be slipped into a pocket. At about $300 to $350 for one with a long battery life, that’s a pretty considerable commitment for a college student.

2. The iPod Touch

Yes, the fairest one of them all. I don’t need the iPhone, the plans are way too expensive for the amount of calling and texting I do. However, take away the phone and the rest of it looks like a pretty good deal. It’s small and light enough to carried in the pocket all the time. It’s internet connectivity is good and many of the websites I’ll be using have interfaces made for the Touch’s small screen size. It also syncs very nicely with my Mac’s Calendar and Address Book. At $229 (less on Amazon) it’s certainly the cheapest device I’m considering. However, it is a closed platform, and if I ever find myself needing to push beyond what it’s capabilities are, I might be hitting a brick wall. Not to mention that most of the internet really wasn’t built for a 3.5inch screen.

3. Sony Mylo

This one of the devices I stumbled upon. Mylo is short for “my life online” and it’s designed to be an internet communicator focussed on college students. It’s meant to be more of an internet mesaging device with some media capabilities rather than an organizer. As a result it lacks any built in utilities for scheduling or organzing. But I do like the design, especially the full keyboard. However at about $300, I might as well get a netbook for the same price.

4. Nokia N810

This is a Linux-based internet device which is similar to the Mylo in terms of design. It packs a Mozilla based browser along with Flash and a Skype application. Being an open Linux platform, there are a ton of free apps available for it. Like the Mylo, it too has a QWERTY keyboard and is small enough to put into a pocket. However the lack of any builtin calendar or todo system combined with the $300 price tag does put it into the “might as well get a netbook” range.

5. The Archos line

The Archos line of internet devices do merit a mention even though I’m really not sondifering them because of the price tag. They come with a large screen and are very internet capable. However they are meant to be mostly media devices, which isn’t something I really need.

There are some really interesting options out there, all of which have their pros and cons. I’m still actively on the lookout and won’t be making a decision for a few weeks now. But at this point I am leaning towards the Touch. Not only is it light with a nice interface, it’s also the lowest price of all the options I’ve considered. However, I’m still open to suggestions and if I find something that I really like, I could change my mind.

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Published by

Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

3 thoughts on “In search of a Mobile Internet Device”

  1. For what it’s worth, I don’t find the small screen size of a netbook to be a problem: What I actually find much more problematic is the small keyboard size. Some are better than others (the eee, which I have, is terrible in this regard), but it really limits the amount of typing you can do.

  2. i think the netbook keyboard is a problem only if you’re comparing it to regular notebook. However, if you take it as a “mobile internet device”, it’s keyboard is extremely big and easy to use.

    I’d recommend netbook for your situation. It will work both as an organizer and as a device you can take notes and do some homework. (As a side note, I love using my EeePC 900 as an ebook reader. It’s screen is as good as you can get with any computer without having an e-ink screen.) It also works great as a hack device. So, you can do a lot of neat projects with it (such as using it as a file server, a media center pc or for building robots) after you upgrade to another device in the future.

    However you should have two possible drawbacks in mind:
    1- the size factor: as you said, netbooks don’t exactly fit your pocket. If you plan using it as a mobile internet appliance, you’ll need to acquire the habit of carrying a very small bag with you at all times.
    2- the battery life: although it’s improving, handhelds may still provide longer juice

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