Tethered to Work
Employment is a double edged sword. The ability to buy food and pay your mortgage is a big plus. Being under The Man’s thumb is the unfortunate downside. Some jobs, specifically mine, require employees to be able to get online on short notice to resolve issues, even when on vacation.
Having spent the previous 20 years lugging around 14″ business laptops has taught me a thing or two about portability. If your IT department ever tries to give you ToughBook you should refuse it on medical grounds; it is a bulky heavyweight back-breaker.
Traveling by motorcycle has presented a new challenge. Despite my girlfriend’s assurances, size does matter. So does the weight. I have been on a multi-year quest to find the lightest, most capable laptop to carry with me while ADV riding. The criteria:
- It needs to be cheap. I’m either going to drop it, crash on it, or its going to get stolen.
- It needs to be as light as possible, as it will be carried in my backpack for 2 to 20 days at a time. Every ounce counts when you are wearing it.
- It needs to have the smallest and lightest power brick possible. The power cord to the brick needs to be reasonably long, lightweight, and flexible as well. Hotel room outlets in developing countries aren’t often plentiful, and they are never in the correct spot.
- It needs a good screen with accurate colors for editing photos.
- It needs enough processing power to smoothly run Photoshop or Lightroom, with the occasional video editing session.
Lightweight. Inexpensive. Powerful.
Getting two of those is easy. Getting three of those attributes has been impossible. Spoiler Alert: It still is.
How about an extremely light, amazingly inexpensive, and reasonably powerful laptop?
Walmart now carries a house brand called ‘Motile’ that offers a 14″ laptop with a 1080p screen, AMD Ryzen 3 processor, 128gb SSD, and it only weighs 2.54 pounds (1152 grams).
Here’s the best part — the price is currently $249.
Here are my attempts to find a decent laptop. Every one so far has been a big compromise:
- Full Size Laptop (Dell Inspiron 14):
- At 3.9 pounds (1769 grams) it was just too heavy to lug around.
- Power brick was large and heavy as well.
- Chromebook (Acer C720):
- Nice and light at 2.76 pounds (1252 grams) plus it had a small power brick.
- Great battery life.
- As a Chromebook it wasn’t very useful without access to high speed internet. Fortunately it was easy to convert to a Linux operating system, which really helped.
- Screen was mediocre at best.
- Needed more ram, a bigger SSD, and more processing power.
- Mini Laptop (Dell Inspiron 11):
- Small and light at 2.4 pounds (1089 grams), plus a small power brick.
- Has survived four years of motorcycle trips.
- 9+ hours of battery life.
- No problem running Linux from an SD card.
- Charges up my phone from the laptop, no need to break out a 1 amp phone charging block (although I still carry one as a backup).
- Miserably slow. 2gb of ram means no heavy multitasking, even in Linux. Video editing is completely out of the question.
- Miserable 720p screen that is dim and has poor color reproduction.
- Tablet (Lenovo P10):
- Great screen with accurate colors.
- Only 1.47 pounds (669 grams) with a simple but functional cover on it.
- Charges via USB-C, so I don’t have to carry an additional power brick.
- Good battery life as long as the screen isn’t full brightness.
- Was only $150 on sale, plus a $10 case and it is good to go.
- Limited by Android operating system.
- Limited processing power; not as responsive as my phone.
- No matter how hard I try, I just can’t type quickly on a touchscreen. That means bringing along a folding Bluetooth keyboard, which adds ~6 ounces (170 grams).
- Also needs a USB-C to USB adapter to transfer photos quickly and use existing USB accessories. Only a few $ on Amazon, and a few grams.
- Existing Android phone + Bluetooth keyboard:
- The keyboard only adds 170 grams and no extra cables to my travel kit.
- Screen is too small for extended use.
- Otherwise same limitations as the Android tablet.
The Heavyweight Champion
The Microsoft Surface Pro, currently on its 7th iteration, is the king of Windows tablets. You can get one with a real processor, big chunks of memory, and lots of storage. If money were no object I’d buy one of these.
- Weighs 1.74 pounds for the tablet alone, but that jumps up to 2.42 pounds with the keyboard/cover combo. Almost as heavy as a laptop.
- There is also the minor issue of it costing ONE THOUSAND dollars for a nice one. It’ll match your Klim jacket nicely though.
I stumbled across the line of Motile 14″ laptops last November on one of the tech forums. Other nerds were saying good things about them, and the price for the base model was only $239 at the time, so I gave it a shot.
I’m a pessimist at heart, so I had low expectations. This low-buck laptop blew my expectations out of the water. It didn’t just attract my attention: my girlfriend liked it so much that she bought one too. A pink one, of course.
Here are the basic specifications of the Motile M141 Laptop:
- AMD Ryzen 3 Processor
- 14″ 1080p Display
- 4GB Memory
- 128GB Solid State Drive
- Radeon Vega 3 Graphics
- Weight 1152 grams (2.54 pounds)
- 2x USB 3.0
- 1x USB 2.0
- 1x HDMI
- 1x USB Type-C
- 1x Ethernet
- 1x Audio Combo Jack
The price is currently $249, which is a great price for a laptop with these specs. Due to Amazon-style variable pricing algorithms, the price sometimes drops to as low as $199… but it also creeps up to $299 on occasion.
There is also a higher end version of the laptop (M142) with a Ryzen 5 processor, 8gb of ram, and a 256gb SSD. The M142 model varies in price between $299 and $399.
On a rainy Saturday morning I gathered up all the gizmos that I could find and put them to the test. I pitted the Motile laptop vs iPad vs my cell phone (Oneplus 5) vs an older Lenovo 15″ business laptop vs Evoo 10.1″ Windows Tablet.
Contrast and Shadow Detail:
- iPad = A+ Amazing detail and contrast
- Motile = A- Surprisingly good, I didn’t expect this level of performance
- Cell Phone = B+ Disappointing detail, I expected better
- Evoo Tablet = D Not useful for photo editing
- Lenovo Laptop = D- Utter garbage
- Cell Phone = A Slightly over saturated but looks very good overall
- iPad = A Slightly muted colors
- Motile Laptop = B+ Not as bright or rich as the iPad
- Evoo Tablet = C- Washed out appearance
- Lenovo Laptop = D Flat and dull
Something that I didn’t test was screen brightness, but it is a definite weak point of the Motile Laptop. Your cell phone and/or iPad are way better.
Motile M141 Pros
- 1080p resolution screen; unheard of at this price point
- Decent processing power
- Lightweight charging brick
- No issues running Linux on it
Motile M141 Cons
- Screen brightness is only mediocre
- Can’t charge the laptop through the USB-C port
- Silver keyboard is hard to read when backlit
- Battery life is only 5-6 hours
- Charging brick cord is only 6 feet long
- Charging brick plugs directly into the wall, which requires lots of clearance
Motile M141 Unknowns
- Durability is a complete unknown. These have only been on the market for a few months, so there aren’t any “high-mileage” units out there.
There are several reviews out there of this laptop, most of them of the higher spec M142 Ryzen 5 model:
Detailed Specs and Nerd Comments
Detailed Specs (and commentary) of the Motile M141 from slickdeals.com:
Display: 14″ 1080p IPS (240 nits, 62% sRGB)
CPU: Ryzen 3 3200U (Passmark 4610, single thread 1634), Vega 3 integrated graphics
RAM: 4GB DDR4 2666 MHz (non-soldered, only 1 slot)
HD: 128GB SSD M.2 SATA + empty M.2 slot (first slot supports SATA or NVMe, empty slot only supports NVMe)
USB: 2x USB 3, 1x USB 2, 1x USB-C (USB-C does not support charging or video out)
Video out: HDMI (full size, can do 4k @ 60Hz)
Other: Ethernet port, audio combo jack, SD card reader
Wifi: 802.11ac (Intel AC 3168, 1×1)
Backlit keyboard: Yes (though apparently does not look good on silver model)
Camera: 720p front cam with IR
Construction: Magnesium aluminum
Battery: 47 Wh, ~7.5 hr battery life, 65W charger
OS: Windows 10 Home 64 bit (not S)
Weight: 2.55 lbs
Warranty: 1 year limited
-Extremely light weight for size, with competitors (eg LG Gram) being much more expensive
-Compact/narrow bezels – 14″ screen on laptop that is the size of a 13″
-Metal construction (Aluminum magnesium alloy)
-Backlit keyboard, good trackpad
-Ethernet port, full size HDMI with 4k
-Windows 10 Home (don’t need to convert from S mode, has zero bloatware so no need to reformat)
-Front IR camera supporting Windows Hello (login to Windows using facial recognition)
-Very low price for all of above
-1 slot of RAM – so no dual channel, resulting in ~25% graphics performance hit
-Comes with 4GB RAM. While sufficient/fast for most people (despite what forums will have you believe), power users may benefit from 8GB.
-Not from a well known brand (it was put out by a partnership between Walmart and THX)
-Screen could be brighter outdoors (240 nits)
-USB-C does not support charging or video output
-Wifi is 1×1, theoretical max of 433mbps, actual of ~250mbps on 5 GHz
-No 2.5″ slot
Your Moto-Friendly Solutions?
What moto-friendly solutions have you found for your computing needs? Do you need a high power machine to crunch video, a brilliant screen for photo editing, a keyboard for extensive writing, or are you just VPN’ing into work to check emails? Share your experiences below to help out the community.