My $5.79 Clipboard/Paper/Ballpoint Ensemble Totally Rules

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The halls of PCWorld--which also happen to be the halls of Macworld--echo with angry cries as the People of the Laptop ("My $200 Laptop Can Beat Your $500 Tablet") and the People of the Tablet ("Why My $185 Tablet Crushes Your $200 Laptop") dispute one of the critical issues of our time. Indeed.

But of course there's a third way, a way that is sure to antagonize ThinkPadders and iPadders alike: the way of the clipboard. For $5.79 (tax not included) or less, you can buy a perfectly serviceable Masonite or Lucite clipboard, load it with paper from the recycle bin near the printer, and select from an array of vendor-supplied ballpoint pens--and you'll have an instant mobile workstation.

Let's check the advantages and disadvantages of each technology, shall we?

Portability: The clipboard dominates. Not only does it weigh less than a pound fully loaded, but if my puny little nerd arms start to sag under the strain of toting it around, I can jettison ballast (in the form of extra paper) just like that! What part of the laptop are you gonna throw away, huh? And of course with the iPad, it's all or nothing. Plus, I don't have to be near a power outlet or Wi-Fi because I'm already as connected as I'll ever get.

Do I happen to be lost in the middle of the Mojave Desert with no Internet access? It doesn't matter to me, because I never had Internet access to begin with. You guys with the electronic devices are the ones who were counting on Web search capabilities, and look--now you're just as lost as I am. Only your devices weigh a lot more.

Usability: This whole idea of startup time is like--what? I've noticed that getting my brain up and running is a lot bigger issue than wheeling my trusty clipboard into action. And I'll bet the same thing is true for laptoppers and tableters, too. How many of you are ready to get something done (as opposed to, say, staring blankly at Facebook for the next half hour) the minute your machine gives you the go-ahead?

As for on-the-road usability, can you start a life-sustaining fire with your device and a box of matches? Can you swing your device as hard as you can at a rattlesnake in the Mojave Desert without worrying about breaking it (the device, not the snake)? Can you print things out--in black or color ink? (You may be thinking "Is this guy planning on carrying multiple pens with him when he travels? How's he gonna do that?" Two words, baby: pocket protector. I have the technology.) And when you need to use the clipboard outdoors, if you align it properly, no glare! It functions really well as a lightweight sunshade, too.

Storage: A clipboard is as much a storage device as it is a word processor and a snake basher. As I noted earlier, its variable storage capacity makes it superbly adaptable to changing conditions, ensuring that I'll still be carrying it long after you've flung away your machines in order to rush to the edge of one of the mirage oases we passed earlier in the day.

"But how many gigabytes of data can it hold?" I hear you sneer. Let me answer that question with another one: How many gigabytes of data do I need? When I'm on the road--or in the sand--I like to travel light. I don't need access to a streaming (or fully downloaded) version of The Sheltering Sky: I can just look around, and there it is. And if things should reach the final extremity, how many gigabytes of space do I need to say goodbye? One sheet of paper ought to do it; I'll even let the laptop guy and the tablet guy borrow my clipboard setup to compose their own notes.

Multitasking: The clipboard is absolutely made for this. You want the sheet with the descriptions of edible desert plants, or the sheet on how to skin and dress a venomous snake, or the one on rain dances? They're all right here, and switching from one to another couldn't be easier. I can even arrange for the sheet with the map on it to remain always on top.

Battery life: Who do you think wins on this criterion? My clipboard is specced for an astounding 29,875 hours of carrying time in sleep mode (and 4883 hours of continuous use) without recharging. Ever. That's long enough to get me all the way to downtown Barstow, even with some wrong turns thrown in.

Keyboard: Okay, it doesn't have a keyboard--not even a virtual one. If my right arm falls off, I'm really gonna regret not having a keyboard. Darn it.

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