I Tried to Replace My Laptop with My Phone and a $20 Bluetooth Keyboard

As my aging MacBook circles the drain, I wonder: have I overestimated my computing needs?
Ashwin Rodrigues
Brooklyn, US
October 10, 2018, 12:00pm

Every smartphone on the market today contains computing power orders of magnitude more powerful than the Apollo 11 mission computer, which ran on just 4KB of RAM. The iPhone X, for example, runs on 3GB of RAM.

I’m not doing any space missions with my Pixel 2—I'm just checking email, browsing assorted news feeds, sending text messages, and doing tweets. So why should I buy a Macbook Pro for at least $1,300 when there's a decently powerful computer in my pocket? As my 2014 Macbook Pro is surely past its glory years and close to death, I wondered: can’t I just use my phone instead?


I decided to find out by using my phone as my primary computing device for two weeks, only resorting to my laptop when necessary. (For example, I could not efficiently hyperlink a string of words in the Google Docs app with a Bluetooth keyboard, so I performed this task on my Macbook.)

With my phone as my only computer, I pictured myself effortlessly firing off emails and working efficiently in Word documents in between sips of coffee and quiet chuckles directed at the ceiling, all while maintaining perfect posture, like an inclusive stock image for “business.” I’d be the ideal digital nomad, using no more technology than I needed, without any productivity lost. But like most techno-utopias, my reality was more bleak and infinitely more conspicuous than advertised.

Me, in my ideal mobile computing setup

I bought a $20 Arteck wireless keyboard to begin my minimalist journey into lightweight computing. It’s relatively nondescript, and its chiclet-type keys remind me of the Macbook keyboards before Tim Cook made the bold choice to make Apple keyboards bad instead of good. At 7.6 ounces, it did not add any noticeable weight to my backpack.

The instruction manual was also minimal: just a guide for pairing the device via Bluetooth, and a separate short list of keyboard shortcuts for mobile like opening a new email or browser window, or changing the color of the backlight.

I used my Pixel 2 for this experiment, but the keyboard is compatible with both Android and iOS devices. My most-used apps are basic, and function similarly on all major smartphones: Google Docs, Twitter, Spotify, and Gmail.


My new setup wasn’t as subtle as I’d imagined. When using the keyboard in public, mostly in coffee shops, I felt as though some people thought I was only pretending to use a computer. Anybody observing me saw a person enthusiastically typing into nothingness, unless they saw my phone hooked up to the keyboard. Though no one made direct remarks, I caught several sets of furrowed brows.

I could feel my fellow coffee-drinking patrons staring, possibly drafting texts, or even worse, tweets.

Besides social awkwardness, there were some real usability issues. There were a lack of necessary keyboard shortcuts, such as taking one step back in the current app. I could stay in a Google doc and tab over to my email, but I could not select another Google doc to work from without picking up my phone. This meant typing on my keyboard, then switching to holding the phone, and going back-and-forth, like a fool. In hindsight, a mouse could’ve helped, but adding another device to this setup defeated the minimalist approach I sought to achieve.

I could feel my fellow coffee-drinking patrons staring, possibly drafting texts, or even worse, tweets. “Look at this dork,” one imagined tweet might have said. “Jesus Christ, I hate San Francisco,” another could have easily read, captioning a photo taken from behind me. To make matters worse, I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

Only once did my setup evoke a vocal response. On a flight, while the keyboard was stowed in the front seat pocket during takeoff, my cousin pointed at it and asked, “What’s that, you got a lil’ keyboard?” in a sing-songy voice that an 80s TV bully might use. Imagine what a stranger, with malice in their heart, might say? It’s difficult to think about. Compared to a laptop, I found this setup to be more conducive for input versus consumption. It’s just as easy to write, as long as you don’t have to keep opening tabs to link in your work. I could not find the proper combination of keys to perform this simple task without abandoning my keyboard and picking up the phone. But it’s simply not as enjoyable to passively watch videos or scroll through social media feeds, since you can’t easily multi-task and the screen is much smaller.


According to the keyboard’s product description, it has a six month battery life if it's used two hours a day without the backlight on. (Similar to how one sandwich can last several weeks, depending on how many bites you take each day.) I found the keyboard began to lose its charge after a few days, at which point there was a noticeable lag and stickiness in the keys. Simple sentences became a test of patience as keys stuck and I’d backspace and then retype, only to commit more typos.

One nice thing, though, was the slim profile. The keyboard is actually thinner than my phone—noticeably so, in fact. Its slimness gave me the impression that, if I wanted to, I could swiftly bring it over my thigh and snap it in half. I fantasized about just this several times, especially when experiencing extreme key lag. On the plus side, the keyboard is very easy to throw into a backpack or gym bag.

The Bluetooth-keyboard-and-phone combo is the acoustic version of a computer: it’s adequate, uses less electricity, and people groan when I whip it out in a social setting.

Aside from the mental anguish, I experienced a stiff neck for a few days of this trial. I tried to stare blankly into the distance when I typed, to maintain a good posture. However, if I was working between multiple apps or editing a document, I had to stare down at my phone. Due to the phone’s placement, I’d often crane my neck in a way that was less than ideal.

A few out-of-pocket physical therapy appointments will overshadow the cost savings of ditching a laptop, a precaution worth considering before you buy a $20 keyboard and think your problems are solved—consider getting a phone stand.

My main app for leisure and business, Twitter, is a uniquely pathetic experience using the phone/keyboard combo. The new gesture of pressing an actual button (the down key) instead of the reflexive upward thumb swipe gave me an extra few milliseconds to think, “Why am I doing this?” Repeatedly pressing a key to scroll made me feel like a lab rat pressing a button for pellets, so I ended up using scrolling-based platforms (Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit) much less than I would on a computer.

In general, when using this setup I only did the tasks that I really needed to do on my phone, simply because it's not enjoyable to be Online this way. Although this may be an unintentional consequence, using a keyboard with your phone instead of a laptop can serve as a set of training wheels on the path to responsible technology consumption.

I once read a guitar player (I believe it was John Mayer in Guitar Player magazine more than a decade ago, though Guitar Player has not yet replied to my calls or LinkedIn messages to confirm) describe the feeling of picking up his electric guitar after playing acoustic as being like breathing with his other lung again. This is not an accurate depiction of how healthy lungs work, but I found a parallel in this trial.

The Bluetooth-keyboard-and-phone combo is the acoustic version of a computer: it’s adequate, uses less electricity, and people groan when I whip it out in a social setting.