From the very beginning, laptop manufacturers have included special function keys on their keyboards, so that their customers could have quick and easy access to common tasks. However, each manufacturer’s idea of what would be useful was unique, so there was no consistency from brand to brand. Beginning with Windows Vista, Microsoft has built the Windows Mobility Center right into the operating system, so all portable-computer users can have fast access to the most useful settings. In this tutorial, we’ll take a look at the many ways Windows Mobility Center can make life with a laptop much simpler, when using Windows 7.
NOTE: You won’t find the Windows Mobility Center unless you have a portable computer of some kind. Windows Mobility Center is included in the Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions of Windows 7. The Home Premium edition does not include the presentation settings though.
Getting Started with Windows Mobility Center
There are several ways to pull up the Windows Mobility Center. You could type "mobility" into the Start Menu search box, or you could go through the Control Panel, click Mobile Computing, and then click Mobility Center.
But the fastest and easiest way is to press the Windows key and X (Win+X).
Here is a generic view of the Windows Mobility Center screen, provided by Microsoft. Yours may look slightly different, because each manufacturer (again!) has a unique approach and may have included more or fewer choices.
The boxes from which you select applications are called "tiles." If some tiles aren’t visible, it might be because you don’t have the necessary equipment attached, or you don’t have a specific feature enabled on your computer. For example, here is what it looks like on my Toshiba netbook without a projector plugged in. (And with a photo of Stonehenge in winter as my wallpaper, in case you’re curious.)
If you have a Tablet PC, then you will most probably see an additional tile, called Screen Orientation, which allows for switching between landscape and portrait mode. Because I’m using a netbook, it doesn’t show up and I won’t be able to demonstrate how to use it in this tutorial.
Point, slide, and set
The power of Windows Mobility Center lies in its simple interface. Instead of multiple key-presses on proprietary keys, or navigating through the Start Menu, you can use familiar sliders and drop-down menus. Since most of the extra functions on laptop keys are printed in colors that don’t stand out, using the Windows Mobility Center saves a lot of squinting for people like me, whose eyesight isn’t what it once was.
The Display brightness and Volume sliders are self explanatory, and you’ve probably used them outside the Windows Mobility Center before. Just left-click, slide to the level you want, and release the mouse button.
Reducing your screen brightness is one of several quick and easy ways to make your battery last longer. Although the battery power plans (which I’ll discuss next) will automatically lower the brightness of your screen, you can choose your own setting by moving the slider to a level that suits your preferences.
The Battery Status tile immediately lets you see how much charge is remaining, and lets you choose one of Windows 7’s built-in battery power plans. Microsoft’s terminology gives you a choice of Power saver, High performance, and Balanced. The first two are self explanatory—they allocate resources to maximize battery life, or to maximize performance. The Balanced power plan, which is the Windows 7 default, lets Windows 7 work automatically to balance power savings and performance. It’s worth experimenting with all three settings to see which best suits your style. In the screenshot from my netbook you can see that Toshiba has renamed the Power saver plan to "eco" for reasons of their own. Your laptop’s manufacturer may have done something similar.
You also can turn your wireless connection on and off with just one click. Turning the wireless network off can be part of your data-security plan—if you are in a public space and concerned about others gaining access, for example. Turning off the wireless connection can also be used to reduce distractions when you really need to get work done. No connection, no Internet, no reason to just click this one more link before getting back to work. (Yes, I do this on a regular basis.)
Connecting other displays, with ease
As I mentioned before, you may not see the tile that lets you change your display’s Screen orientation, unless you have a Tablet PC. The tile that sets up the connection for an external display, however, should appear in most versions.
Once the connection is safely in place, you can start the computer and then open Windows Mobility Center. When you click Connect display on the External display tile, you will see the following window.
You may have found this window through the Control Panel; you can also pull it up by pressing the Windowskey and P (Win+P). As you can see, it’s designed to be used for presentations, which I’ll talk about in the next section, but it configures an external monitor as well. Choosing Computer only keeps the external display turned off, and it’s the default setting, so don’t panic if your external monitor appears not to be working. Just click on any of the other choices. Duplicate means that what’s on your laptop screen will appear on the monitor. Extend means that you are using the external monitor as an extension of your laptop screen, and Projector only turns the laptop’s display off.
Once you have set up the external display, you may still have to make some adjustments in screen resolution. This is not built in to Windows Mobility Center. The easiest way to do it is to right-click anywhere on your desktop, then click Screen Resolution. You can then adjust the display to work best with your monitor. Don’t worry if you get it wrong the first time; Windows 7 has a built-in 15 second timer that will take you right back to the original setting if the one you chose does not work.
The Sync Center tile will take you, as you might have guessed, to Windows Sync Center.
Unfortunately, talking about Sync Center is a huge topic on its own. Therefore we won’t cover it in this tutorial. In case you need some info & help about it, Microsoft provides a helpful FAQ page here: Sync Center: frequently asked questions.
Making Presentations from Your Laptop
In some earlier versions of Windows, getting set up for a presentation was a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process. Windows Mobility Center makes everything incredibly simple.
Note: The presentation tile only appears in Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions.
When you click Turn on, on the presentation tile, for the first time, Windows 7 pops up a window that asks you if you are doing a presentation. When you check the box that says "I am currently giving a presentation", Windows 7 immediately disables any power-saving settings that would turn off your display, and all system notifications will be silenced. You can also choose to turn off your screen saver, adjust the speaker volume, and change your desktop background to one that won’t distract from your presentation. After the first time, Windows Mobility Center turns that button into an on/off toggle.
If you’d like to change those settings at a later date, type "presentation" into the Start Menu search box, and choose "Adjust settings before doing a presentation."
After you have adjusted those settings to your liking, click the Connect display button on the External display tile, and you can then follow the directions in the previous section. Again, you may have to adjust your screen resolution to work better with the projector.
TIP: Experienced presenters use the Extend setting, so that they can have the slides appear on the projector, and the speaker’s notes appear on the laptop. There is nothing more sleep inducing than a presentation where someone just stands there and reads every slide on the screen!
One, two, three, go!
Windows Mobility Center is one of the most useful applications that comes with Windows 7. If you have a portable computer, being able to control so many essential settings by just pressing Windows+X is a big step up from trying to remember which proprietary keys to use. Preparing for a presentation is now just a matter of a few clicks. If you have a portable computer and haven’t used Windows Mobility Center yet, do yourself a big favor and check it out today.