How to Go Completely Mobile

By: Julia Layton

Nowadays, it's easy to leave the wires behind.
Nowadays, it's easy to leave the wires behind.
© otosipsak

­In the 21st century, mobility is practically an obsession. It began years ago with the mobile phone -- some of us can remember being surprised to see people talking on the phone while driving or shopping at the grocery store. Now, we hardly bat an eye when the person in the next bathroom stall is chatting away.

What started with the cell phone is now much more. The goal is complete mobility: never being tied to a specific location, like a home or office. That means not only mobile phones but also mobile computing, mobile Internet and mobile entertainment. It means everything you'd do at home or at work, you can do in the car, on a commuter train, in a mall, coffee shop or supermarket.


That's a tall order, but more and more people are achieving just that through the use of ever-progressing technologies. You can see the trend toward complete mobility everywhere. In the United States alone, about 220 million people have a mobile phone; that's almost three-quarters of the population [source: ACA]. Eight percent of the population has given up a landline, relying exclusively on a mobile phone for phone service [source: ACA]. In Europe, there are more cell phones than people, and 20 percent to 40 percent of homes have only cell phone service [source: USAToday].

The trend toward mobile computing is just as dramatic. In 2008, for the first time ever, people actually bought more laptops than desktops [source: Eddy].

In increasing numbers, people are ditching heavy, plugged-in devices for ones they can grab and go. In this article, we'll find out what you need to go completely mobile, and we'll look at some new technologies out there to help you charge those mobile gadgets on the go.

Let's start with the basic devices you'll need in your mobile repertoire.


Mobile Devices: Going Out

Phone technology has been radically downsized over the past century.
Phone technology has been radically downsized over the past century.
Image courtesy of

To completely untie yourself from a particular location, you've got to be ready for anything. It's really not that hard, though, with all the mobile devices out there. To get started, you're going to need access to:

Mobile Talk


Chances are you already have a cell phone. It's pretty crucial these days for staying in touch, especially with the growth of texting. Stepping up from the simple cell phone, smart phones like a BlackBerry or an iPhone are ideal for complete mobility since they let you do so much more than talk. These types of "phones" actually encompass a lot of the functionality of the other devices on this list, like Internet connectivity, music and movies -- some even include word processing applications.

Mobile Computing

Computers are practically a requirement these days. Lots of people have two or three computers in their homes. They're essential for many jobs, and have become indispensable for such applications as e-mail, mapping, funny videos, networking and even finding a date. If you switch from a desktop to a laptop, you can do all of this from any location. This is true now more than ever, since lots of laptops are about as powerful as a desktop.

Mobile Internet

Want to trade stocks on the beach? Or upload a YouTube video from your cell phone? With an Internet-equipped laptop or phone, it's no problem. It's easy enough to log on from any Wi-Fi hotspot, but you don't even need one of those any more. Lots of cell phone providers now offer Internet access through the 3G network, either built into a phone or via a USB device that hooks your computer into the cell phone provider's network.

Mobile Entertainment

What home-theater systems were to the '80s, tiny handheld devices are to this decade. Instead of a stereo system, you can get a 3-inch (76-millimeter) MP3 player, a 7-inch (177-millimeter) DVD player, a hand-held gaming system and a TV-viewing application for your laptop. Or you can skip all that and just get that handy smart phone, which you can use to listen to music, play games and download video content.

There's only one catch with all of these great gadgets: power requirements. Let's take a look at some of the chargers you can find out there to power your completely portable life.


Charging Mobile Devices

It's easy to charge your other mobile devices with power from your laptop.
It's easy to charge your other mobile devices with power from your laptop.
Image courtesy of

Mobile devices aren't much use when they run out of juice. No problem -- each of your mobile devices comes with a charger. It's usually a standard outlet charger that only fits that one piece of equipment. So you've got a charger for your phone, your laptop, your Game Boy, your music player and your DVD player. They all have to be plugged in for several hours to charge up, and a half-dozen chargers can get bulky. That's not a terribly mobile setup.

Luckily, there are a lot more options these days when it comes to powering up. One good space-saving option is the universal charger. This is a charger with multiple adapters, so it can charge all of your different mobile devices. Some of them can even charge several devices simultaneously, so you only need one outlet to do the job.


Another option is the USB charger. With this type, you don't even need an outlet -- the charger draws power from your computer's USB port. So if you're sitting at a coffee shop with a fully juiced laptop and a dead cell phone, you can simply use one to power the other.

But what about when your laptop is out of battery power, too? And what if there's no wall outlet at all?

The electronics industry is making big strides toward solving this issue, which is really the last remaining impediment to complete mobility within the developed world. Several different groups, including Sony and MTI Micro, are in the final stages of developing a fuel-cell charger, which generates its own power through a chemical reaction (see How Fuel Cells Work to learn about the technology). There are solar-powered and wind-powered chargers already on the market, which are less than ideal because they require particular environmental conditions, but they're still great for outdoors applications.

One last type of charger could kill two birds with one stone. The kinetic-energy charger, which uses motion to generate electricity to power your mobile device, is already available, but there are upgraded ones on the way. These newer kinetic chargers will actually create enough power to be useful as something more than a novelty. And, as a big side benefit, if they really catch on, they could solve the low-power problem and the obesity problem in one fell swoop.

For more information on mobile living and related topics, look over the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Eddy, Nathan. "Notebook Sales Outpace Desktop Sales." eWeek. Dec. 24, 2008.
  • Melanson, Donald. "MTI Micro shows off universal fuel cell charger with removable cartridge." Dec. 11, 2008. removable-c/
  • Wireless and Landline Phones. ACA International. Jan. 15, 2007.