What Are Portable Devices?

What distinguishes a portable device from a mobile device?

portable devices in cafe by cup of coffee

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Computers have gotten smaller, thinner, and more lightweight with every generation. The same goes for mobile devices like your smartphone. You can carry in your pocket, use it as an advanced portable game system, or connect it to an even small wearable gadget like a smartwatch or fitness tracker. All of these are portable devices, but they may not necessarily be mobile devices

Mobile device is a general term for any handheld computer or smartphone. The term is often used interchangeably with handheld, handheld device, or handheld computer.

Portable Devices

There's no standard definition for "portable device," although the term has been in use longer than "mobile device." As the name implies, a portable device simply means something that is small and lightweight enough to move around and carry with relative ease. Even the first laptop computer, the Osborn 1, which weighed a whopping 24 pounds, was considered a portable computer. 

Portable is a broad term that encompasses everything from a printer that can be carried around to a smartphone you carry in your pocket. The term occurred much more frequently before laptops and smartphones became popular, perhaps because there used to be a clearer distinction between devices that could be easily moved and those that could not.

Portable vs. Mobile

These days, most gadgets, including phones, tablets, and laptops, are more often considered mobile devices. The distinction is a fine but important one. Rather than focus on an item's portability and ability to be carried, the mobile device term describes how it helps users. These devices are small and capable enough to allow its users to be mobile.

The term mobile device also connotes wireless connectivity. If a mobile device doesn't have internet access, we probably wouldn't consider it a very capable tool for mobile productivity.

In fact, connectivity has become the main distinction between portable and mobile devices. An external hard drive or external battery pack, for example, might be considered a portable device, while a small wireless hotspot could be considered a mobile device.

The Future of Portability

There are currently many portable devices, from media players and game consoles to wearable computers and smartphones. As time goes on, distinguishing between portable and mobile devices may become a non-issue. Increasingly, most gadgets—portable or not—are getting wireless or connectivity features. 

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