iClever Keyboard and Yonisun Stand

It’s been a while since I updated this site with clever phone-as-desktop updates, but not for lack of thinking about it a lot. I ran into several fairly large issues with my setup that caused me to re-think how to compute in a lightweight format.  That lead me down a weird path of experimenting with a variety of setups.

It started with the iPhone 8 and it’s wireless charging – which is to say, the backplate must be easily accessible. So much for ring stints! I could opt to do everything with a cord but I kinda wanted to stay away from that except for travel. I’m a bit paranoid about wear and tear on internals with plugging in and taking out cords over and over again. I’ve seen a great many phones break due to this wear and tear. So wireless charging speaks to me.  But no ringstint is a big deal.

iClever Bluetooth keyboard

The second big problem is that I often don’t want to carry a backpack around with me – especially to bars but I had to due to the huge Apple keyboard. It’s just so easy to forget, or get messed up, and like my age old complaint – I really don’t like the idea of carrying a backpack to the bathroom. It’s much nicer to have everything on my person. So I started researching different types of stands and different types of keyboards.

I landed on the iClever wireless keyboard after doing a lot of research. It’s a tad large but technically it does fit into a larger back pocket. It folds open and has a number of interesting features. For instance, it has the ability to be used with both a phone and a tethered computer with just a single keyboard command (the modern day KVM setup).

The iClever also has backlit keys (though I wouldn’t recommend them if you want to use it for a prolongued period of time – it does burn batteries). It has various brightnesses and color schemes which is very cool.

The iClever keyboard has dedicated select, cut and paste keys, which were a bit annoying at first, but I quickly learned that they’re pretty useful and I kinda wished all keyboards had them. It lacks an escape key (or at minimum it doesn’t send the escape ASCII key – instead it’s the home button). Which gives you a severe disadvantage if you’re a VIM user, but you can use the ctrl-[ keyboard combo to send that character. I find this pretty darned annoying, but it’s managable once you get used to it.

The iClever keyboard has little kickstands to keep it stable, which is nice, but it doesn’t have a feature to keep it open, so for positioning on unstable surfaces like your lap, it’s a bit of a chore compared to other keyboards. I do wish it had some sort of locking feature to keep it open.

Other positives are a dedicated search key, which makes context switching way easier. Just hit f1, then type in “safari” and hit enter to jump into Safari. It’s still nowhere near as nice as an alt-tab feature, but I blame Apple for that, not the keyboard.  I do wish there was software to configure the keyboard, but other than that, it’s a really nice keyboard, and I spent an entire day using it at a coffee shop with virtually no discomfort at all.

As for the stand, I decided to try out the Yonisun Smart Phone and Tablet Stand – Foldable Vertical and Horizontal Mount which is a really lightweight and foldable stand, that easily fits in a pocket. In early tests it seems compact, lightweight, works well in both landscape and portrait mode.  Thought it does make it slightly hard to see something if the text is butted up against the bottom of the screen, and there’s a bit of an unnecessary amount of material that could have been removed to save weight – though to be fair it’s already very light.

My only other complaint with the Yonisun stand is you can really only use a charging cable if it’s in landscape mode. Not a huge deal, but will certainly be difficult for some people who need to use apps that only support portrait mode.

Overall I’m happy with this setup for the time being, and will keep trying it out to see what other issues pop up.  For now though, this setup all fits in my pockets and that is really what mobile life is all about.

Learn Python On A Smartphone

You can learn to code Python on an iPhone or Android relatively easily. There are lots of classes and tutorials on where to start, but all you really need is a Smartphone and a good search engine to get started. I like to tell people that there is no singular more important/useful thing that you can learn other than to speak and read/write. You’ll never look back on your life and say, “Boy, I wish I hadn’t learned this incredibly useful skill.” It may seem crazy that you can learn Python on an iPhone, but it’s actually really simple, and anyone can do it.

  • Start with the right peripherals. Specifically invest in an Apple TV or Chromecast and a Bluetooth keyboard. You’re going to thank me later when your thumbs aren’t falling off.
  • Next, download something like Python 2.7 for iOS ($1.99). It’s not quite as full featured as the full blown thing, but it’s a great place to get your feet wet as you’re learning, and doesn’t require Internet access, which is great when you’re on an airplane our out in nature and still want to be learning/practicing.
  • If you want an eBook that you can read on the road without lugging a heavy book along with you you can try Introduction to Python Programming ($9.99 on Kindle). There is a free Kindle app for the iPhone too, which is even better.
  • Once you feel a little more comfortable programming you can shift to getting yourself a FREE Amazon EC2 instance. Yes, Amazon has a free tier to get you started. They want you to like and use their products and what better way to entice you than to give it to you for free, right? You’ll want an Ubuntu install for this, because it works really well with Python.
  • Next you’ll download and install the Coda App ($24.99) or an equivalent SSH client. This will allow you to connect to your EC2 computer in the cloud. Just copy the private key and use that with the username provided, which will be “ubuntu” and you should be off to the races. I recommend you also run the command “screen” upon login so that if you get disconnected you can just type “screen -r” and recover the session without losing anything. This is a key bullet because it will allow you to build a website too if you want.
  • Then you can use your favorite terminal editor. I prefer vi, which has a steep learning curve but is very lightweight and powerful. Here’s a great tutorial on vi. If that’s too complicated pico is a nice option.

If you’ve ever wanted to pick up a new skill, this is a very inexpensive way to do it. I always recommend starting with something simple that you need to be done repetitively. A simple program that alerts you when something happens, or something that allows you to write something down in a format that’s easy to retrieve are both good examples of things you might need to be done on a regular basis. Start simple and start with something you need and it’ll be a lot more practical.

This is one of the many ways in which smartphones are helping to democratize business. Even someone with just a smartphone can start a business, learn to program, or generally produce great content. I hope this has been helpful! Good luck!

Writing Code on a Phone

Learning to program on a phone is actually easier than you might think. You just need the correct peripherals and the right software to help you accomplish the goal. One such software apps is the Coda by Panic, Inc.. It has all of the benefits of a normal SSH client but also helps create SSH keys, and gives you easy access to multiple sites. Combined with screen on the remote host and you can easily pump out code on a phone.

You can learn Python, or Java or Ruby or whatever you fancy. Coda also has a nice feature where you can preview your code before you bother uploading it. Combined with the Transmit application you can easily sync between your phone and the remote server. You can use the remote machine as a file store, or a backup, or as a test server, etc. All you need is a couple of apps and the determination to learn how to develop on a command line and you’ve got everything you need!

I’m always amazed when people don’t take advantage of things like free EC2 accounts (as an example). But if you are just learning how to program, and want to get started, you don’t need anything more than a free EC2 account and an app like Coda to get started. A quick note on EC2 though – EC2 is free to use as long as you don’t use it a lot (lots of CPU usage, or disc usage, or bandwidth, etc), so if you’re going to start doing something significant, you’ll want to think about your options a bit more.

Like always, I think that trying to program or do any meaningful tasks without a full keyboard is slow and tedious, so make sure you have a Bluetooth keyboard. But just today, I wrote several small programs, compiled Java, set up some aliases, copied code around and many other administrative tasks all from my phone. It’s always going to be easier to do it on your desktop, but we’re getting closer and closer to a world where you won’t miss your laptop one bit!