Road Warriors Have New Weapon of Choice

I just got back from four days in Las Vegas. However, I wasn’t there for vacation – I was definitely there for work (looking for new work opportunities, to be accurate). I attended my first-ever PubCon Conference, and I was pretty impressed. I had three days and nights to attend valuable, technical sessions presented by leading search industry experts (and meet them afterwards). I got a chance to catch up with old friends as well as meet new ones. I was impressed by the convenience of the Las Vegas Monorail (I stayed in the official PubCon hotel, the MGM Grand, which anchors the south end of the monorail, while the Las Vegas Convention Center, which hosted the conference, was only four station stops away). As for the food, it was a mixed bag. The conference meals were so-so, but as Vegas is a restaurant lover’s paradise, dinners were fine. The highlight of my visit, with grateful thanks to my friend Alan Bleiweiss, was participating in his infamous “Epic Dinner Vegas” event. Imagine 120 SEOs, delicious (and plentiful) food & drink, and it only cost a mere $5. Alan is a genius marketer.

Fledgling Road Warrior

I haven’t had the occasion to travel all that much in my career (so far), so some business travel lessons are perhaps coming late for me. But I already recognized that lugging around a heavy, power-hungry, and slow-booting laptop is a huge drag. Attending three conferences this year (besides PubCon, I also attended the Seattle-based SMX Advanced and MozCon events) helped me realize that my old laptop was not the mobile business computing solution I wanted.

This past spring, the fledgling road warrior in me got a new crush with my first ever tablet computer, the Apple iPad2. I love the size-to-weight ratio of this device. It’s all screen! Now as I am a Microsoft guy from way, WAY back, this was a big move for me. And if Microsoft had created a product that was even close to comparable in value, functionality, and design quality to the iPad, I’d probably still be an Apple virgin to this day. Alas, while I may have leaned toward Microsoft products in the past (hell, I still use a Zune!), I have finally seen the light – at least with IOS.

I do see the utility of the iPad and tablet computing very clearly. From a mobility point of view, I am sold. The iPad handles basic email access and web browsing very well. It offers a plethora of custom apps for a ton of custom tasks (although I’ll never use the vast, vast majority of them. Seriously, how many farting apps does a guy need?).

However, I don’t see the iPad as a desktop replacement device, and that opinion has not changed after using it for several months. For one, I love my PC’s multiple wide screen monitor setup. Second, I love working with the precision of a high-quality mouse. But as much as anything, as a writer, I like a big, comfortable keyboard. The iPad’s on-screen keyboard is a barely usable tool for writing short messages in email or typing out URLs in the Safari search bar. But as a real, honest-to-goodness device on which to do serious writing, the iPad by itself just doesn’t cut it (at least not for me).

Add a Bluetooth Keyboard

When I bought my iPad, I knew the on-screen keyboard would not be a viable solution for writing (and as you can see from my blog writing history, I write a LOT!). To remedy that shortcoming, I also bought the Apple Bluetooth keyboard. It was a better solution than the on-screen keyboard, but it was also a bit bulky as road warrior equipment. To be honest, I’ve really never used it beyond getting it initially paired in Bluetooth with my iPad.

The July MozCon conference was my first opportunity to really use the iPad as a road warrior device. Just before the conference began, I ran across a web article in which the author stated he used an old Think Outside Bluetooth Stowaway Keyboard with their iPad. As I was a Pocket PC nerd before it was cool (I’m still waiting for that to be cool, actually), I have several of these amazing fold-up keyboards socked away in my pile of outdated hardware. I found the newest one (which is at least seven years old, and I have a have a couple of older models, too!), installed new batteries, and was shocked at how easy it was to pair this ancient hardware with the new iPad. It seemed to work well.

I took this pair of devices with me to MozCon and used them extensively to take notes, check email, browse the web, etc. While the pairing worked well enough, I found the keyboard’s ingenious design for folding up small to be lacking when used unfolded as a keyboard. It needs to lay on a sturdy, flat surface (luckily MozCon supplied tables for all session seating!), it had no means of supporting the iPad (luckily the foldable iPad Smart Cover resolved that issue), but the biggest liability was the basic wobbliness of the Stowaway keyboard as you typed on it. It felt unstable when I typed on any key placed outside of the perimeter of its small, bottom base plate.

ZAGG to the Rescue

As PubCon approached, I was prepared to abandon the Stowaway keyboard and instead take the Apple Bluetooth keyboard, despite its bulk. My girlfriend then offered to lend me her newest toy: her new ZAGGfolio Bluetooth keyboard. This turns out to be a game-changer, at least for me. At once the iPad went from being a sub-optimal but adequate mobile business computing platform to a perfect road warrior solution.

ZAGGfolio-openThe ZAGGfolio is a Bluetooth keyboard and a protective folio case all-in-one. The keyboard offers the full array of standard alphanumeric keys as well as a top row of iPad2-specific keys that enable cut, copy & paste functions, music control, volume control, device search, home, screen lock, and more. Behind the top row of keys is a slot that allows the iPad to stand securely as you type. The keyboard pairs easily in Bluetooth with the iPad, and its built-in battery supposedly only needs to be charged a few times a year (a video on the ZAGGfolio page clarifies this as once a month).

The folio case is well-engineered as well. Both the keyboard and iPad fit securely within the light-weight case, although the case is not required to use the keyboard (which means you can also position the iPad to stand in portrait mode instead of the case’s default landscape mode). The case has cut-outs so you can easily access the iPad’s external control buttons, toggle switches, rear camera and the power cable slot while mounted in the folio. And as a nice touch, the case has a built-in magnet that puts the iPad in sleep mode when the cover is closed, just like the Smart Cover.

I only have a couple of minor gripes about the ZAGGfolio. The folio case covers the micro-USB port used for charging the keyboard (cable included in the kit). As a result, you need to at least partially remove the keyboard to charge it (although that won’t be a frequent issue given its long battery life). You also can’t tell how much battery life there is left in the keyboard (there ought to be an app for that). Also, unlike the Smart Cover, which has a microfiber lining to help clean the iPad screen of smudges and fingerprints when closed, you need to carry an eyeglasses cleaning cloth with you in your road warrior kit. The continuous build-up of oily fingerprints from all-day use can get surprisingly bad (ZAGG should consider bundling such a cloth in the kit). There is a microfiber lining to the folio case, but that only touches the rear of the iPad, not the screen. Also note that if you have an original iPad, you’re out of luck. The ZAGGfolio is designed only for the iPad2.

The ZAGGfolio enabled me to leave the clunky Apple Bluetooth keyboard accessory at home (the old laptop PC option was long gone) while putting the iPad in the useful form factor of a small, very light-weight laptop (but with a bigger, better display than a cheap netbook). The ZAGG Bluetooth keyboard pairs easily, and its broad bottom base serves as a stable platform stand (so you can work effectively while holding it in your lap) as the case holds the iPad screen, preventing it from falling to the floor (you’ll still want a level surface, however). When you’re done working, it folds up into a nice, compact kit that is easily toted around all day.

ZAGGfolio-closedBest of all, the iPad2/ZAGGfolio combo modestly sips battery power. After a full day of using the iPad with WiFi and Bluetooth enabled, taking notes in conference sessions, checking emails, reading Twitter feeds, and browsing the web, I never got below 58% power, despite never having connected to a power source all day long. No more panicky searches for AC power when the laptop batteries die early.

Will this dynamic duo replace a desktop PC for me? Nope. But it changes the game for mobile business computing. I will no longer carry a heavy, slow-to-boot laptop. And as a writer, I can easily work on this keyboard. Now my initial crush on the iPad has blossomed into a full-blown love affair, thanks to ZAGG!

And one last thing: I envy Scott Cowley, whom I met at PubCon. When we met, I was raving about how great the ZAGGfolio was in making the iPad the ultimate road warrior kit. He smiled and listened, then revealed he is the in-house SEO for ZAGG! No wonder he was smiling so much. I’d do the same if it was my job to promote such a cool product! Hey, Scott, I know of a good, passionate SEO who just happens to be looking for work right now. Call me. red diamond logo

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