September/October 2020

Tech From the Trenches

These Are a Few of My Favorite (Hardware) Things

Barron K. Henley

The theme of this issue of Law Practice is finance. Finance generally refers to managing money, and one aspect of money management is deciding how to spend it. As such, I’ve decided to write about the various technology tools I’m pleased to have spent money on recently. We can all use a little retail therapy, right? In this column, I’m going to focus solely on hardware recommendations, and I’ll write a subsequent column on software and cloud service recommendations.

Laptop and Dock

I am writing this on a Dell XPS 13 (in frost white), which I can’t recommend highly enough if you are looking for a great combination of lightweight and high performance in a Windows laptop. The XPS 13 has a 13.3-inch screen (mine is also touch), but if you want something bigger, Dell also makes an XPS 15 with a 15.6-inch screen. Dell also offers 2-in-1 models for both the XPS 13 and 15, which provide the option to use the laptop as a tablet when the need arises. My XPS has a 10th generation Intel i7 processor with 32 GB of RAM and a 1 TB solid state drive. I’m definitely not sacrificing power even though the laptop is only slightly thicker than a pencil and so lightweight I often forget it’s in my bag.

My XPS is connected to a Dell Thunderbolt dock (model WD19TB), which has also proven to be excellent. When I connect the dock to one of my laptop Thunderbolt ports via the supplied cable, it turns on the laptop and charges the battery while simultaneously connecting me to dual external monitors, a keyboard, a mouse, a scanner, an external hard drive, a wired network, a webcam and a phone headset. I have the same dock and setup at my home office, so it’s easy to move between the two locations without sacrificing efficiency and comfort. Regardless of what kind of computer you have (Windows or Mac), I’d highly recommend having one laptop (no desktop PC) and using docking stations (preferably Thunderbolt) for the full desktop experience.

Monitor

I have dual 27-inch monitors, but multiple monitor setups are nothing new. However, a few months ago, I replaced my old, flat-screen monitors with new curved models and I love the wraparound effect it creates. I bought Sceptre 27-inch curved 144Hz LED monitors, which are high-definition but not high-end. I found them on sale for $160 each, and that was too good of a deal to pass up. If you try curved monitors, you’ll probably never want to use flat ones again.

If you travel a lot and find it annoying to only have one screen when on the road, there are some great options for resolving that. For example, I have an ASUS 15.6-inch high-definition, portable screen (MB16ACE) that I take everywhere with me. The display gets its power from the USB-C cable so there’s no power brick to lug around, and the screen auto-rotates between portrait and landscape like a tablet. ASUS makes a wide array of interesting portable screen options (see here). There are also some interesting extra-screen options from sidetrak.com and yourslide.com, among others. Finally, if you have a Mac and iPad, you can use Apple Sidecar to convert the iPad into an extra display (see here for more information). Failing that, you can use Duet (see here) to make an iPad a second display for either a Windows or Mac laptop. If you have an Android tablet, you can convert it to an additional display by using iDisplay (see here). Other apps that allow tablets to be external displays include Air Display, TwomonUSB, spacedesk and Splashtop.

Peripheral Devices

If you’re at a keyboard all day like me, then comfort is really important so you don’t end up with a repetitive stress injury like carpal tunnel or a sore neck or back. This is a kind of nontechnical recommendation, but my first suggestion is to get a keyboard tray so you can have your elbows bent at the proper 90-to-110-degree angle while your fingers are on the keys. Most people have a chair that is too low, a desk that is too high, or both; a keyboard tray can fix both of those things. For a good explanation and photos of proper posture at the keyboard, see here. There are several kinds of slide-out and articulating keyboard trays that you can attach to an existing desk. A second thing to consider in the interest of ergonomics is the addition of a height-adjustable standing desk converter. Such devices typically rest on top of a regular desk, offer a monitor stand and keyboard tray and can be adjusted up or down. There are manual and electric models, and a few popular brands include Vari and VersaDesk.

Third, consider an ergonomic keyboard. I find them to be much more comfortable and they allow me to type faster. I have a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 and a new Logitech Ergo K860, both of which I love. However, after using the Microsoft option for over a decade, I think I may like the Logitech a little better. It’s a little “clickier” (in a satisfying kind of way) and has a shorter key travel similar to what you’d find on a good laptop keyboard. Fourth, I’m not a fan of laptop trackpads so I carry a mouse in my computer bag everywhere I go. If you like a full-sized mouse and you’re right-handed, the best mouse I’ve ever used is the Logitech MX Master wireless mouse. It’s extremely comfortable, contains rechargeable batteries, connects via Bluetooth, works on Windows or Mac and tracks perfectly on shiny or glass surfaces that would cause a traditional optical mouse to flake out without a mouse pad. The current version is the MX Master 3 and, at the time of this writing, they are sold out everywhere, which may indicate that word is getting out on this mouse. Finally, I think it’s worth dropping some money on a good ergonomic chair, even though the good ones are not exactly inexpensive. I have a Herman Miller Aeron, which is amazingly comfortable no matter how long I sit. It was expensive, but I’ve had it for 12 years, and it looks and feels just as good today as it did when I bought it. For a ranking of the best ergonomic office chairs by Ergonomic Trends, see here. Also, be aware that there’s a pretty good market for used, high-end office chairs. Based upon the durability I’ve experienced with mine, I wouldn’t hesitate to go that route.

Phone

As a company, we have had hosted Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems for over a decade. Most VoIP providers allow you to use a traditional desk phone or a headset connected to your computer. Like almost everyone in our company, I long ago ditched an antiquated desk phone in favor of a headset. I have tried many brands and models over the years, and I currently have a Plantronics Savi W730, a Sennheiser SD Pro 1 ML and a Jabra Evolve 65, among others. Out of all of them, the Plantronics options have always seemed the most comfortable, convenient to use and offered the best battery life. We are currently testing the Microsoft Teams integration with Vonage (see here), and I’m happy to report that all of my various headsets also work fine with the Teams/Vonage combination.

I hope this column provided a few recommendations you haven’t yet explored. I would love to hear any recommendations you have about essential law office technology hardware. 

Barron K. Henley

Founding Partner

Barron K. Henley is a lawyer and founding partner of Affinity Consulting Group, a legal technology consulting firm focused on automating and streamlining law firms and legal departments. Henley heads Affinity’s document assembly/automation and software training departments, and he teaches CLE classes throughout the United States and Canada covering a wide variety of topics related to law practice management, technology and ethics. bhenley@affinityconsulting.com

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