I recently had the chance to test out a couple pieces of electronics technology, and no they weren't the latest IP cameras. The business of our industry isn't simply cameras and card readers. It's also the sales process. The client meetings. The presentations. The system set-up. The follow-ups. The technology we mount on the walls is only part of our business, so here I present to you a quick recap of two relatively inexpensive pieces of technology that are good for business.
While the iPad is all the rage these days as far as portable devices go, for standard usability and for price, the netbook still stands out as a viable alternative. The usability difference is the keyboard, and while the trend of portable computing is to do away with keyboards, when it comes to rapidly and accurately entering information, a physical keyboard still beats a smaller touchscreen keypad hands down. (Please excuse the pun.) On price, you're talking about a $300 device versus a device that starts $500.
Additionally, the netbook is an ideal -- although underutilized -- tool for installing technicians. They're small enough to be thrown in a tool bag, and cheap enough to go out in the field. They're small enough to use on top of a ladder, but I bet OSHA would cringe to see that I wrote such a thing. The presence of traditional inputs (Ethernet, USB) and outputs (e.g., VGA video display) allows them to be used for connecting to and configuring an IP video network. With a netbook on a ladder, all of a sudden you can have a single technician doing micro-adjustments at the camera, plugged in (or connected wirelessly) via the VMS client and seeing how that actually impacts the video at it would appear when recorded or in the control room. Sure, you could do this with a laptop, but the smaller form factor of a netbook seems to work better when you're atop a ladder or already lugging around power drills, screw drivers, equipment boxes and more.
As a note for those of you who want to push the netbook capabilities to their extremes, I'll let you know that I've been using the Samsung N150 Plus, which serves up a netbook version of Windows 7. The video card struggles a bit when you start talking full-frame rate HD video, but it gets by fine on lesser resolutions. The computer boots very quickly, doesn't stumble, and was one of Consumer Reports' top-rated netbooks.
Besides using it to configure cameras (you can actually load the Windows client on a netbook; you can't on an iPad), I think this netbook format is great for doing site assessments. It's small and light enough to clutch in your hand as you make notes on where to deploy cameras, how many smoke detectors you'll need, etc. Best of all, the battery life on these netbook devices will keep you working all day.
The micro projector
As you know, the theme of this write-up is small tools for big business, and the second piece of technology I have had my hands on has been a micro projector. I've been using the Aaxa Technologies M1+ Micro Projector.
Prior the M1+, I'd used a larger Dell projector. It was powerful and still somewhat portable, but it was heavy. It had enough power and brightness to be used in front of a room of 50 people, but I found that mostly it was turned on simply for a 5-10 people. That's when it would have been useful to use a micro projector. The displayed image from a micro projector isn't as bright or as large as you might expect from a standard projector that is as big as your laptop, but then again, this M1+ is small enough to fit into a full size laptop bag along with your laptop.