Armed with a cell phone and a good laptop or Tablet PC, remodelers can slash overhead and respond to clients more quickly than ever before. But what's the best mobile computer for a remodeler? Here are a few things to look for:
Specs vs. performance: Raw speed is great, but fast processors produce so much heat that the computer can be hard to hang on to, and they require noisy cooling fans that are distracting in a sales meeting. They also shorten battery life. I want my mobile computers to last four hours or more on battery power, run cool, and be seen but not heard.
Bigger isn't better: While mobile, you should be able to hold the computer in one hand and operate with the other. Look for a total weight of less than 4 pounds and a 12- to 13-inch screen.
Getting online: WiFi is pretty much standard these days, but if you're going to be truly mobile, sooner or later you'll want a cellular broadband connection. Make sure you can add it via a PCMCIA or Express Card. Better yet, look for a laptop that builds in a cellular data card on the network you want to use (Verizon, Sprint, etc.). A built-in cellular card might be more limiting from an upgrade standpoint, but it's one less thing to lose or break.
Screens: This one's a deal-breaker. Most “indoor” screens are useless outside, unreadable even in a truck cab. Look for terms like “reflective technology” or “outdoor screen.” It's best to try the machine both indoors and outside before buying.
—Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant and the director of builder operations for Dynami Solutions; www.joestoddard.com.