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Monthly Broadcast: February 2007
Ken Bowell has been using computers since 1979. He started out with Apple systems, followed by various Macs before moving into Windows in 1993. His first home computer was an IBM PCJr.
Exactly How Small Is Too Small? 

We love our big cars, but our tech can’t be small enough. From ultra-small phones, to tiny memory cards, nothing can be too small…or can it?

In the quest for smaller devices, are things actually getting too small? How small is too small for a cell phone before it becomes to hard to press the buttons? Can a tiny memory card make it too easy to lose? 

Portability can be a blessing and a curse. It can make it easy to take it all with us, but it can make devices difficult to use. At a certain point, that difficulty may cause us simply not to use the device as much as we thought we would. For example, tapping out a message with a numeric keypad or using a stylus and an on-screen keyboard can become tedious.

I actually carry a laptop around, despite having a Pocket PC device. While it does a great job with some tasks (keeping track of my schedule, toting my e-mail on the road, playing music and video and making quick notes or visits to the web), the PDA not very suitable for others. For example, I’m typing this up on my laptop because it’s not practical to do so on the portable device. While I have an external keyboard for the pocket computer, its ability to fold up means the keys can be clumsy to operate. In short, I can dash off an article like this in half the time it would take with the pocket device.

Tiny storage devices are problematic, too. At a certain point, those little storage cards become so tiny, they become easy to lose and hard to handle. What started out as an SD card, has become mini-SD and now micro-SD. The micro variety of those cards is smaller than the nail on your pinky finger. Watch out where you set that little guy or you’ll never find it again.

Usability isn’t the only concern with size. While the big worry has always been over battery life with those increasingly bigger LCD screens, a small device leaves little room for power. As a result, battery life is usually a trade off for compact size. Thin phones often don’t run as long as their more portly cousins.

The 2006 problem of malfunctioning batteries in certain Dell and Apple laptop computers illustrates another issue with portability. Smaller batteries need to pack in a lot of power in a confined space. One malfunction and your device can go up in smoke. Certain LG phones had an issue with overheating batteries. Granted, those batteries were found to be cheap knock-offs of the real product, but the danger was all the same. 

Even laptops, which aren’t all that compact in this day and age, are suffering from feature overload. Companies have actually stopped calling them laptop computers and have gone back to the previous term “notebook”. The reason is simple: you don’t want to place them on your lap. The bottoms of these portable computers get so hot, you run the risk of burning yourself – or setting back your chances of creating future generations for family members.

Ken Bowell is currently a video editor for ESPN. Since 1997, he has performed various production tasks for shows like Sportscenter, Baseball Tonight, NFL Live and ESPNews. He has been working in television for nearly 15 years at both the local and network level.

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