How to Turn Your Smartphone Into an In-Flight Computer

By Beth Ziesenis, December 12, 2017

What’s worse than a long flight for a frequent flyer? A long flight without a laptop. At first, this was courtesy of a ban on electronics on planes during certain international flights. Now, there’s simply a convenience factor of working on a smartphone rather than taking your laptop out of a carry-on bag. With a bit of planning ahead, you can transform your smartphone into a powerful productivity tool that can (almost) replace your laptop. Pull it off using these five steps.

Step 1: Get a larger smartphone.

If you travel often, upgrading to a smartphone with a larger screen will be well worth the investment. Also look for a phone with a faster processor and plenty of storage.

Step 2: Buy a Bluetooth keyboard.

A portable keyboard may be the most important element for working comfortably on long flights. There are plenty of options out there, with many costing less than $50.

A few varieties include mini keyboards that have a stand for your phone; silicone roll-up (some are waterproof); ergonomic; and full-size, which are the same as the one on your laptop.

Step 3: Use a phone stand.

Just like your laptop screen, you’ll need to prop up your phone’s screen at a nice angle. Look for a stand with a little grip so it doesn’t slide off the airplane tray. Try a case with a built-in stand; it is great for portability, but your phone may end up thicker than you want for daily use. If you go with a simple tripod stand, make sure you get one that doesn’t tip over. Or consider the option I went with: a PopSocket stand. It’s a collapsible stand that sticks to the back of my case and serves as a stand and holder.

Step 4: Have a strong power supply.

Simultaneously charge your keyboard and phone with a high-power external battery (10,000mAh or more) with two or more charging ports. If you’re lucky enough to have an outlet at your seat, you can plug your charger into the port so it continues to charge.

Step 5: Plan ahead.

This may be a challenge for some of you who are used to opening your laptop and having all your files and programs with you. Even when you connect your phone to Wi-Fi on the plane, you may have trouble pulling existing projects down from the cloud. Think about what kind of projects you can make progress on during your flight—such as a presentation, spreadsheet, document or other file—and download them to your device before you leave. Avoid working on extra-large files on your phone. My 300 megabyte PowerPoints are just too dang big to download.

Microsoft Office, Google Docs and iWork all have options to work offline via smartphone. Microsoft Office’s mobile apps are insanely good on this front—and free. Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps have almost every single feature the desktop programs have. Also consider tackling email offline or online during
the flight.


Beth ZiesenisBeth Ziesenis is Your Nerdy Best Friend. She is the author of several books on technology including “The Big Book of Apps,” released in summer 2017. Ziesenis travels the country talking to organizations about free and bargain technology.

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