Productivity Tools I Use (Hardware)

Dec 7, 2016

A number of technology blog writers periodically write a “What I Use” article to cover the hardware and software they personally use. I’ve never done that before, but since the holiday buying season is approaching, and since many of you may be in the market, I thought, why not? Perhaps this will help you with some decisions.

First of all, if you’ve been following my blog or newsletter for a year or more, let me just say that most of my current choices have not changed since this time last year, and I covered nearly all the devices in my blog articles during that period. So this is primarily for new readers, or for those of you who want a refresh or update from my past reviews. I do share a few new insights here that I did not have back then, for example new thoughts about Windows tablets. So read on.    

Dell XPS 15

My main workhorse computer is my Dell XPS 15 laptop (model 9550). I’ve had it for over a year, and I use it mainly as a desktop replacement. By that I mean 99.9% of the time it sits on my desk plugged into a monitor and mouse and keyboard, and I leave it running 24/7. It has 1 TB of SSD storage, 16GB of RAM, a i7-6700HQ processor, which is the quad core version of the newer i7. The quad core processor cuts the rendering time of my video editing in half compared with the same i7 non-quad core.

The reason I am using a laptop instead of a larger desk-sitting or floor-sitting tower is that I find a laptop easier to deal with, and a desktop CPU that’s equally powerful costs about the same. That said, when I first got this XPS, I did use it as a laptop for a short while, and found the borderless touchscreen 15.6-inch 4k monitor to be stunning, and the keyboard and trackpad to be truly excellent—the best I’ve ever used. Battery life is about 5 hrs, which is a bit short by today’s standards, but not too bad and not an issue for a desktop replacement. Other than battery life, everything about it near perfect, performance wise.

That said, the reason I don’t use this Dell as a travel laptop is that it’s pretty big and heavy by today’s standards (it has a 15.6-inch monitor and it’s 4.5 lbs), and I also have a Lenovo Yoga 900 13.3 inch laptop that is super light and slim and powerful, which I’ll talk about next. By the way, if you search on the Dell XPS specs you’ll see a much lighter weight listed (3.9 lbs). But if you get the model I have with the 4K touchscreen monitor, the weight goes up. Here’s a 3rd-party review on the XPS 15.

Lenovo Yoga 900

My travel laptop is a 13.3-inch screen Yoga 900, and I’ve had it for a year, too. I love traveling with it because it is so ridiculously light (2 lbs, 13 oz) and thin (0.59 in). Note, its power brick is small and light too. It has a really nice 4K touch screen, and has a pretty good keyboard and trackpad—way better than most. Battery life is fairly long; I get maybe 8 hours. It has a recent non-quad i7 processor and is super speedy for nearly everything. It has 8GB of RAM and 256 GB of SSD. The latter is not enough storage for everything I work on in the office, but enough for travel work—I use OneDrive to sync folder groups from my XPS that I know I might work on when traveling.

There is not much more for me to say other than it’s been very reliable and handy to travel with. I do extended work on it while I travel—it handles all the work tasks, that I take mobile, with ease.

Oh, one other thing. For occasional tablet-like use, the Yoga 900 keyboard folds all the way back behind it very easily. But I admit, I never use it as a tablet. Even with only a 13-inch screen it’s too big for that—which is my main beef with most 2 in 1 hybrid laptops: it’s a fantasy that many users are really going to use them as a tablet (a few users, yes). You need something really small and light for reading an eBook with one hand, say, which I mention in the next section on the Surface 3.  Here’s a 3rd-party review of the Yoga 900. By the way, the Yoga 900’s big brother—the new Yoga 910—competes with the XPS in that it is larger and has a new borderless screen like the XPS. Here’s a 3rd-party review on the Yoga 910.

Surface 3 (non-Pro) Tablet

My go-to tablet is an older Surface 3 (non-Pro). If you’ve been following my blog or newsletter, you know I prefer the non-Pro version of the Surface because it’s much smaller and lighter than the Pro versions—it’s almost as small and light as an iPad. I think that’s very important for a device that you are going to hold with one hand while reading an eBook or to work with while standing. And you can run a full copy of desktop Outlook on it in tablet mode, which is really key for MYN users.

To be honest though, I don’t use my Surface 3 as much as I used to. There are a few reasons for that. First, I had hopes for good Windows 10 tablet apps, but the tablet app market never really took off on Windows 10, and there are no compelling tablet apps that I am drawn to. And to add insult to injury, the one app I used most, the Kindle tablet app, was recently discontinued by Amazon (you now must use the desktop app). So if I carry the Surface 3, it is mainly to surf the web and use desktop Outlook, and for the latter I might as well carry the Yoga 900. But mainly I have an iPhone 7 Plus now, and with its large screen I can do almost all quick tablet-like things on it that I need to do while on the run, which I will talk about next.

Adding to all that, the Surface 3 is a bit dated and Microsoft announced in June that it will stop production of it this month (December 2016). There is still no word on what will replace its form factor in the Microsoft lineup, which is surprising at this late stage. And there is little new in this small Windows tablet size from other manufacturers either. The ASUS T102HA might be an option, but really, I am not sure what Windows device to recommend now in an iPad-like size. I could get an iPad again, but they can’t run desktop Outlook. And perhaps, with the power of large smartphones, it does not make sense anymore to use a tablet, as I discuss next. Here’s a 3rd-party review of the Surface 3.

iPhone 7 Plus

I use an iPhone 7 Plus for my smartphone. I had the 6 plus before that. It’s a great phone obviously, but mainly the screen size is big enough to read eBooks and do a lot of web surfing and even process a lot of email while on the run—things I used to do on my tablet. I am currently using the mail app called Preside (which I will review soon) and it lets me do most MYN e-mail things: assign categories, view by category, and convert e-mails to tasks. I use the tasks app TaskTask which sets up well for MYN task management. The net-net is that the iPhone 7 is just so convenient for most of what I do on the run that I rarely bother to carry a tablet anymore. Pair the iPhone with a thin and light laptop, one that’s always in my briefcase/backpack for more serious mobile work when/where I can sit down, and I am pretty much all set.

So that’s it. Not a deep review of any one thing, but an overview of my personal technology mix and my evolving thoughts on small tablets. By the way, if you search my blog, you’ll find my more detailed reviews from me about most of these devices.





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11 Responses to Productivity Tools I Use (Hardware)

  1. Paul Reiss says:

    Preside? How does it compare to Touchdown on Android? Ready to upgrade and considering the Pixel XL 128, but may look at the iPhone 7 if Preside would get the job done. Thanks in advance.

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Paul, I will review Preside more fully soon. I am still experimenting with it, it’s new and still has a few quirks to work out. But I really like it because, while simple on the surface, it has tons of extra features available for power users. Touchdown for iOS works well too, it can convert emails to tasks and can assign and view categories, but very basic. Touchdown for Android seems to have been in flux for a while after the Symantec acquisition, with a complete redesign sitting in the wings but a very slow release of it (at least the last I checked a few months ago) so I have been recommending Nine for Android in meantime. Sounds like you are an Android/Touchdown user, has it sorted out its version yet? I need to come back and revisit it.

      • Michael Linenberger says:

        One more thought about Preside versus iOS Touchdown. Touchdown allows you to assign colors to categories (to try to match those colors that are on Outlook). You do that once. Then it displays those colors as small dots in the margin of the email in the Touchdown Inbox. Preside does not currently allow assigning colors to categories (tags). In Preside you open the email and see the assigned category at the top of the email. Something to keep in mind. Michael

      • Paul Reiss says:

        I am using Touchdown version 9.0.00412. Symantec did make changes to to the interface, but for me it was pretty easy to get used to. I haven’t noticed any changes to core functionality. Wondering if Preside allows one to schedule appointments with multiple attendees via MS Exchange as Touchdown does. Thanks.

        • Michael Linenberger says:

          Paul, no Preside is email only. Sounds like you are using a lot of the other Touchdown modules, so for you’d I’d stick with it. Michael

  2. ibmkahm says:

    thanks for the post, will you also write more about the productivity software you use?

  3. Tariq says:

    Hi Michael, do you use Asana? I took your online One-Minute Project Management course which is based on OneNote. I have been trying out a version of that in Asana and for the most part it works reasonably well.
    Look forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks!

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Tariq, no, I haven’t looked at Asana. Feel free to post a comment of how you use it and why you like it. Michael

  4. Ray says:

    An interesting post. One question arises – how do you take notes eg at a meeting if you don’t use a tablet much? I know that we are all different in how we work, but to me taking notes in Outlook using an active pen is one of the major advantages of a tablet. The notes created are searchable, shareable, and less obtrusive that using a laptop. So the one device that I use all of my working day is a Surface Pro 3.
    I have tried going back to a Moleskin notebook but I felt that I lost too much
    Canberra Australia

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Ray, yes I used to do that: use a Windows tablet to take notes in meetings, and I loved it. Tons of advantages over paper. But my business life has changed dramatically in the last few years and I am rarely in meetings anymore. I give seminars and I write book/columns these days and that’s it. I don’t do sketches and I don’t mark up documents anymore. So for me, other than signing a few electronic documents, the pen business case has mostly gone away. But for other it is still there, i think. It’s a bit sad to see my business case for it go, I really like the pen interface (as my old writings will show). Michael

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