June 2

Don’t Fear the Laptop Ban: You CAN Work from Your Phone

The laptop ban. Oh how that worries me.

I actually treasure the time I spend working on a plane. It’s uninterrupted blocks of time that let me finish up presentations, develop new content, catch up with emails (offline so that I don’t receive immediate replies and I can clear out my inbox) and just have clear thinking time without my regular distractions.

But we have to face the reality that the powers that be may determine at any moment that laptops and tablets on planes are a danger to us all and will expand the ban to all international flights or even domestic.

So for the past couple of weeks, I have been working out a system to make sure I can WORK — really WORK — from my iPhone 7+.

Today is the time to test my theories and practice what I preach. I’m on a 4-hour flight to Chicago, and I’m writing this on my phone.

Yes, it’s working.

Yes, it’s easy.

Yes, you can do it, too.

Here’s how:

Step One: Get a Larger Phone

The guy sitting next to me on this plane has a teeny, tiny iPhone SE, and I think the little size would drive me nuts. If you’re going to be doing this on a regular basis, you want a screen you don’t have to strain to see.

You’re also going to want a lot of storage so you can work with downloaded files that you store locally. And you want to make sure it has a pretty fast processor (like a phone created in the past year).

Step Two: Get a Bluetooth Keyboard

I don’t think I could work for 4 hours on my phone if I didn’t have an external keyboard — and, more importantly, the RIGHT keyboard. Try out different sizes, shapes, configurations and features because you want to be comfortable as you work.

I tried a number of keyboards before settling on this one. Here are some pros and cons of the ones I tried:

  • Compact with a Stand
    I thought this style would be the best option. It’s an all-in-one keyboard with a little lip for your phone. First, the keyboard was way too cramped. The second problem is that the lip was really small, and my phone case made my phone too big to stay on the lip.
    keyboard with stand
  • Ergonomic Keyboard
    I liked the idea of this style because it seemed to me that the curved keyboard would work well with the angle your arms might be on a plane. But this keyboard had a little trouble connecting to the bluetooth, and I found that I kept pressing the wrong keys. I’m sure over time I would get used to the shape.
  • Full-Size Keyboard
    Ding ding ding! The iClever Keyboard is my favorite, and I’m using it right now. It is exactly the same size as my laptop keyboard, and it folds up to half its size for travel. I also like that you can set the keyboard to match your platform — Mac, Windows or Android. Several of the keyboards could do this, and it’s handy to have the same shortcuts and keys.Another thing I like about this keyboard is that it has a light-up background so I can see it in a dark cabin. It also connects instantly and reliably to my phone — all I have to do is open it.
    The iClever is not perfect, though. I still bunched up my shoulders to keep my fingers on the keys. I have also noticed that it skips a keystroke every once in a while when I’m typing quickly (all the ones I’ve ever used have that problem). Another challenge is that it’s a little big for the tray. When I was testing at home, I looked up the “standard” airplane tray size online. And — surprise, surprise — modern trays are smaller. Also, I don’t like that I can’t see the status of the battery anywhere. It just shows green if it’s charged. Ummm. If it wasn’t charged, wouldn’t it not show anything?Lastly, and this is petty, it clicks. I hate to click.Update: I found another annoyance — the P key seems to take extra effort. I keep writing “hone” instead of “phone.” Again, petty. But still.Another lesson — the keyboard doesn’t work in every program — including the iPhone search feature (what? Really?). It also has different capabilities in different apps. I’m using notes right now, and some of my keyboard shortcuts don’t work, although they work in Microsoft Word and other places.

Step Three: Get a Phone Stand

You’re going to want to prop up your phone at a nice angle so you don’t have to strain to see the screen. Look for a stand with a little grip to it so it doesn’t slide off the tray. Another thing to think about is how much space it needs on your tray. You want as small of a footprint as possible so everything will fit.

Again, I tried several varieties to find the right one.

  • Case with Stand
    I like stands that hold my license and a couple of credit cards in a pocket in the back but is still thin, so I’m kinda picky. I found a nice-looking case that had a stand and card slot, but I didn’t like that it would only hold my phone in the horizontal position, although the solution I’m using right now also has the horizontal limitation, and I’m finding it works just fine for the work I need to do (email, writing, PowerPoints).
    case with stand
  • Goofy Stand
    I bought this just for kicks — figured it would make a good conversation starter. But it took up too much space on the tray, so I’m going to use it to prop up my iPhone when I’m watching TV in the bathtub. #NotKidding
  • Sturdy Aluminum Stand
    The stand I thought would be perfect is a little easel with a small lip. It’s sturdy and small. #win
    I was happily using it on this plane until I returned from using the facilities. Then I accidentally sat on it, and instead of fishing it out, I just tried out the PopSocket below, and I think I prefer the PopSocket.
  • PopSocket
    Like the stand with arms, I bought this as a novelty item because it was kinda cute. It’s a collapsible popup thingy that adheres to your case. At first I eliminated it because it doesn’t work for a vertical stand, but as I mentioned before, turns out I might not need the vertical. I love that it pops in when you don’t need it as a stand so it stays small but nearby.

Step Four: Buy a Strong Power Supply

As I mentioned before, I have no way of knowing how much juice is left on my keyboard. And working this way on my phone is hard on the battery (while listening to Adele and occasionally taking a break to play Two Dots). Halfway through the flight I was at 50%. But my trusty external battery was standing by.

Get a high-power one with two or more charging ports so you can simultaneously charge your keyboard and phone. If you’re lucky enough to have a plug at your seat, you can plug your charger into the outlet so it continues to charge even as it charges your other devices. My Anker charger has 13000mAh. Don’t rely on the cheap ones you get from trade shows — they’re frequently like 2200mAh and won’t last long enough.

Step Five: Plan Ahead for What You Need to Work on

This may be a challenge for some of you who are used to just opening your laptop and having all your files and programs with you at all times. You may be able to work on your email offline (or connect to wifi on the plane, although it’s not only not secure but it’s also usually pretty pathetic). Gmail lets me do this, keeping outgoing mail in the outbox until I connect. It’s also easy to create new content in various apps without having to worry about working on an existing file. Right now I’m using Apple Notes with zero problems.

Where you really have to plan ahead is when you’re working on documents you already have, which probably happens a lot. For this you’re going to want both a cloud-based synchronization system (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, etc.), plus the accompanying app that will let you edit it.

Microsoft Office Mobile Apps are INSANELY good on this front. Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps have almost every single feature that the software programs do. You can format, add pictures, apply themes, add headers/footers, create tables and much more. It takes a little more patience because you have to choose the options from drop down menus and scroll more than you have to in the full versions. But I’m really impressed — and they’re FREE! But to get the full functionality, I highly recommend an Office 365 subscription.

Unsurprisingly Office apps work the best with Microsoft OneDrive. Just save the document in your OneDrive account on your main computer, then download it for offline use in your program. Edit offline (or on), and your version is synched as soon as you’re connected again. It’s also autosaved. Microsoft now integrates seamlessly with Dropbox, so that’s an option as well.

One time I had to create a brand new presentation on a plane, and PowerPoint worked just like the computer version. But for this trip I tried to download one of my existing PPTs to edit on the plane. My PPTs are MASSIVE — like 300MB — because of all the graphics and multimedia, so it just never synched. But if it’s a regular document or other file of moderate size, you’ll be fine.

One option for getting your files on your phone to work on is to use an external drive. I tried this one and yuck. Total fail. Perhaps other external drives will work better for you, but I’ll rely on the cloud to pull info to my phone.

Step Six: Plan for When You Get Off the Plane

If you checked your laptop in your luggage (I bought a Pelican hard case just in case the rules change), all you have to do to is connect to the cloud and wait for your phone and laptop to synchronize.

But if you’ve ditched your laptop for the trip because working with your phone is all you need, you can use some inexpensive dongles and cables to expand the functionality of your phone even further.

Hotel TVs frequently have HDMI ports, and you can carry a long HDMI cable so you can use your TV as a larger monitor for your phone. Then all you need is a dongle to connect your phone. I have both a VGA and an HDMI dongle (I like saying dongle). You can also connect your phone using a Chromecast device for Android or an Apple TV for iPhone.

You can also use these tools to connect to projectors. PowerPoint, Google Slides and Keynote also have a play mode for projectors that works just like a regular computer when you go into presentation mode. Then you just swipe your finger across the screen to advance slides. You can even draw on the slides to emphasize points.

Another option that’s fairly new: Presentations now have a live mode that lets your audience members pull up the presentation on their own devices so they can follow along without having to see a full screen. Advantage: It’ll keep everyone from checking phones during your presentation. Disadvantage: You may be presenting to a group of people who are staring at their phones instead of engaging with you as presenter.

So that’s it — all the research I’ve done to prove it’s (fairly) easy to use your phone as a computer. I doubt it would have taken longer on a laptop to write this 2000-word post.

The flight attendant just told us to put up our devices, so perfect timing.

Are you ready to try working from your phone? Chime in!


business essentials, ergonomics, on the go, organization, resources, travel, utility

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  • Great info. I just wanted to add one thing. Many hotel TVs block usage of the HDMI inputs, and limit you to only certain functions on those awful remotes. I travel with an old android phone (purchased on-the-cheap via ebay) that has IR function and a universal remote app. All you have to do is unplug the cables coming from the programming box (usually a phone cable), then use set the remote app to work with the TV, and voila, you are in business. Just be sure to plug it all back up before you check out. This can also be useful if you want to take your Roku streaming stick (which can connect to a lot of hotel wifi networks).

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