When our laptop was stolen in South America — we were victims of an organized scam involving three men, one of whom was dressed as a bus employee (ugh) — I really thought long and hard about whether to buy another laptop at all.
I realized that I had been spending a lot of physical and emotional energy protecting that laptop as we traveled — and still got it stolen. Once the laptop was gone, not having to worry about it at all became a lower-stress option I hadn’t even considered before.
But I still wanted to write and, even more, to keep making videos.
Could I do all of that — including managing and backing up my files — with just my phone?
Here’s what I found…
I’ve written elsewhere about how I made some deliberate decisions to carry less expensive hardware around with us, partly to lose less money if something was stolen.
The laptop wasn’t super expensive — a few hundred dollars, not thousands — but it still was a hit when it was gone.
My smartphone, however, was only about $185, that was the total out-the-door price, unlocked and able to take SIM cards from anywhere in the world.
I bought it in Indonesia and it had been one of the better deals on hardware, working pretty much flawlessly for two years and counting.
I should mention that even after decades of using touch screens, I can’t type for shit on them. So the first step was going out and buying a regular keyboard that I could plug into my phone.
I found keyboards available at tech shops in the small city we had gone to in Ecuador, along with the most important thing: OTG adapters.
OTG stands for “on the go” and it’s an adapter standard that lets smartphones and tablets connect to external USB devices like keyboards and flash drives.
Now I could use a regular keyboard to type blog posts on my phone.
And I could connect my camera directly with a USB cable to download videos (bye-bye stupid proprietary downloader apps!).
I could connect my external drive, too, to copy backups of the files to a second physical location (similar to what I has been doing on the laptop).
I was up and running for typing blog posts, and managing files without a laptop.
Next, it was time to try video editing on my phone.
I wasn’t really sure if it had the horsepower to make videos, so I started by finding a couple of free video editing apps and gave it a whirl.
Video editing worked! At least well enough to not pull my hair out. And the user interfaces of the editing apps were far more effective and usable than I had imagined.
That all really made me think about how much resources laptops need just to run their janky operating systems — my cheap phone was able to edit videos pretty effectively with much less memory, for example.
After I was successfully working with the keyboard, and could edit videos, the rest was just finding some other apps that I liked which would help with my workflow.
I already had a good file manager app, which was an absolute necessity for copying and moving files between the internal storage and the external drive.
I found a simple gallery app that helped me look through video files and photos more effeciently than whatever was already on the phone.
Plus an app to edit photos and images.
I also added a file renamer app, so I could keep naming new video files the same way I had been doing on the laptop.
The cloud backup service I used had an app, too. It didn’t work nearly as seamlessly as on a laptop, but I could back up files, albeit more manually than before. Since I pay very close attention to backups, that hasn’t been a problem so far.
Going through this process really made me get to know the workings of my smartphone a lot more, like, a lot more than I expected.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was the lack of real font capabilty on the smartphone. There just doesn’t seem to be the same kind of font provider servicing all the apps the way there is on a computer. There are some “font virtual keyboard” apps as a kind of workaround, but I didn’t want to add another layer of complication.
I decided to just use the regular phone font for titles on new videos that I make — it’s a pretty decent font.
A cool thing has been using a smart TV screen as, essentially, a giant monitor with my phone. Over time, more and more places we’ve stayed at have had smart TVs — and it just takes a few taps to cast the phone screen to the TV via wifi. Easy peasy, and it all starts to resemble a real workstation.
This post was typed up on my smartphone rig, and new videos made on the phone are already underway.
This was all more successful than I expected, and made me pretty happy, too.
RIP laptop (alas, we hardly knew ye), but without a laptop there’s a lot less stress when traveling around — and my bag is a lot lighter, too.
So stay tuned for new blog posts and new videos created on the go and without a laptop — full steam ahead.