Opinions

Devices and desires

Asus Padfone 2My title comes from the English Book of Common Prayer, one of the English language’s most enduring and influential treasures. But this isn’t an article about morality or personal sin, I’ve not “followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart”. I’m writing about one device I do desire but, hopefully, in a good way.

When Asus released the first Padfone I was alive to the possibility of carrying all my data – all my computing, even – in my pocket. If you’re unfamiliar with the original Padfone concept, the 4.3″ Android smartphone could be slotted into an otherwise mute 10.1″ tablet to display immediately on the larger screen. A keyboard dock for the tablet completed the troika; connected, it turned the tablet + phone into a netbook.

This seemed such a perfect concept – one step better than the Asus Transformer – that I waited eagerly for the release of Padfone 2. Sadly I’ve been disappointed. Padfone 2 gives the world a larger 4.7″ phone and removes the keyboard dock. These are not the droids I’m looking for. Rather than whine and moan, I thought I’d describe the device I really want. Perhaps there’s a manufacturer out there who’ll build it for me.

Huawei Ideos phoneA small phoneI don’t want a 4.7″ screen. I don’t really want a 4″ screen. The best form factor of any phone I’ve owned has been the Huawei U8150 Ideos. Its smooth curves fit my hand, its sleek body fits any pocket or purse. I don’t need a bigger screen because the phone will be paired with a 10″ tablet when I want to consume large form content. The phone itself only needs to make phone calls, play music, take photographs, read and send texts (and email messages at a pinch). A 3″ screen is quite sufficient for that – I have small fingers.

A powerful phone. Despite its small size, the phone has to pack a quad-core processor and 2GB RAM, and must support at least 32GB of storage and a camera sporting 8MP or better. If this makes it a little thicker, I’m not desperately unhappy about that. For all the perfection of its size, the Huawei Ideos was pitifully underpowered to the point where only a very patient owner could use it.

A hot swappable battery. I have multiple batteries for my current phone, an LG G2X, and they’ve freed me from any concerns about battery life. But there’s one feature I’d like to see: the ability to hot-swap phone batteries. A small fixed battery or a capacitor should be able to hold enough charge to keep the phone running for fifteen seconds while the battery is replaced – it doesn’t seem difficult to me. Think of it as an uninterruptable power supply on a very small scale.

Asus Transformer PrimeIf the tablet and keyboard dock were modelled on Asus’ excellent Transformer Prime, I’d be happy; the ergonomics and operation of that combo are brilliant. Having a battery in the keyboard that recharges the battery in the connected tablet, which in turn recharges the battery in the connected phone? That’s good thinking. But I want some extras.

A phone battery charger in the dock. Why can’t the keyboard dock have a slot for charging a spare phone battery? This would save me packing a separate charger for spare batteries when I’m on the road, and means the spare can be recharged while I’m in transit instead of waiting until I check into my hotel room at night.

Ubuntu for (whatever). I don’t much care which operating system the handheld components run. I’d be happy with Android 4 on the phone and tablet but, if that’s the OS, when the keyboard dock is connected I want it to immediately boot into Ubuntu for Android or a similar Linux distro (personally I’m a fan of Crunchbang). This would let me run a LAMP stack, node.js, Sublime Text et al, turning the device into a full mobile development environment. I’d be happy with any mobile OS that could give me Linux on demand.

Additional storage. Let’s put an SD card slot in the tablet, and one in the keyboard dock. The latter would only be accessible from within Linux, the former could be used for content I’d never want to see on a very small screen, such as movies and games.

Is this achievable? Yes.

Is it likely? Sadly, no.

There may be other developers who’d rush out to buy a product like this, but we’re a small segment of a volatile market where volume is king. I’m resigned to working with a separate smartphone and laptop in the foreseeable future.