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This is how HardwareZone works from home #HWZWFH (Part 4)

By Ng Chong Seng - on 20 Apr 2020, 2:08pm

My transition from working in office to working from home happened many months before this Covid-19 crisis, so compared to my peers, I’ve had more time to acclimatise to this new way of life.

My WFH and WONTG (work on the go) setups — the latter before social distancing was a thing — are actually the same because, unlike many people, I didn’t try to bring the office home. Since much of my work involves writing that’s usually kickstarted by a light bulb going off in my head or something I read online, I need a setup that follows me.

Yes, I work on my phone — currently, an iPhone 11 Pro Max. I didn’t really count, but I estimate that about 65% of my work is done by tapping on this 6.5-inch glass and stainless steel slab. Researching, replying emails, writing, even taking and editing photos like the ones you see here — you name it.

You may find it strange that I chose to work on a small screen when I can be using a bigger monitor connected to a desktop or laptop PC (more on that in a bit) at home. I can only say it’s all about different starting points. Before this 100% WFH, I experimented with various workflows with the goal of finding one that lets me carry as few things as possible when I’m out and about. And it took me a while to find a system that works for me. I’ve kept to this setup at home because it continues to give me the freedom to move around and still get work done. The biggest difference is that my butt is now roaming between my bed, my living room couch, my kid’s room mat and my dining chair.

Regarding recommendations, my portable office that’s the iPhone 11 Pro Max can’t do without its Smart Battery Case. Now, the Max’s battery life is already very good but that’s for typical day-to-day usage. The way I stress it, I need the case so that the battery meter doesn’t go into the red zone by 5 PM (I start my day at 8 AM).

Like my colleague Kenny, iCloud Drive is how I get everything synced up on my other Apple devices. I have a 2TB iCloud storage plan that I share with my family, and it’s been useful for them for backing up the extra digital bits they’ve been generating recently.

Auto duplex and AirPrint are why the Epson L4160 got the nod over the L4150.

And speaking of family, we recently bought an Epson L4160 ink tank printer to replace another printer that has chosen the worst possible time to conk out. Despite being a three-year-old model, the L4160 offers everything we need at this point in time and in the foreseeable future: affordable inks that last 7,500 B&W pages and 6,000 colour pages (Timetables! HBL worksheets! Arts and crafts!), auto two-sided printing and wireless networking.

But it’s actually another feature on the L4160 that sealed the deal over the cheaper L4150: AirPrint. Being an iPhone/iPad-mainly family, this allows us to leave the printer in one corner and print to it wirelessly from our own devices. No more USB cable connected to one PC, no more drivers to install and certainly no more ‘Daddy can you help me print something on this flash drive?’ requests.


The remaining 35%

While my iPhone is my main working tool, there will be times (~30%) when I turn to my 2018 iPad Pro and its Smart Keyboard Folio. That usually happens when I need to code and dive into servers to change something — two things I’m infinitely more productive with a larger screen and physical keyboard. If you’re interested, Textastic and Blink are two apps I can’t recommend highly enough if you’re looking for a text, code and markup editor and a pro SSH and Mosh terminal app. Blink can be bought from the App Store but you can also build and install it yourself in Xcode on the Mac.

After the collective human race has banished this Sars-CoV–2 coronavirus and we’re allowed to mingle again, I expect my iPad usage to increase as I do prefer it over my iPhone for marking up documents with the Apple Pencil and doing presentations. The new iPad Pro Magic Keyboard is intriguing but isn’t on my buying radar for now because of my current iPhone-heavy workflow.

Finally, I do have a couple of MacBooks reserved for items that I absolutely can’t get done on my iOS devices. And those are typically tasks that use very specialised or legacy systems and thus require me to plug in to custom desktop software. If I’ve to write on my Mac, my app of choice is the same as on my iPhone and iPad: Ulysses.

Can wireless input devices have long battery life (read: years)? Yes — the  Logitech K760 and M705/M720 are my personal favourites.

My primary laptop is a mid-2012 13-inch MacBook Air. Cosmetically, it’s in very good shape because I use it almost exclusively in clamshell mode, connected to an old 27-inch monitor made by a Chinese brand called Xforce. The Air’s battery did go south a couple of years back but it was nothing 10 minutes, a screwdriver and a replacement battery couldn’t fix.

Of course, I’ve to use an external keyboard and mouse for this setup. For the keyboard, it’s the Logitech K760, a solar-powered Bluetooth keyboard for the Mac that pairs up to three devices and which I imported from the U.S. because Logitech doesn’t carry it in Singapore. (Some online retailers may still have stock, but I don't think Logitech makes them anymore.) If I remember correctly, I’ve owned the K760 for eight years now and I’ve not once changed its batteries or seen the low batt indicator. It’s truly incredible.

For the mouse, it’s (mostly) the Logitech M705, a wireless ‘marathon’ mouse that lasts three years with just a pair of AA batteries. I love it so much that I’ve a couple more stashed somewhere in my cupboard. That said, I did swap it recently for the newer Logitech M720 Triathlon, another high-endurance mouse that lasts two years on a single AA cell. The motivation for the change is simple: the M720 can pair with three devices, which is handy if I feel like using it on my iPad Pro. Also, it supports Bluetooth; so unlike the M705, I don’t need to sacrifice a USB port on my laptop to accommodate Logitech’s Unifying wireless dongle.

So this is it — my WFH setup. In case you’re wondering, I don’t listen to music when I work. We’ve specific break times throughout the day and these are when we listen to Apple Music on the HomePod or watch an episode of whatever’s trending on Netflix. The biggest CB lesson I’ve learned is that when you’ve many people WFH-ing and HBL-ing in the same household, it’s never the gear but the system that gets things done.

Stay disciplined and healthy, folks — and we'll see you in the next episode of #HWZWFH.

The HomePod has improved quite a bit since I last reviewed it. We don't have a helper, so Siri has been the one singing to us (Apple Music, to be precise), managing our home appliances, and reminding us to finish our tasks during this trying time. If only it can cook.

Ng Chong Seng

Ng Chong Seng / Contributing Editor

I write. I also fix things.