So I spent the whole of last week travelling around Australia on the Note 4 Roadtrip, seeing if I could do my job using only a smartphone. What lessons did I learn and how can you adapt those strategies?
The setup for the Note 4 Roadtrip was deliberately extreme — very few people are going to need to travel that much, or to cut themselves off so entirely from their colleagues. But I figured that made sense. If it's possible to get everything done under what amounts to corporate duress, then deciding to only take your smartphone on an overnight business trip should be realistic for a much larger group of people.
It's also worth reiterating a point I made more than once during the week: as a journalist, I have to do a lot more writing than most professions — and writing without a keyboard is one of the most challenging tasks for any mobile device. It proved to be quite possible, but realistically it did take me longer to produce the same number of words than it would have typing on a regular keyboard. If your job doesn't require that same volume of linguistic output, then the process will be a lot smoother.
With that said, these were the key things I learned during the week.
The big screen really makes a difference
Beyond the obvious advantage of giving you more battery life, there are two key benefits to a larger screen:
- When you're using an on-screen keyboard, there's more room to actually see what you're typing.
- For many document types, it provides a more natural viewing experience. I quite frequently had to check spreadsheets during the week, and that was much easier on a larger screen held in landscape mode
It isn't always about the apps
Native apps are very handy, especially when it comes to integrating with existing workflow. Being able to browse Dropbox and download crucial work documents was essential for me — without that option, I'd have been forced to defer quite a few tasks. I was also impressed with how straightforward it was to edit video on the phone.
However, it's also worth bearing in mind that if you're running a modern browser on your smartphone, browser-based apps now work just as well as they would on a desktop. I found myself using the browser-based version of WordPress rather than the app, because it was faster and more flexible. Being signed into Chrome also meant that my browsing history was accessible, which in turn made accessing sites faster.
Using a mix of input methods makes sense
For most editing tasks, I used the on-screen keyboard. However, when it came to producing text for a novel, voice recognition was a better match, and when I wanted to work on to-do lists, I found myself leaning towards the stylus. Having that range of options was definitely handy.
I'm happily back on my laptop now, but there are tasks where I can see myself migrating more permanently to the phone (and I will be sticking with the Note 4 for the foreseeable future). A simple example: I often take photographs for articles on my phone, and my previous approach has been to upload or email them, then resize them and place them in our content management system. It's actually easier for me to do all that on the phone, which means the image is ready when I need it.
I also suspect I'll use the Note 4 more often to work on planes, since that way I don't have to wait until we've reached cruising altitude. Even without in-flight Wi-Fi, I suspect that will be a more productive approach overall.
Lifehacker’s Note 4 Roadtrip series is sponsored by Samsung.