Replacing your laptop with a tablet might seem like a daunting prospect for many interpreters. Here’s how it can work and what it can do for you!
On a fateful day in April 2015, my trusty Windows laptop of two years decided to end our relationship with a clean break—it literally broke apart. With my laptop away for repair, which my service provider informed me would take roughly one and a half months, I wondered how I would go about my daily business.
Luckily, I had my Nexus 9 Android tablet handy and thought that this would be a good chance to do something I’d been considering for a while: switching daily operations, as well as my “booth companion,” over to a tablet.
I had already used the tablet for the occasional odd job, but I would always schlepp my Ultrabook with me whenever I had to do some heavy document formatting, write invoices, draft quotes, or when I had a full day of interpreting in the booth. With my laptop out of the picture and no replacement in sight, I was finally ready to make the jump and go “all tablet, all the time.”
I discovered quickly that having a proper physical keyboard for the tablet was essential if I wanted to use it as my daily driver. Things might not have gone so smoothly if all I had was the nine-inch touch screen on which to type. While hacking away at articles (the one you’re reading included), answering e-mail, creating quotes, or prepping my glossaries is certainly possible without the keyboard peripheral, it would have made the job indefinitely more arduous. As it worked out, I was typing away in no time using a nifty bluetooth keyboard, which barely added any heft to the already thin tablet.
In terms of software, you have many great choices available. Not only does Google provide excellent Office programs such as Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, but Microsoft offers its entire MS Office suite as free apps. (In my case, this helped make the transition less jarring than I feared.) Add to that the fact that I am using an Android smartphone, and I’ve got myself a system that really gels and just works.
For interpreters, one of the upsides to tablets versus traditional laptops is that they have excellent battery life and no boot-up time. What I like most about working with a tablet, however, is how small, light, and portable it is. I just pop it into my bag and I’m good to go. Necessary accessories like the charger and USB cables can stay in my bag without being a hassle, since they are the size of a regular phone charger. Frankly, the tablet and the peripherals are so light that I have started bringing them everywhere and only take them out at home to charge my tablet or transfer files.
Of course, the best device wouldn’t be any good if you couldn’t use or access the files you need. Luckily, there are many ways to get the necessary documents onto your Android tablet. From Cloud services to Bluetooth file transfers, regular downloads, or USB On The Go (USB-otg), getting that PowerPoint or the agenda for your next conference on your device couldn’t be easier. (I use Google Drive since it integrates with the rest of my workflow seamlessly.)
What I enjoyed quite a bit once I really started working with the tablet full-time was that it drove me to think more “mobile.” The use of Cloud technology made my work life that much more flexible, and having my files available at all times proved to be handy in many instances. Drafting a conference quote while I’m out at a café? No problem. Resending that invoice from last week? Absolutely. How about sharing some notes from that workshop the other day? In a heartbeat.
Streamlining the Workflow
Whether I’m jotting down thoughts for articles and presentations on Evernote and sharing them with colleagues, attending webinars for my professional development on GoToMeeting, or managing my travel plans automatically on TripIt, there’s very little that can’t be done efficiently on a tablet.
It’s also easier than ever to coordinate and collaborate with colleagues. For instance, when a colleague and I organized a large conference recently that required four booths, we used ToDoist to set up and manage the project, distribute tasks, set deadlines, and log our progress. The app features automatic updates, so it was easy to keep track of what needed to be done.
Creating a shared glossary to ensure improved terminological consistency across all languages in Sheets and working on it together was a breeze. Once we received material from our client, I simply sent an invitation link to a shared Cloud folder to our colleagues, which gave everyone instant access to the conference documents. The shared folder updated automatically every time we uploaded a new file, which was definitely an added benefit. Using a file sharing system meant that it was no longer necessary to send an e-mail notification every time we received a new presentation. This feature is especially pleasant, considering the barrage of e-mail we all seem to receive all day, every day.
Finally, a couple of days before the conference we all just popped into a Google Hangouts video conference and had a quick last-minute pre-conference group pow-wow to go over the final details and iron out any last kinks.
Managing Your Terminology
Once in the booth, my partner and I continued using our glossary in Sheets. This approach has three distinctive advantages:
- When taking notes to support your booth partner, typing is easier, much faster, and infinitely more legible than writing notes by hand, particularly if you have handwriting like mine. When a speaker rattled off a list of attendees or provided an overview of a new product portfolio, the person not interpreting would take notes in our shared document, which would be visible to each of us in real time.
- Sheets also helps when you just can’t think of that one pesky term that’s been escaping you for the past five minutes. In this case, you simply type the word you don’t know into the shared document and your colleague can add the translation to your glossary—again, visible in real time.
- Since all of the terms are already in your glossary, you only need to delete the notes you no longer need from the glossary post-conference and you’ll have a perfect glossary with information straight from “the trenches” all set to go for the next assignment. Your colleague also has access to the same glossary, which ensures terminological consistency the next time you work for this client. It’s no longer necessary to send separate glossaries back and forth and piece them together after every job.
Granted, there are many other apps and programs available for terminology management, both on PC, Mac, and mobile devices. From InterpreterBank to Interplex HD, Interpreter’s Help, and many more, there’s no shortage of viable candidates. However, I have yet to find one solution that works well across all platforms and operating systems while also enabling real-time glossary teamwork. For this reason, I’m sticking with Google Sheets as my go-to glossary solution—for now.
The best part about this approach—besides added flexibility and streamlined workflow—is that the majority of these apps or programs are also available for and work seamlessly on mobile devices, as dedicated desktop applications, web apps, or browser extensions. Intrigued? To find out how easy these apps are to use, simply pick up your device of choice and try them out on whatever system you’re using. The entry barrier is very low.
It was, however, only my move to “tablet only” that got me into the habit of using apps more heavily and really integrating them into my workflow. In turn, many colleagues who have worked with me and observed my methods have “converted” to using some of these apps and programs themselves. None of them have looked back since.
Of course, I can’t write an article about the use of Cloud technology without mentioning data privacy and security. This is exactly why file encryption is something that absolutely needs to be taken into consideration when working with sensitive data. And, it should go without saying that backing up your data regularly is an absolute must. (See the list at the end of this article for information on storage an encryption options.)
Do What Works for You
When my laptop eventually came back from the shop, at first I didn’t even really know what to do with it anymore. Now I’ve gotten so used to operating only with my tablet that virtually the only things I do on my laptop are really heavy-duty document formatting, my taxes, and the odd translation.
For those who are thinking of switching to a tablet full-time, I’ll just say that using new technology is like being on social media. It might be for you, it might not, but either way you should only do what feels comfortable and enhances and improves your work, instead of being work itself. Bringing new technology into your life just for the sake of it rarely presents a benefit. If you’ve been toying with the idea of replacing your laptop with something more portable, now might be the time to take the plunge to see if working exclusively on a tablet is right for you. I promise you won’t regret it!
Apps and Software
Microsoft Office Online (Free Apps)
USB On The Go (what it is and how to use it)
Backup and Encryption
Acronis Backup & Recovery
Encryption GPG4Win (PGP for Windows)
PGP for Mac
Remote Backup Carbonite
Cloud-Based Applications and Services
Alexander C. Gansmeier is a freelance German<>English conference interpreter in Munich, Germany. He has a master’s degree in conference interpreting from the University of Central Lancashire (U.K.). He serves on the board of various professional organizations, including the German Association of Conference Interpreters and the U.K.’s Institute of Translation and Interpreting. His specializations include dermatology, automotive technology, software, and information technology, as well as smartphone, tablet, and computer technology. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.