Gear, gadgets & more: part 1

Gear, gadgets & more: part 1
As lawyers, it is important we keep up with trends in technology, particularly if we want to use technology to better serve our clients and help manage our practice. However, technology is also a rapidly changing area that requires periodic updates on where it sits now, and where it is going.

In the first of this two-part series, I provide an overview of the most common devices being used by lawyers today, including tablets, smartphones, notebooks, and readers. I also discuss some of the essential apps that work on most of these different devices.


According to a recent report by CTV News, tablet sales have now outpaced computer sales globally. In fact, some industry reports are now saying tablets will soon replace notebooks entirely. That being said, as I mention later in this article, I still believe the notebook serves a useful purpose in my practice.

There are a number of tablets currently available to the consumer. Apple currently holds the largest share of the market (using the iOS operating system), followed by Samsung (Android), and then Windows (Windows 8). Which tablet is right for you is really a question of personal choice and preference. The choice typically involves a consideration of the operating system, memory size, processor speed, application availability, screen size, weight, and wireless connectivity options (Wi-Fi/cellular or both). In the table below, I provide a comparison of three popular tablets currently available for purchase.

Windows Surface Pro 3

Apple iPad Air Samsung Galaxy
 Screen  12”  9.7”  10.5”
 Processor  1.90 Ghz  1.4 Ghz  1.9 Ghz
 Storage  64/128/256 GB 16/32/64/128 GB  16/32 GB
 OS  Windows 8  iOS  Android
 Weight  798 g  478 g  753 g


Just as tablets are replacing notebooks, I would not be surprised if smartphones eventually replace tablets. I venture to say at least 90 per cent of the lawyers I know now have a smartphone and a significant trend with smartphones is larger screen sizes. The September release of the iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5” inch screen (compared to a 4” screen on the earlier iPhone 5). This is about half the screen size of the Apple iPad Air, but almost as powerful.

Phones with the largest screens are now being dubbed “phablets” (a phone/tablet all-in-one). If these trends continue, we may soon find that smartphones can satisfy all of our technology needs, particularly if smartphones are able to sync with a desktop monitor, wireless keyboard, and other external devices.

As with tablets, the best smartphone for you really boils down to a question of personal choice. In the table below, I present a brief summary of some of the more relevant factors to consider when choosing a smartphone. For a more detailed comparison of other smartphones, see my article “Smartphone comparisons for lawyers.”

Device BlackBerry Passport BlackBerry Q10 iPhone 5S iPhone 6 Plus Samsung Galaxy S5
Screen 4.5” diagonal 3.1” screen 4” screen 5.5” screen 5.1” screen
Processor 2.0 Ghz 1.5 Ghz 1.3 Ghz 1.3 Ghz 2.0 Ghz
Battery 30 hours talk time (3G)
13.5 hours talk time
8 hours talk time
24 hours talk time
29 hours talk time
Extended memory 128 GB SD Card insert / micro USBI USB 2.0/ micro SD / micro HDM No additional inputs No additional inputs 128 MB SD Card insert / micro USB
OS BB10 OS BB10 OS iOS iOS Android


While notebooks may be losing their market share to tablets and smartphones, for me a notebook remains the most effective way to edit text documents and spreadsheets, perform legal research, manage files, and track time. I purchased my first notebook computer some 25 years ago. Today they are as powerful and as versatile as many desktop computers. Furthermore, I have personally found that they are generally far more reliable than the desktop computer.

It can be somewhat daunting to choose from the hundreds of notebooks available. However, given that much of our computer work involves word processing, online research, and time tracking, it is not necessary we have the fastest and most expensive notebook computer. In fact, many of us can get by spending no more than $400 to $600 on one.

For me the most important considerations when choosing a notebook include: reliability (which is sometimes synonymous with brand name), screen size, memory, battery life, wired connectivity (USB, FireWire, HDMI), and wireless connectivity (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth).  In the table below, I present a comparison of three popular notebook computers currently being sold.

Device Dell Latitude Apple MacBook Pro HP Chromebook
Screen 13.3” 15” 11.6”
Processor 1.7 Ghz 2.0 Ghz 1.7 Ghz
Weight 4.28 lbs 4.46 lbs 2.3 lbs
Battery 10 hours 8 hours 10 hours
OS Windows 8 OS X Google Chrome


E-readers have a single purpose: to store and read thousands of books in one very portable device. Their main advantage over the tablet is the screen looks very much like a real page but does not strain your eyes like a computer or tablet screen. Unlike a tablet, the screen can also be easily read in the sunlight. In the table below, I provide a brief comparison of three popular readers currently available.

Device Kindle Paperwhite NOOK GlowLight Kobo Glo
Screen 6” 6” 6”
Content Holds 1,100 books Holds 2,000 books Holds 1,000 books
Battery 56 days 60 days 30 days
Provider Amazon Barnes & Noble Amazon/Kobo


Many app developers offer their product across most of the major platforms. This is important to consider if your different devices use different operating systems because you may want to sync your data. Google Play (the official app store for Android products) and the Apple App Store each have approximately 1.3 million apps available for download. Amazon also offers over 300,000 apps for Android devices. BlackBerry World has just over 200,000 apps, and Windows has over 300,000. The bottom line is that if there is an app that you want, it is likely available no matter which device you are using.

 Apple devices  Android devices  BlackBerry*  Windows
 Apple App Store  X
 BlackBerry World/CrackBerry  X
 Firefox Marketplace  X  X
 Amazon  X  X
 Google Play  X
 Windows Store  X
             * Amazon is rumoured to be opening a BlackBerry app store, but this is unconfirmed.

Essential apps for lawyers

The following apps are common to most Android, Apple, and Windows devices and are typically able to sync between different device platforms. Obviously, there are hundreds of alternative apps that meet this criterion, and what follows is only a small fraction of the thousands of apps currently available. For more exhaustive and detailed reviews of some of the popular lawyer apps see my previous articles “BlackBerry apps for lawyers,” “iPhone apps for lawyers,” and “iPad apps for lawyers.”

Outlook: Sync your e-mail and Outlook calendars to all devices.
Sunrise: A super simple, yet effective, calendar
Cal: For syncing multiple calendars and programs to one place.

Scanners & document editors/readers
Genius Scan: Use your camera to make high quality “scans” of any document and save it to PDF.
Microsoft Office Mobile: Create, edit, and save Word documents.
PDF Reader: Just as the name says, it can read and annotate PDFs.

mSpy: Track and monitor your lost phone, tablet, or computer and remotely delete its data if necessary.
Lookout: Clear your device of spyware and malware.

Mobile law practice
Note 2 Self: Send yourself reminders by e-mail.
Timewerks: Track multiple clients or projects on your mobile device.
Penultimate: Use your tablet like a legal notepad.

TrialPad: Organize case presentations for court.
Things: An excellent “to-do” organization app based on David Allen’s organizational philosophy called “Getting Things Done.”
Lawyers Case Diary: Manage clients and cases.

Legal Resources

Black’s Law Dictionary: An essential part of our profession.

In the next part of this two-part series I will identify some accessories that help us to get the most out of our devices. I will also review some of the issues that we should be mindful of in order that we use our technology responsibly and ethically. This will include some discussion on security issues, law society rules, and what I call “technology etiquette.”

Note: A correction has been made to the BlackBerry Passport screen and battery specifications.

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