List of the 14 must-have tech tools and accessories ideal for architects
Architecture is a profession of tools. In the past 20 years, technology has truly transformed the way we create, share, and build.
Apart from having a smartphone and tablet—which tools and accessories are available for architects? Today we are going to cover the top 14.
We thought about what tools could be most helpful for architects. We based this on the technology you probably already have (like a laptop, smartphone, or a tablet), and what will end up saving you the most time.
As always, we try to make our posts easy to read and understand, so we have divided the list into the following sections.
- Smartphone/tablet/laptop accessories
- Device Add-ons
- New and exciting tech for architects
This will help you find the tools that are most useful to you.
For example, many of you will probably have a protection case for your device already. (For those of you who haven’t: don’t be a fool, protect your tool.) However, if you are missing something, jump directly to the section and take a good scan through.
On the other hand, with the cool new tech section, we look at some of the latest and most promising technologies. As they are not entirely mainstream, they can help give you a competitive advantage.
1. Protective case
3. Car charger/spare battery/charging pad
4. Portable keyboard
5. Pro device finder
6. Add-on camera lens and light
7. VR camera viewer
8. Wireless USB drive
9. USB combo hub
New and exciting tech for architects:
10. Portable colour digitizers
11. Digital measuring tool
12. Drawing tablet/drawing monitor
13. Speciality mouse
14. Digital Sketching/Writing smart set
Let’s jump right into the ideal tools and accessories.
Smartphone and tablet: accessories
1. Protection Cases
Why you should get one: Devices are hella expensive, and job sites are dirty, dangerous places for sensitive, little devices.
There are lots of options for keeping your smartphone and tablet protected. From super-slim phone cases that showcase sleek designs to hard, rugged shells that can survive any job site. If you are often on the job site; look for a case which offers serious bump and scratch protection made with high-performing impact materials.
The job site can be a rough place—there’s dust and debris all around, you are out in the elements, and let’s be honest: sh*t happens! You might be climbing a ladder, when you lose your grip for a split second, and your brand new, thousand-dollars smartphone drops to the floor, shattering the screen. While you can get it fixed—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Cracked screens are rarely under warranty, and can set you back a few hundred dollars; so get a good case.
1. Griffin Survivor Case
Rated highly by the US Department of Defense, the Griffin Survivor Case, is both durable and slim and provides protection against extreme weather and impact conditions. Its rotating clip gives you even more protection as it can clip on to your belt or gear.
Price: Varies according to the product the case is required for.
For iPhone X: $48.99
iPad mini 4: $59.99
Galaxy Tab S3: $69.99.
A combination of polycarbonate shell and silicone slipcover, OtterBox is a leading brand for protective cases, for both smartphones and tablets. It provides a multi-layer defence with a solid inner shell. After going through 238 hours of testing, Otterbox has proven its worthiness and its Defender Series Case is the toughest of the tough.
Price: Varies from around $59.95 to $89.95
3. Spigen Rugged Armour
One of the most well-known accessory manufacturers out there, Spigen provides a wide variety of protection cases. Its Neo Hybrid and Rugged Armour series are not only stylish but their carbon fibre elements ensures that you get military-grade protection.
Price: Varies from around $12 to $30
Why you should get one: Writing is easier than typing, and trying to sign a digital document with your finger is kind of ridiculous.
A stylus (digital device pen) is a handy tool to draw, mark up, or sketch on plans or photos. You can also use it to take quick notes and sign documents. While earlier versions used to be clunky and a bit rough to use, modern versions are nearly flawless, allowing you to customize things like tip width and sharpness to suit your needs.
When it comes to drawing and drafting: the question of whether digital or analogue is better continually comes up. However, digital isn’t going anywhere, and adopting new technology can save you time and put you ahead of your competitors. Hand-drawing is far from dead, but using a stylus can link the digital and analogue, combining the best of both worlds. An app like Nebo can easily convert your handwriting to text, which can be useful.
1. Apple Pencil
Stylish, versatile and precise, the Apple Pencil’s ultra-responsiveness offers you fluidity, which is essential for letting your ideas flow. It helps bring your iPad to life as with it you can easily convert your iPad into a canvas or a notepad letting you track ideas and make sketches easily.
2. Wacom Bamboo Sketch
The Bamboo Sketch is a design-centric precision stylus, ideal for sketching and drawing. With its pressure-sensitive fine tip, it will help you draw more intuitively. The soft-touch surface and its triangular design provide comfort for longer drawing sessions. Compatible with most apps, it is an ideal device for architects.
3. Hahakee iPad Stylus
The Hahakee is a state of the art iPad stylus, offering Bluetooth-free connection. No need to wait for syncing or finding the device— all you need to do is switch it on and go. The durable design includes a wear-resisting aluminium body, making this a well-suited stylus for the job site.
Need more options? We’ve got you covered. Read more about the top 6 styli here.
3. Charging on the go: Car charger/spare battery/charging pad
Why you should get one: Running out of battery can be a big time-waster, put your projects at risk, and make you look unprofessional.
You’re on your way to a punch list walk-through with an important client. You get to the job site, when all of a sudden, you realize your device is not charged. You were planning on using it to check floor plans, drawings, and the last report, but now you are scrambling to try and remember the details. You can’t even call someone to bring over the hard copies. You get there and struggle through the walk-through, which ends up making you look unprepared and unprofessional.
So, you have two options—always bring hard copies of everything with you, or make sure your devices are always charged. Make sure that you have back up charging options if your battery drains for whatever reason. This is essential, especially with older models of phones, which can drain their batteries quickly (Yes, that’s right iPhone 5s, I am looking at you.)
Always have a fully charged spare battery charger in your bag, car charger in your vehicle, and charging pad in your home or office, that you can throw your phone on (even if only for a few minutes) when you get in the door.
1. Portable charger | Anker PowerCore Power Bank
A consistent best-seller, the Anker PowerCore offers a mighty punch for its size. It is compact, but it is equipped with PowerIQ and Voltage Boost technology, which helps it charge smartphones lightening-fast.
2. Car charger | Belkin USB-C Car Charger
Ideal for architects using power-draining CAD or map apps, the Belkin car charger keeps batteries full while driving between the job site and office. With a 4-foot USB-C cable, the Belkin car charger is highly rated amongst its customers. Its LED light makes it visible when driving at night.
3. Wireless ChargerThe Mophie Charge Force Powerstation is a wireless charger/charging pad which lets you keep your smartphone charged on the go. It has enough power to keep all of your devices charged, including your MacBook. The charger itself can be charged using a special Micro USB. Once charged, it can deliver 5x more battery for your mobile devices.
4. Portable keyboard
Why you should get one: Typing out long pieces of text with your thumbs is tricky, a big keyboard will instantly make this easier.
When it comes to writing lengthy emails, editing documents, creating reports, or filling in long proposals and applications, often, we feel restricted to our desktop or laptop. Typing for long periods on a smartphone or tablet is too time-consuming, inefficient, and error-prone (we love to hate autocorrect.) Instead of waiting until you get home or to the office, increase your productivity and mobility by simply picking up a Bluetooth keyboard.
Lots of our ArchiSnapper users are using their phone or tablet for the walkthroughs, and use a keyboard that’s compatible with their tablet for writing out the notes of the field report or punch list.
There are many different types of smartphone/tablet-compatible keyboards, from extremely slim fold-up models to gaming designs which are ideal for working on AutoCAD.
If you need to write out a lot of text on site (for example, taking minute reports at meetings), you can easily set up your keyboard in your car or on a makeshift workstation onsite. This is also ideal for keeping all your work on one main device instead of switching between your phone, tablet, desktop, and laptop when it isn’t 100% necessary.
1. Logitech K380 Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard
Logitech has been a market leader when it comes to mouses and keyboards. This compact and lightweight portable keyboard makes typing long emails or reports painless. Type comfortably regardless of which device you are using, including tablets and smartphones.
2. Apple Smart Keyboard
Simply drop your iPad into the Apple Smart Keyboard dock and start typing. No Bluetooth needed, it connects automatically. This fully portable full-size keyboard connects with your iPad using the Smart connector, then acts as a protection case when not in use.
5. Pro device finder
Why you should get one: Endlessly searching for your device is a waste of time, and losing it entirely can be an expensive mistake.
We’ve all been there. You put your phone down, walked away, did something else, then completely forgot where you left it. I have found my phone in my sock drawer, between the sheets on my bed, in the office bathroom, and underneath the car seat. Each time I lose it, it is at least 5 minutes of frantic panic, wondering if it’s been stolen or if I have left it at Starbucks. Not only is it stressful, but it is a colossal waste of time.
There are a thousand places your device can be hiding—and if you lose it frequently (even for 5 minutes) then consider getting a device finder.
They are small, plastic, tracking gadgets, designed to help you find the lost device by acting as a Bluetooth beacon. Press the button, and it will ring your device, and you can follow the ring until you find it. More advanced models can connect to a worldwide network of users which will passively scan for your lost item, and its GPS tracking can precisely pinpoint the last place you left your device.
1. Tile Pro Phone Finder
Ring your device from 300ft away, or use the app on a separate device to find missing smartphones, tablets, even keys. Even if your phone is on silent, you can double press the button on the Tile Pro, and it will still ring. By activating the Community Find option, other users with a Tile Pro can help you by sending location updates to your app.
2. Cube Pro Key Finder The Cube Pro is a great device finder as not only does it have twice the volume (101 dB) but it also has a range of up to 200ft. Even if your app is not working, it will still help you locate your phone. And it also shows the last known location on a map.
6. Add-on Camera Lens and lights to improve your lighting
How it can help: Taking clearer photos on the job site can help you communicate more effectively.
The job site is not the easiest place to take photos. Often it can be dark and the objects far away, meaning that photos don’t always come out well. Poor photos mean poor communication. If it is too dark or does not have a clear enough focus, the team won’t be able to clearly see the issue you are trying to point out.
This is where an add-on camera lens and a portable lighting device can help. A dark room can be illuminated with a portable light so that the issues can be clearly displayed. An add-on camera lens can help you capture crystal clear close-ups, and a telephoto lens can allow zoom up to 20x without losing quality.
You can get a high-quality add-on camera for under $100, check out some of the best accessories on the market. While you can find add-on lenses for $20 that can help you improve the quality of your photos, but not at a pro-level.
1. Olloclip Super-Wide Essential Lens
Olliclip is a leading market leader in the camera lenses industry, the clip compatible with almost all smartphones. The Super-Wide Essential Lens doubles your field of view so you can get more in the frame, ideal for large architecture shots.
2. Moment Wide 18mm-Lens
An award-winning, high-quality lens. The lens attaches to a smartphone case, meaning that it stays securely fixed. The wide 18mm-lens captures high-quality photos that are crisp and straight, with no fisheye distortion.
7. VR Camera Viewer
How it can help: Show your clients exactly what the end project will look like on-site before building even begins.
Virtual reality is undoubtedly a buzzword when it comes to new technology. The most innovative architects are adopting it as a tool to show clients (and potential clients) exactly what is possible in a space.
They use it to showcase and explain their projects effortlessly—no need for long verbal descriptions or mocked-up images. Just have your client put on the VR headset and show them what it will look like. There may come a time in the not-so-distant future when a VR headset becomes a standard piece of office equipment for architects.
To be upfront: there is a learning curve to figuring out the software and hardware. Digital models need to be converted into a 3D format applicable to a virtual reality display platform. This being said, there are levels. On the one hand, you can produce very refined images that will require a lot of processing power and memory to support the graphics, as well as a high-quality VR headset to create the experience.
On the other hand, you can create fairly basic graphics that will give the client a good idea of what is going to happen with the space, while keeping it low-key with a reasonably simple VR headset. It depends on what you need and what is feasible in terms of cost and time investment for your business.
1. Oculus Quest Headset
This is an all-in-one VR device, compatible with your smartphone through the Oculus mobile app. It has built-in sensors and gives room-scale tracking.
2. Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream
One of the best standalone VR sets. Its robust processing power and relatively long battery life make this headset perfect for being able to showcase crytal clear 3D building simulations to multiple times, on one charge.
3. Oculus Go Standalone Virtual Reality Headset
Oculus is a leader in VR headsets and this one has crystal-clear 3D graphics and optics and is compatible with most devices. Oculus Go an affordable, portable, easy-to-use VR headset. Go is great for a wide variety of architecture/engineering/construction projects.
8. Wireless USB drive
How it can help: Makes transferring multiple files at once, between multiple mobile devices, easily.
We all know how a USB drive works and can see their value. However, newer versions can be real game-changers when it comes to how we share information device to device.
With wireless versions, you can transfer large documents, like building plans, from your mobile to a contractors tablet in seconds. Or photo albums from your smartphone to your laptop without having to sacrifice the quality of the photos to make transferring easier, all without the need to have the right connecting cables.
They can also be used as a wireless external storage device—many with storage spaces so large it could take years to fill up. You won’t have to worry about deleting photos to make room for new ones; this can be a massive help on big projects.
1. Toshiba Canvio AeroMobile
Huge storage space coupled with the ability the connect with up to 8 devices. Its 8-hr battery life is offers hundreds of photo transfers per charge. The Internet Pass Thru mode offers access to the web and data on Canvio AeroMobile, perfect for setting up multiple hotspots on the go.
Price: Varies from $12.99 to $82.99
2. SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive
Slips easily into your pocket while you transfer multiple photos and files to or from your smartphone, tablet or laptop. The powerful transfer strength works quickly from around the room, and delivers up to 256GB of extra capacity,
Price: Varies from $12.99 to $82.99
3. Seagate Wireless Plus
When it comes to wireless storage spaces—the Seagate Wireless Plus offer a huge amount of space. Perfect if you have a iPad or smartphone with limited storage, the 1TB of storage space is enough space to store hundreds of high-quality phoos and large files, with the ability to connect to eight mobile devices. It can relay Wi-Fi Internet access and works well as a fast portable drive or as a robust mobile media server.
9. USB combo hubs
How it can help: Being restricted by a single port can be a waste of time, hook up multiple devices simultaneously to be more efficient.
MacBooks, and most smartphones and tablets now only have one port. Meaning your headphones, charger, USB stick, and camera add on have to take turns sharing that one port. For example, for most smartphones, you can’t charge your phone while using your headphones to take a call? This is not ideal.
A USB combo hub can help. It will allow you to plug in multiple devices into your laptop, smartphone, or tablet, so you can maximize your efficiency.
1. Laptop | Satechi 3-in-1 Combo Hub
With an aluminium finish, this tiny device converts one USB into 3 USB ports and also has an SD card slot as well as a micro SD slot, meaning you can attach multiple devices to your laptop at one time.
2. Smartphone | Samsung DeX Pad
2 USB-A 2.0, an HDMI output and a USB-C charging port: this multi-use device can also turn your smartphone into a touchpad for your desktop computer.
3. Tablet | HyperDrive 6-in-1 USB-C Hub
The HyperDrive USB hub is a compact, crowd-funded device which turns a single USB-C connection into 6 ports, 3.5mm Audio Jack, USB-A, SD, Micro SD, USB-C, HDMI. Level up your iPad into a multi-tool device in seconds.
New and exciting tech for architects
10. Portable colour digitizer
Why this is exciting: Capture inspiration (read: colours) everywhere you go and use them in your designs.
A portable colour digitizer that fits in your pocket? Amazing. This little gadget allows you to capture any colour, on any surface, including fabrics and plants, with a single tap. Then you match that colour up with its exact Pantone colour, RGB, CMYK, LAB, HEX, or LRV.
This can help you take inspiration from the world around you and incorporate it directly into your designs. Or imagine this situation: a client wants to have the same bricks on her new house that she had in her childhood home. You can simply grab the colour using the digitizer during a visit, then find the closest match available.
It is an incredible and impressive tool.
1. Palette Cube
A small portable ‘cube’ that can easily fit in your hand and can capture any colour from any type of surface. Once captured, you can match the colour with various colour palettes. Also compatible with Adobe photoshop.
2. Pantone CAPSURE
Use CAPSURE to quickly and accurately match colors from any surface, material, or fabric back to a Pantone Color, then share it wirelessly using Bluetooth.
3. Nix Pro Color Sensor
The Nix Pro Color Sensor is a professional colour matching tool which can identify colours from any surface and then can instantly match paint or digital colour values.
Manufacturer: Nix Sensor
11. Digital measuring tool
Why this is exciting: You will get more accurate measurements, faster and easier.
Digital measurement tools have been around since the 1990s, and like most technologies, they have gotten substantially better and cheaper over the years. Thank god—they can make your work so much easier!
The two main benefits of using digital measuring tools is that they will save you a lot of time, and you will get more accurate measurements.
Say you need to measure the exact height of a two-story building—point and shoot a laser distance meter and grab an accurate measurement in seconds. Instead of carrying around a variety of measuring tools—have one multipurpose digital tool to take care of the majority of your needs.
Instead of requiring someone to hold the other end of your tape measure, you can do the work solo, which is more efficient. Secondly, while this can depend on the tool you opt for, digital measuring tools can be more accurate than their analogue counterparts. For example, the Leica laser measure has an ISO certified measuring engine that ensures 1/16 inch accuracy and a whopping 330 feet measuring range.
1. Leica DISTO D2
Leica geosystems has been a market leader in the measuring tools industry. The Leica Disto D2 is a new and improved measuring tool ideal for making quick and reliable measurements up to 100m. Document the results directly to your smartphone with the Bluetooth Smart interface.
Price: $ 199.99
2. The DEWALT DW03050
With a 165 feet laser distance measuring ability, the DEWALT DW03050, allows you to calculate the volume and area with easy automatic calculations. It is also water and debris resistant.
3. Spike Laser Measuring Device
This laser device works together with your Spike mobile application, your smartphone/tablet, and your mobile cloud to bring you accurate and precise measurements. Attach Spike to the back of your device, sync the Bluetooth, and shoot a photo of the object you want to measure. Determine the length, width, and height by stretching grid lines over the photo, to get accurate measurements directly on your device.
4. Bosch GLM 50
This is a top-reviewed option for taking large, accurate measurements, quickly. Its laser measuring technology gives you precise measurements of upto 165ft, and it has a .5 second measuring time. Sync measurements to your device with the Bosch MeasureOn app.
12. Drawing tablet/monitor
Why this is exciting: Saving time on editing, scanning, and rendering sketches by creating them digitally will make you more efficient.
Scrap the paper. Honestly—while you might enjoy the old school feeling of paper and pencils, the process of going from a finished sketch to getting a digital version is so time-consuming that it just doesn’t make sense any more.
Old process: Sketch the design on a piece of paper. Scan the sketch and upload it to your desktop. Turn it into an image file. Trace the image and turn it into a vector image. Make alterations on screen. Now it is ready to use.
New process: Draw on the screen. Now it is ready to use.
It is similar to when digital photography came on the scene. Some photographers didn’t want to switch to digital, saying they like the process. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a professional photographer who isn’t using a digital camera these days because the new technology is better, faster, and easier.
For many years, drawing tablets and monitor were a relatively niche product mainly used by a small group of digital illustrators. This is changing quickly—many new models have been specifically created with architects in mind, and they can be a transformative tool for creating your designs.
1. XP-PEN Artist Display 15.6 Pro
With a cutting edge design, the XP-PEN artist is highly rated by designers from all fields, including archiects. It allows you to draw, paint, sketch with high-quality precision, and the 15in drawing surface offers more freedom of space to create. It is compatible with most applications and operating systems.
2. Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Small Tablet
A huge table might not be the best option if you are working with limited space or need something that you can throw into your laptop bag and take on the go. Let’s introduce you to the small tablet—compact and reliable, this is a top choice for designers and architects on the go.
3. Huion KAMVAS Pro 20 GT
What sets this device apart is its screen: its a massive creating space. The screen is made with an anti-glare material, which means you can easily use it for hours on end. The battery-free stylus provides a natural and precise drawing experience.
13. CAD Wireless Mouse
Why this is exciting: A well-designed mouse appropriate for creating CAD designs will improve your speed and comfort.
As an architect, you rely on a variety of tools to make the design process as easy and efficient as possible. You are most likely using digital illustration software, like AutoCAD, Solidworks, Revit, or Blender. Aside from a well-functioning computer, a good mouse can make a world of difference—especially after working in the office for a full day.
Working for 8 hours daily, for 40 hours a week, with your hand in the same position can be an invitation for issues like carpal tunnel. A well-designed mouse can keep your hand safe from repetitive stress, while being more comfortable to use. They will also significantly improve the experience and the speed of your workflow.
Most architects find it nearly impossible to work on AutoCAD with precision without an advanced mouse designed specifically for CAD applications. A 3D enabled mouse is an essential hardware requirement for 3D designers.
1. 3Dconnexion CadMouse Wireless
With a rechargeable battery and an energy-saving optical sensor, this wireless mouse is an ergonomic-designed, environmentally-friendly electronic device. Specialized for AutoCAD users—zoom in and out easily and program the 2 keys for to short cut to your most often-used keys.
2. Logitech MX Master 2S
Logitech’s MX Master is a great mouse for CAD users, it’s ergonomic design has been built for continual hours of break-free use. Its seven dedicated buttons include super-fast scolling, horizontal scrolling, auto-shift scrolling, and Flow Control. Plus you can connect it up to three computers at once, which can come in handy if you are using double screens.
3. Razer Naga Trinity: True 16,000 5G Optical Sensor
While originally designed for games, this Razer mouse is next-level when it comes to comfort and usability. Its ergonomic design along with its 3 interchangeable side plates for thumb buttons, makes it a great mouse for CAD users. The mouse also has five programmable keys which will help you work more efficiently.
Price: From $73.51
14. Digital sketching and writing note pads
Why this is exciting: Save time transferring notes and sketches between your notebook and device, while still having the benefit of being able to handwrite text and draw images.
A lot like drawing tablet or monitor, a smart notebook can replace a paper one. They can digitize your notes and sketches and instantly upload them, word by word, stroke by stroke, on to your device or the cloud. These notebooks are the way of the future. With digitizing handwriting improving all the time, you can take your text and turn it instantly into text that can be added to a report or email.
Once again, it is faster, easier, and will save you time from typing out your notes or scanning, uploading, and vectorizing images you make in your notebook.
1. Moleskine Smart Notebook
This is a next-level moleskin. Moleskine has long been a market leader for notebooks, and their innovation Smart Notebook is beautiful to use, especially for those who still prefer analogue, but need to switch to digital. When used with the app, you can instantly sync all your ideas, drawings, and notes from your ‘notebook’ to your smartphone or tablet.
2. reMarkable paper tablet
reMarkable gives you a “real paper feel”, which is what sets this smart notebook apart. It is perfect for taking quick, handwritten notes during meetings or site-visits. The built-in handwriting recognition works effectively, making this a great note-taking option for busy architects who miss paper.
3. Rocketbook Everlast Fusion
A trendy notebook which has 7 different page templates which allows you to customize your needs as you please. You can wipe-erase all your notes easily after sycning with your cloud.
Wrapping it up
The right tools can make you more efficient, while giving you the cutting edge over your competitors.
Not every tool is going to work for every architect—but it is good to know what is available to you. Think about the processes that take you the most time, and look at investing in the tools that will save you the most time and costs. Some of the tools should be a given (like a protection case for your smartphone) but evaluate which will make the greatest impact on your efficiency, before you sink hundreds of dollars into a tool you will never use.
Were there any tools you use on a daily basis that you think should be on this list? We’d love to hear from you. Drop a comment on this post.
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