[TECH] Thin Is In

tgw-thin-is-inPictured: Sony’s 9.9mm thick Bravia Edge KDL-40ZX1.

While memory and functionality are all growing exponentially, our laptops, smartphones and digital cameras are becoming the incredible shrinking machines.

Thanks to our demands as mobile consumers, technology manufacturers have gotten the message that a gadget can never be too light or too thin. Witness Apple’s MacBook Air, a laptop that is ¾ of an inch thick and weighs only 3 pounds. It’s not just the cool factor that drives demand for thin tech. There’s practicality at work in our on-the-go society.

The Need for Portability
“The biggest benefit is that they are ultraportable,” says Matthew Dworkin, a double agent for Best Buy’s Geek Squad in the Washington, D.C., area. “You won’t notice you have them on you. If you have an ultrathin camera, you can slip it in your pocket or throw it in your purse, and you won’t feel the weight of them. It won’t create a bulge in your pocket.”

The upside of thin tech is indisputable and hard to resist:

  • Less weight “For people like me who tend to travel a lot, the lighter devices are a godsend,” says Tom DeSot, executive vice president of Digital Defense, a San Antonio-based information security consulting firm. A laptop as light as the MacBook Air, Lenovo’s 2.95-pound ThinkPad X200, or Fujitsu’s 1.56-pound LifeBook U810 “drastically cuts down your weight as you’re going through airports and lugging your bags around,” DeSot says.
  • Compactness The smaller, thinner nature of tech gadgets is especially important these days, as airlines have limited the number of carry-on bags you can bring on board a flight — and have started charging extra for checked bags. “My suitcase is usually already bulging, and there’s no way I can slip in another 5-inch thick device,” says Dworkin. When a digital camera can fit in a shirt pocket, like the .6-inch thick Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700 weighing 5.6 ounces, it’s a no-brainer to take it along.
  • Functionality anytime, anywhere Portability means you can take your work and/or social contacts on the road without a hassle. With a lightweight 3.1-ounce BlackBerry Pearl or 4.7-ounce iPhone 3G, you can email, check your calendar or catch up with the news anytime.

The Downside of Thin Tech
Thinner, lighter devices might make life easier, but these gadgets also pose some headaches as well. Here are the trade-offs to consider:

  • Easier to lose “From the security perspective, portability may make it more easy to use, but you don’t hear a lot about people losing desktops,” says DeSot. “You hear a lot about people using laptops, BlackBerrys, iPhones.” You might not notice if a lightweight smartphone or camera slips out of your pocket, says Dworkin.
  • Easier to steal As devices have shrunk in size, they have also become more attractive to thieves, who can easily hide them. Thieves value not only the resale of a laptop or phone or camera, but the data that may be contained inside.
  • Less durability Some thin tech devices may be more fragile to drops or bumps than the clunky old laptops or cell phones or cameras of old. Sleek designs may also be more slippery in hand and lead to accidents. These are probably not the best choices if your work or play entails traveling in rough terrain or in environments where they might get banged around. That said, Dworkin disagrees and does not believe that thinner means more fragile. He says it depends upon the manufacturer and recommends reading product reviews before purchasing.

Some new devices have solid state memory, which could actually perform better in a slight fall than the typical hard drive because it won’t cause a shock that may scratch or damage the drive, he says. Toshiba recently unveiled the ultrathin Portege R500-S5007V, which weighs 2.4 pounds and features a 128 GB solid state drive.

Be Protective
Here are some steps experts advise you take to protect your thin tech gadgets and the data that resides inside.

  • Back up your data Make sure you have a backup copy of critical data on a USB drive, a plug-in external hard drive, or an online backup service. Data from some smartphones can be synced with your computer, and some phone carriers now also offer services to back up your smartphone data, Dworkin says.
  • Protect your device from damage Whether you shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for your thin tech, spring for the extra $10 or $20 for a protective sleeve or case — something that will absorb the shock or protect your device from scratches. The options range from hard-shell cases or cushioned sleeves for your laptop to leather holders for your cell phone. ZAGG makes a product called the invisibleSHIELD, a full-body film covering for smartphones, iPods, and digital cameras that doesn’t interfere with the thin design. “This creates an opportunity to protect these finely designed, sexy products in an invisible way that keeps the original aesthetics,” says Robert Pederson, president and CEO.
  • Security programs and products If the thin device contains confidential company or personal data, make sure you invest in security. The options include encryption software programs that can password protect files or programs, biometric readers that require your thumbprint before a laptop will power on, and laptop cables that will physically lock your computer to a cable that can be wrapped around the leg of a desk.

There’s every indication our gadgets will continue to shrink in size, so you might as well get used to protecting these devices. Although Sony hasn’t brought the technology to market yet, the company has developed video screens as thin as a sheet of paper.

“The biggest thing is to make sure you take care of it. These devices cost a lot of money,” says Dworkin, the Geek Squad expert, of slim gadgets. “You want to make sure you’re protected.” the end

Elizabeth Wasserman is a freelance writer and editor based in Fairfax, Va. She writes for a variety of publications, including Congressional Quarterly and Inc. magazine, and she edits the online publication CIO Strategy Center.

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