The Wiki Man

The £39.99 gadget that will transform how you work at home

6 June 2020

9:00 AM

6 June 2020

9:00 AM

Hours of googling have left me unable to find the essay on domestic horticulture, written by a Victorian aristocrat, which contains the legendary sentence: ‘Any garden, of whatever size, should contain at least three acres of mature woodland.’ And though that seems a high bar to set, in times like this, millions of Brits have suddenly discovered that nothing beats a bit of outdoor space. Indeed, unless you are Dennis Nilsen, there’s never been a worse time to buy a top-floor flat.

So to help remote workers restock your vitamin D, here’s some gadgetry which can get you out of the spare bedroom and into the sunshine.

People born after 1985 can ignore this paragraph, since you can probably reach out and touch your wifi router from everywhere in your home. But those of you who, though possessed of no distinguishing talent, happened to be on the property ladder before 1983 may find it irritating that your wifi signal barely reaches as far as the stables or the ha-ha. In your case you need some form of wifi extender. Ideally this might mean a mesh network of some kind. However, as this is no time to make significant changes to your broadband set-up and risk complete disaster, a less ambitious way to extend your signal is via a simple range extender (aka a wifi repeater). Netgear, TP-Link and others make these at prices from £40 to £120. They aren’t great, to be honest, but if you dangle them out of a window on an extension cable, a tolerable signal should reach the croquet lawn.

The next item you need is not electronic at all. It took me two years to find the glorious 884/3472 at Argos, since when I have bought two, as well as giving several to friends. The 884/3472, for the neurotypicals among you who haven’t yet memorised the Argos catalogue, is the ‘Trespass Folding Chair with Swivel Side Table (£39.99)’. This is the only portable chair I have ever found with a table that can sturdily support a laptop in a position conducive to typing. I keep one in the garage and another in the boot of my car in case I have to drive 260 miles at short notice, which is a bit of an occupational hazard round these parts.

Lastly, once seated in your 884/3472, you’ll need to be able to make outdoor videocalls. The first step is to set up a pile of laundry behind you, in which sits a bluetooth speaker playing the sound of crying children and barking dogs. Never, ever reveal that self-isolation is enjoyable. For the same reason, always place your humidor out of range of your webcam.

In the garden, I don’t use my laptop for videocalls — since I might want to type notes mid call. Instead I bought a tabletop tripod and a Ulanzi tablet holder, and use that as a second screen for the call. You can do the same in miniature with a mobile phone.

While their cameras are excellent, phone and tablet microphones pick up too many extraneous noises (rustling leaves, birdsong, the pool filter) thereby ruining the illusion of suffering. The answer is the RØDE VideoMic Me directional microphone (around £50), which plugs straight into a phone or tablet, and which has a headphone jack in the back. Best of all, this comes free with a ‘dead-cat spoffle’, a furry thing which covers the microphone and removes wind noise.

Just one warning — make sure you buy the right version. There is an Android version, which plugs into the microphone jack, and an Apple version which plugs into whatever strange connector the Cupertino Kremlin is making you use this week. Enjoy.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy UK.

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