Tech Tools for the Mobile REALTOR®: Mobile Computers & Wireless Networking

Posted on July 1, 2010 by AAR

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Stay Connected—Wherever You Happen to Be

Part Two of Three


Are you ready to leave your office behind? Unplug. Hit the road. Work in the cloud. Go paperless. In this three-part article, REALTORS® share the technology tools they use to get closer to the dream of a truly mobile workspace. Part one addressed smart phones. In this  article, we look at your mobile computer and wireless networking options. And in August, part three will address document management.

Mobile Computers

The second tool you need to unplug from your office is a great mobile computer. In this arena, you’ve got three main options—plus one newcomer.

Laptop. Why have multiple computers when one can do it all? Many agents are finding that a laptop is the only computer they need, especially if they use a “docking station” to plug in to stationary resources, such as a printer or back-up external drive, back at the home office. Just remember, warns national real estate technology instructor Amy Chorew, to consider weight when purchasing. “It’s only useful if you actually carry it around!”

Netbook. These are basically smaller, cheaper notebooks, often with with built-in wireless connectivity. They’re not as powerful as more expensive laptops, but if you’re primarily accessing the Internet and using “Office”-style tools, a netbook may suit you just fine. That said, “traditional” laptops are getting lighter and cheaper all the time, so these two categories may be in the process of converging.

Tablet. A popular choice today, a tablet is basically a laptop that comes with a screen that pivots, a stylus (pen) and touch-screen technology. (For an example, check out the HP TouchSmart.) As a broker at Monument Properties AZ in Lakeside, Yvonne Coelet, ABR, CRS, GRI, LTG, PMN, appreciates the ability to sign important documents from the road on her tablet. D. Patrick Lewis withJohn Hall & Associates in Scottsdale, uses his when showing homes, taking notes on the tablet rather than on paper. And, they both acknowledge, the pivoting touch-screen certainly has a “wow” factor with clients.

iPad. There’s quite a bit of hype surrounding Apple’s latest gadget. It’s a very attractive device but does have some limitations. You might consider waiting six months to see what the competition delivers and how Apple’s second-generation product compares. For an agent’s perspective on using the iPad for real estate, consult Teresa Boardman’s May 2010 piece on Inman.

Wireless Networking

That mobile computer you’ve got only hits its stride when connected to the Internet. While nearly any computer (and many a smart phone) nowadays is WiFi-enabled, you won’t get far if you’re depending on a bookstore or coffeehouse to provide the network. Enter mobile wireless networks, which provide Internet connectivity over cell phone service networks. Costs vary, but generally are around $30 per month in addition to your usual voice plan.

There are multiple ways to access the cell networks. PCI and PCI Express Cards slide into computers with the right slot. More widely useful are USB modems. What mobile computer is without a USB port? And some netbooks for sale through cell carriers even have mobile broadband built right in.

Smart phone users can also consider the “tethered modem” option—whereby they connect their smart phone to their laptop and use the phone’s network. The downside? It does tie up your phone. Plus, not all phones allow it (we’re looking at you iPhone). Others, such as BlackBerry, charge for the privilege. (A popular option for tethering is PdaNet. Check out JuneFabrics.com for more details.)

The latest buzz in wireless networking is the mobile hotspot. These smaller-than-a-deck-of-cards gadgets allow multiple WiFi-enabled devices to connect to a cell network. Coelet, for example, uses MiFi from Verizon. “As long as I can get cell service, I can plug it into my laptop… If I have it plugged in at my home or office, I can have up to five devices on wirelessly as long as they’re within 30 feet,” she explains. “Between the tablet and making sure that I can be on the Internet, I’m good to go anywhere.” (Another option is the Overdrive Mobile Hotspot from Sprint.)

Sources: Amy Chorew’s “Tech Tools of the Trade: Staying Connected” (class sponsored by AAR – April 2010); “Road Warrior: Run Your Business as a Mobile Office” panel (breakout at AAR Winter Conference – March 2010)

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