My friends and family get a bit testy with me when I feel obligated to respond to client communiqués at all hours of the day and night. But after the first couple of client crises, the value of being connected becomes quite clear.

How I Stay Connected: Smartphone and VoIP
My primary tool to maintain communications is my Windows Smartphone, an AT&T Tilt. It links directly with my Microsoft Exchange server, and lets me get email anywhere I can get a 3G or GPRS cell connection. For phone calls, my office phone uses the Vonage VoIP service, so if I’m going to be at a remote location for an extended period, I can take that phone number with me. More often, I simply use the Vonage voice-to-text voicemail service, which not only sends me my voicemail as .wav file attachments to email messages but also transcribes them into the text of the message. This lets me quickly respond to voicemails without needing to play them back.

The main limitation of my system is dealing with file attachments I receive. Although the Smartphone can open Microsoft Office documents, it really isn’t the best format for manipulating those files. In the past I usually carried around a full sized notebook, which though still essential for trips and extended stays away from my office, is overkill for when I’m simply out of the office for a few hours or a day.

Filling the Gap Between Mobile Phone and Notebook
To address the issue of needing a more capable platform than my phone, and a less cumbersome platform than my full-size notebook, I recently picked up a netbook to use to fill the gap: a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 running Windows XP, with a 14GB SSDD, supplemented by a 16GB SD RAM card. It has plenty of storage for my work needs, is small and lightweight, has decent battery life, and can run any application I use that would normally run on my much larger notebook. For Internet access, I link it to my phone, using its built-in Bluetooth connectivity to access my provider’s 3G Internet connection. I haven’t bothered to install Microsoft Outlook on the netbook, preferring instead to simply use Outlook Web Access to connect to my Exchange server. The one upgrade I’ve done to the netbook isn’t actually supported by Dell: It offers only 1GB of RAM, while the specification for the Intel Atom chipset used in the netbook supports 2GB. Replacing the memory that shipped in the netbook with a $27 2GB SODIMM resulted in noticeably faster performance and no negative impact on the system.

The netbook is a little larger than the Daytimer I carried around for most of the 1990s, weighs less, and is far more capable. It means I can leave the office with my phone and a slim portfolio and don’t need to lug around a notebook and all its accoutrements. A pair of extra 16GB SD Ram cards lets me bring along any potential software or PDF files that I need and to easily backup any work I do on the system. So far, using a netbook has been an advantageous choice.

Currently you can find several netbook bundles, including solid state and physical hard drives, built-in cellular access, and multiple connectivity options. If you need a computer on hand at all times, you might want to try a netbook.