In the midst of another busy business travel season, I'm working on my long-term goal to pack ever-lighter, and bring as little with me as possible. And though my own peculiar needs limit some of what I can do, one possibility has me intrigued: Could one use the Nokia Lumia 1520 as a tablet, and replace two—possibly three—devices with just one?
The short answer is: Almost certainly. But the long answer will depend on your own needs.
So let's get into it.
I'm not sure what it is about Spring, but here's how my travel schedule, plus and minus 30 days, looks like: San Francisco, New York City, New York City, Phoenix, Houston, New York City, and then Fort Collins (Colorado), and I actually bailed on another trip (Redmond) because it's been too hectic. I love to travel, sort of: It's probably more accurate to say I love being in other places, while the act of traveling, especially by plane, is an endless series of indignities. (Train travel is far more civilized, even enjoyable, but it's still tiring, one thing that's gotten worse for me across the board as I get older.)
So when it comes to travel, I try to remember that there are some things I can't control, and some I can. Among the latter are packing as lightly as possible, and packing properly. For my clothes, which is obviously less interesting, I bring a single bag on all trips, one I can carry on the plane (I never check a bag, except when traveling internationally with my family) because it will fit in the overhead bins. As for my laptop bag—I use a small backpack after going through numerous other bags—it's easy to fill up with gadgets. But I try to scale back as much as possible and keep it light.
As noted, my personal situation often warrants a few extra devices. I test and review a lot of phones, tablets, and laptops, and I often bring those devices with me on trips to test while traveling. On my upcoming trip to Houston for TechEd, for example, I'll be carting around a Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2, which is a bit slower and heavier than I'd like. But it won't review itself.
(Note: I wrote this article just before canceling my trip to Houston due to illness. Oops.)
I happen to need a laptop to get work done. But even in my strange fringe case, it's not hard to imagine a future in which a laptop could be overkill, even for me. Obviously, any device would work fine for email, casual web browsing and Facebook check-ins, and the like. But I use a laptop primarily for writing. That involves note-taking in OneNote, actual writing in Word, and image processing, in Paint and Photoshop. I often talk about the benefits of using two apps side by side—Word, say, and a web browser window—but the reality is I'm usually just looking at a single app at a time. So it's possible that the mobile multitasking model—where you can usually just see a single app at a time—would work, even for me.
Today, a laptop is the ideal device for this kind of work, but it's not hard to imagine that a tablet with a keyboard, or a 2-in-1 Windows device would solve this problem nicely as well. The way I do things now, I pretty much separate out work from play in that all my work-related activities on the road occur on a laptop, while all my entertainment/leisure time activities (reading, movie rentals, games) occur on a tablet.
But I also need a phone, of course. And while I don't usually go to my phone first for such things, it's a great device for email, casual web browsing and Facebook check-ins too. I'm not sure that I'm unique in this regard, but I tend to do these things on a phone when that's all I have. So even if I replaced two devices—a laptop and a tablet—with a single device (a 2-in-1 or whatever), I'd still be carrying around a phone.
Honestly, sticking a phone, a mini-tablet (iPad mini, Nexus 7, whatever) and an Ultrabook in a bag and hitting the road isn't terrible as these devices won't collectively weigh you down too much. And that's pretty much what I'm doing now. But with Windows and Windows Phone moving ever-closer to each other and potentially merging in the future, I am curious to see where things go from here. And of course, my own needs and wants aren't particularly universal. If there's one thing I'm very comfortable with, its understanding and accepting how others work as well.
So let's consider the Nokia Lumia 1520. Here's a phablet device with a ludicrously big 6-inch screen. It's so big, it makes a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 look petite by comparison, and in my opinion, it's not really ideal as a phone. But it's still an excellent device, with a superb camera, and I know that many people have absolutely no issues with the size. For those people, a Lumia 1520 could absolutely serve double duty: You could add a 64 GB microSD card, load it up with music (ideally from Xbox Music Pass), videos (rented and purchased from Xbox Video) and games, and it would be an excellent companion on any road trip.
I do this, in fact. But I use the 1520 as a secondary device, not as a phone, and that's where my unique position provides a weird disconnect between what's normal—one person with one phone—and what I experience because of what I do for a living. Most people would only have the 1520. Could they also use this phablet as a second device, essentially, for music, videos, games, e-books and more while traveling?
Yes of course. But you would need to really think about the battery. You don't want to watch two movies on a cross-country flight and then discover that you can't map your way to the hotel when you arrive because the battery died. The device's main usage is simply too important.
One solution to this issue is an external battery, which somewhat obviates the benefits of device consolidation because, obviously, there's another device you're carting around. But many of these batteries are tiny: I routinely travel with a Nokia Universal Portable Charger DC-19, for example, and you'd never notice this thing in your bag. It's small and light, and it works well. (Just remember to keep it charged up.) There are many options like this out there.
As the.x/Window Phone platforms merge and mature, another interesting possibility arises, and the applicability of the 1520—and, eventually, other bigger Windows Phone devices, expands ever outward. We know that Microsoft is working on universal app versions of Office for Modern Windows, meaning that these apps—most likely Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote—will run on both Windows 8.1 and .1. This means that in the near future, by late 2014 certainly, it could be possible to use a Windows Phone handset—or other Windows Phone device—to create content too. You know, something more complex than a to-do list.
This is a big assumption, and it comes with stunning implications. Today, Windows Phone 8.1 still doesn't support Bluetooth keyboards, for example, though obviously the system's Windows-based underpinnings mean this would be easy to add. And the Lumia 1520's screen, while large by phone standards, is pretty small compared even to mini-tablets.
But this is where your particular needs come in again. I happen to spend much of my day typing text, so a 1520 with a Bluetooth keyboard may ultimately never make sense to me. But you may not need or want a keyboard, and as Windows/Windows Phone, Office and thus the 1520 matures, this single device may very quickly serve all of your needs. And it sort of fits in your pocket. Just don't try to sit on it.
Assuming this universal Office version is what I think it is, this will be transformative for all kinds of users. It could enable people like me to get work done in tight travel conditions—that crowded coach flight I always reference—and it could enable those with more casual needs—i.e. most people—get work done anywhere at any time. Which, when you think about it, is sort of the point.
I look the Lumia 1520 today and I see massive potential. And while a lot of the work Microsoft is doing is obviously happening on the "big" Windows side of the fence, I can't stop wondering about how a pure modern Windows device based on Windows Phone could be the all in one productivity and leisure time device of the future. But the Lumia 1520 is here now, and it's an interesting peek at this future. A future that, depending on your needs, may have in fact already arrived.