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Ted on Tech: One Device Does Not Fit All Needs

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Most people appreciate having choices. But along with having choices comes having to make decisions as well. The proverb, ďWhen all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nailĒ applies just as aptly to technology as it does to other things.

A case in point is the trend to have only a single computing device. The trend probably started with laptops that served as ďdesktop replacements.Ē Every day, most of us move around, even if itís not far, so itís not difficult to understand why laptops have been outselling desktops for the past several years.

Todayís laptops often use the same processors as many desktops. And even a smartphone has enough power to do many of the tasks you and I perform every day. The latest statistics show tablets outselling laptops. There are so many choices in portable devices that many of us feel we have to limit ourselves to one or two devices to cover all our needs.

But thatís not necessarily the right approach. Just as a hammer isnít the right tool for every job, a desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet isnít right for every circumstance. This becomes even more obvious when you have to pack up and leave the office. So what do you take?

Your smartphone is a no-brainer. In the past several years, texting has become so ubiquitous that many people are very comfortable using the virtual keyboard on a smartphone or tablet to do extensive text and number entry. And there are loads of apps for your smartphone.

Iím not one of those people. Little virtual keys and fat clumsy fingers donít make for a great combination.

When I need to travel with a productivity device, Iím lucky. I have a steamer trunk full of devices, including several flavors of tablets, as well as a beautiful Lenovo T431 Ultrabook. Since I got my first tablet, itís been my traveling companion of choice. If all Iím going to do on the trip is watch movies, listen to music, and read and answer e-mail, until recently Iíd take an Android tablet. The ones I have are less expensive than my iPad, so if itís lost, stolen or broken, itís less expensive than a new iPad.

But until recently, if I had writing to do on the trip, the tablet was ditched in favor of the laptop. While I have Bluetooth keyboards for all the tablets, I still find it easier to travel with a real laptop, rather than an assemblage of components.

But thatís changed. Now, most of the time, I travel with a Chromebook. Chromebooks look like ultrabooks. They are thin and usually lightweightóaround two pounds. The one I use has an 11-inch screen, but it also has a laptop-style keyboard that I find easy to type on, and Iím not a particularly good typist. And compared to an ultrabook, they are very cheap. The Acer I have now costs about $250, and you can still find one of Acerís original $200 models if you look. Thatís not a lot to have much of the convenience of an ultrabook, and if it gets lost or stolen, or bites the dust on a trip, itís a much more palatable loss than the $1,500 Lenovo laptop.

Chromebooks do have a downside that may be off-putting. A Chromebook doesnít really have an accessible operating system. The user interface is Googleís Chrome browser, and the Chromebook offers the greatest utility when it is connected to the Internet and uses Internet-based applications like Googleís office apps or apps downloaded from the Google Play store.

On the plus side, Chromebooks do have some internal storage. You can keep most of your files in the cloud and work on them when you are connected to the Internet but also keep a copy on the Chromebook. And Googleís office apps (and a number of others) are also built right into the Chromebook.

Chromebooks are sold by an increasing number of vendors, including Acer, Samsung, HP, Lenovo and Asus.

Technology costs less than ever before, and the payback in increased productivity is more than ever. One size doesnít fit all; neither does one device. So the next time youíre in Best Buy or Staples, and youíre wandering the aisles with a bit of extra cash in the budget, give a thought to adding a Chromebook to your technological inventory. Yeah, itís another hammer, but Iím pretty sure youíll find a nail or two to use it on.

A former editor of Accounting Technology, Ted Needleman writes frequently on technology-related subjects. Got a question on how to use a particular bit of technology? Reach Ted at tedneedleman@gmail.com.

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