guideWhats in My Laptop Bag (2021)

My theme this year is "Less".

I have a love/hate relationship with the Amazon "Buy Now" button. This has resulted in a stock pile in the garage and many, many "return" trips to my local USPS.

I've made a concerted effort to get rid of a good chunk on eBay, but after 2 months it feels like I've hardly scratched the surface.

Applying this theme to my mobile setup feels like natural next step, so before I began downsizing my mobile gear, I set up a few parameters:

Goals

  • Everything must fit in an easy to carry, mid-sized messenger bag
  • To reduce clutter and complexity, whenever possible, accessories should be wireless.
  • Should be able to work (write/debug software) throughout the day without needing to find an outlet.

Think Tank Photo - My 2nd Brain - 15" (Discontinued)

This is my favorite messenger bag of all time. Out of all the laptop bags I've owned, this one has pockets that seem to adapt to what ever accessories I throw at it.

Seriously, over the past 3 years with this bag, I've shuffled between 5 different laptops, 3 different portable batteries, 4 separate power supplies, a daily organizer, 2 different iPads.. and everything had it's own place.

Sadly, Think Tank Photo no longer makes the 15" model anymore.. so I'll need to keep this one in good condition. However, the 11" model is still available.

Microsoft Surface Go 2, 8GB (LTE)

This might get replaced in the near future. The JingPad looks very promising.

After years of cycling between various mobile workstations, I've found that I can be just as (if not more) productive on a screen with less screen real estate.. as it helps keep me focused on one thing at a time.

Currently, I've settled for the Surface Go 2 from Microsoft. It's not the best looking or the best performing tablet, but checks all the necessary boxes.

I prefer tablets as a primary mobile workstation for a couple of reasons:

Custom Keyboard

I use a custom built, ergonomic custom keyboard to use as my daily driver. However, it's difficult to find a comfortable spot for it to rest on/next to a laptop's built-in keyboard.

Some laptops do have a "tent mode" but this solution fails when working in tight spaces (flights for example).

Low power. Extended life

I don't need that much horse power since I use VIM as my primary text editor and BSPWM (a low resource tiling window manager for Linux)... so the bulk of resources can be devoted to a web browser for debugging & validation.

Built in LTE.

Larger projects can take a few more resources when auto compile/test on save is enabled. However, 80% of my work is done within the terminal, so I mitigate this by either renting out a cheap VPS or just running a server at home.

iPad 11" (2020 model)

This, also, might get replaced in the near future. Checkout: JingPad.

Ideally, I'd like to have an android or a Linux tablet. (like the Samsung S7+) for the OLED screen... extra dark mode (for late night writing), automation with Tasker and to sync with some of my phone apps.

Currently, the iPad serves 2 main purposes:

Wireless Second display

I have a virtual monitor setup on the Surface tablet (running Linux) and I share that screen over a wireless connection (likely my phone's hotspot). The latency is low enough to be functional but unfortunately its too high for any type of media consumption. Even scrolling web pages is a bit laggy.

Some of the latency can be reduced by disabling smooth scrolling in the browser and navigating with the keyboard instead of the mouse.

Previously, I was using one of those portable USB-C monitors as a second display. Unfortunately, while this solved the latency issue, the power draw was significant enough that I had to find a different solution.

Writing

I've found that using pen and paper activates a different part of my brain when compared to typing. Because of this, I prefer to write & journal the old fashion way.

However, while I can type faster than I can write, I like to keep things DRY. I hate the thought of having to transcribe my pen and paper articles into text files.. feels like a waste of time.

For this reason, I've settled on using my tablet for journaling and creating content (at least the first draft). The apple pencil is damn good and with the addition of a textured screen protector, it feels close to putting pen to paper.

There are a few other use-cases outside of my workflow that led me to choose the iPad over other tablets.. but thats an article for another day.

Apple AirPods Pro

My WH1000XM3 are fantastic ANC over the ear headphones but there just isn't a great way to transport these while on the go. I really didn't want spend $250 USD on another pair of headphones, but after cycling through what must have been 4 other pair of wireless buds, I needed something ultra portable, comfortable and reliable.

The Apple AirPods Pro are the only wireless, in ear, noise canceling buds that don't fall out of my ears, disconnect frequently, or cause discomfort.

I realize that the above paragraph comes off sounding like a sales pitch.. but I'm genuinely delighted with these ear buds. However if you have another recommendation, please let me know in the comments below.

Omni 20c+ 100W USB-C Portable Power Bank

Overpriced and at this point usually unnecessary for day trips.

That being said, this is a great portable battery that can not only recharge the Surface Go 2 twice before needing a recharge, but can also act as a USB hub and a wireless charger.

Perfect since the Surface Go 2 has only a single USB port.

Logitech MX Anywhere 2

I made the switch to Linux to design a keyboard centric desktop environment to write and code in. However, I'm in that transition period.. and I still rely on the mouse (especially when I'm in the browser's dev tools).

I've yet to find a more comfortable mouse than the Logitech MX Anywhere 2. Works on almost any surface and is small enough to fit/hide in the top pocket of my Second Brain.

When I started this article, I was using the Microsoft Arc (bluetooth), but after 2 months of use I had to get rid of it due to under performing

Corne Split Keyboard

I built this 40% ortholinear keyboard to combat the growing RSI in my wrists. The goal here is to reduce wrist moment by favoring keyboard layers over total physical keys. This has a nice side effect of reducing the total size of the keyboard which makes it fit snugly into my bag.

There are several keyboard navigation plugins for Firefox and Chrome so most of the desktop/terminal interactions can be preformed solely with the keyboard.

In my development workflow, the only hard requirement for a mouse is interacting with the browser's devtools.

Long term, however unrealistic it might be, I'd like to drop the mouse all together. This might be feasible once ZMK (the keyboard's firmware) gets mouse key support. We will see..

Tablet Stand

One of the down sides of a 10" tablet is it's placement while sitting on a desk. After a few days of regular use, I started to notice a strain in the back of my neck.

I bought this tablet stand because it's one of the only telescopic & foldable stands I can find, however, I'm still testing out a few before I settle on one long term as this one is a bit wobbly.

45w Charger

My current hardware configuration is low power enough that I don't need a charger that often. However, I do need to be prepared just in case. I've been through quite a few chargers over the past couple of years... trying to find that perfect balance between size and power.

This one seems to fit the bill as it's wattage perfectly matches the Surface Go 2 and is more than enough to charge the [iPad pro 11"](#ipad-11-(2020 model)) at full speed.

Other Accessories

Retractable USB-C Charging Cables

I hate cables.. but they're a necessary evil. While not a perfect solution, I carry 3 of these retractable USB-C cables. Along with 2 couplers to extend the length, in the rare case that I need to plug in somewhere far away (and my Omnicharge battery is dead).

Surface to USB-C adapter cable

Also have a USB-C to surface adapter cable so I don't have to give up the one and only USB-C port on my Surface tablet.

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