How can we maintain productivity while increasing portability?

FastType_crop380wI was wrong.*

Just a short while ago, I wrote about how I had found the ideal netbook. After testing some of the popular models, I ended up liking the the Asus EeePC 900A with a version of Ubuntu Linux loaded on it. But after less than two months, I’ve already sold it on eBay.

Why? I’ve already written about why I abandoned Linux. But the other reason I got rid of the 900A was the hardware. I found myself defaulting back to my ThinkPad more and more because I could type faster on the full-sized keyboard. Which signaled to me that I had sacrificed productivity for portability.

Consider the following:

  • On a desktop PC using an ergonomic (“wave”) keyboard, I can type 97 words per minute (WPM) (gross – accounting for errors; as measured on typingtest.com)
  • On my 14″ Lenovo ThinkPad with a full-sized laptop keyboard, I can type 92 WPM
  • Using the same test, I could only manage 73 WPM (gross) on the 9″ 900A

Some quick math shows that the 9″ Asus only afforded me 75% of my max speed which severely hampered my productivity.

I decided that I still wanted a netbook and set out to find the best 10″ model on the market. While the increased screen size seems nominal, the wider screen means a wider overall case, which means a larger keyboard can be included. After conducting lots of research (including a fun and insightful “Netbook Madness” competition conducted by Laptop Magazine), I decided that the 1000HE was the best of breed of the low-cost 10″ netbooks.

With the 10″ 1000HE, my speed was back up to 90 WPM; not quite as fast as on a full-sized keyboard, but sufficient at almost 93% of my max.

The problem is heightened even further on pocketable devices with on-screen or “tic tac” type keyboards. In addition to the 900A, I also recently tested a Nokia N810 internet tablet device. With a slick slide-out keyboard, I thought it would prove to be a useful device. I quickly realized, however, that most of my web use involves typing – responding to Facebook posts, updating Twitter, writing blog posts, commenting on blog posts, etc. And I realized equally as fast that the keyboard was functionally no better than the tiny keys on my Samsung Ace, a Windows Mobile smartphone. In fact, because of hardware limitations, I couldn’t even take the typing test on the Nokia tablet.

For this and a variety of other reasons, I didn’t hang on to the Nokia. Instead, I decided to test out the iPod Touch and it’s infamous love/hate touchscreen keyboard. Despite its critics, I found the onscreen typing experience to exceed that of my smartphone and the Nokia. However, without Flash support, I once again was prevented from taking the typing test on the Touch. From my personal estimation, I predict that my results on both the Nokia and the Touch would be abysmal.

So how will the consumer electronics market reconcile the idea that the pocketable computer is the future de facto standard but productivity using such a device is hampered (currently) by the form factor? Will we see a move towards voice recognition (assuming, that is, that such technology improves drastically in reliability)? Or will another, as yet unknown, kind of input solution be introduced?

* With that single statement, I practically guarenteed that every woman reading this post stopped, printed off the page, and proceeded to torment a male significant other about the fact that a man can, indeed, admit when he’s wronng. To those men, I apologize. To the women, this is a very rare occurance – just ask my wife.

83 WPM (gross) @ 6:00 AM – laptop 92 WPM (gross) @ 7:00 PM – laptop 73 WPM (gross) @ 8:00 PM – netbook
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