Laptop Ban? Things You Can Do With Just a Smartphone

children looking at a smartphone together

I recently had a conference in London, and I was flying I direct from Cairo. The laptop ban on this route came into effect shortly before my trip and it would have been really inconvenient for me to re-route. I also heard it’s quite risky to check your laptop in the luggage (you risk theft, damage, or at least loss – until the airlines can guarantee these things won’t happen, I won’t check my laptop or iPad in checked luggage). I recently (before the laptop/iPad ban) contributed a light-hearted chapter to a book entitled EdTechRations (fun book, btw, edited by David Hopkins, and with contributions by several ed tech folks), explaining why I was addicted to my phone, and all the things I did on it. I thought some of the ideas in the chapter would be helpful for other academics who need to travel under the laptop ban, whether because they need to do some work on the plane that cannot be done on paper, or if they aren’t taking a laptop/iPad altogether (like me).

Writing: I do most of my writing on Google docs anyway, regardless of which device I am using. This ensures I have access to whatever I write whether I’m at work, at home, or on the go. The Google docs app works great on the phone (Android and iOS), and allows you to do most things like commenting, formatting, and sharing documents (but may not allow you to do the “anyone with the link” type of sharing if you use your institutional account). The key tip I have for using Google docs is to allow it to save important documents offline so you can access them in “airplane mode” when you’re in the air. Another useful tip is to share your Google docs with another Google account of yours, just in case one of your email accounts has a login problem (this happens to me occasionally).

Presenting: I love Haikudeck, but can’t edit Haikudeck from my Android phone (and it’s slow on iPad app anyway) so Google Slides it is. You can do most things on this app, except animations and viewing your slide notes (which I rarely use anyway). Caution: you may already know this, but just in I case you don’t: downloading Google Slides onto PowerPoint can mess up the formatting. I made the mistake of doing this for my #OER17 keynote without checking every single slide and a few of them were askew.

Spreadsheets: I can do most regular things on a Google sheet including formulas, calculations and filters. But I can’t do freeze panes or create charts.

Surveys: Surveymonkey works quite well on mobile devices, but I don’t use it as often as Google Forms for simple surveys done collaboratively. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I could create Google Forms on my phone. There’s no app, but you can do it from the browser and pretty much do all steps from initial creation to sharing (from browser or Google Drive app) to viewing results.

Blogging: The WordPress app is really good and I have multiple accounts, so that I can easily switch between them. You can edit in html and visual views, add pictures and most non-admin functions. For admin functions like adding new users, I use the browser rather than the app and it works well

Twitter: I use both the Twitter app regularly (with multiple accounts logged in) and occasionally the web interface for Twitter sometimes. The web interface for Twitter recently changed such that you don’t notice whom you’re replying to (and you can’t remove people from the reply). An update to the Twitter app does the same thing, but allows you to easily remove people from the conversation. You can create a Twitter poll from the Android app, but you can’t schedule a tweet on the mobile app. However, there are other tools for that, as I wrote before.

Slack: Slack is one of the tools that actually works better on the Android app than it does on the computer browser – mainly because of ease of switching between teams and the notifications. Most functions are possible, including adding new users and pinning documents.

Reading: I’m one of the people who is comfortable reading websites, Kindle books and Quran on my phone. I know this isn’t everyone’s preference. I annotate websites via which is usually ok but slightly buggy on Chrome (more buggy on Firefox).

Things I still know I can’t do on my smartphone:

  • Run a Google hangout on air, but I can attend one

  • See the text chat in a Google hangout on air when it’s running

  • Create a nicely formatted email :)

FYI: This post was written on my smartphone in Google docs, then copied/pasted into the web version of WordPress, and the image was added while I was on a computer.

What are some key things you do on your smartphone? Tell us in the comments!

“Smartphone” flickr photo by Arjan Grendelman, shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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