Business travel in the 21st Century is a whole new ball-game. With the advent of laptops, netbooks and even smaller form factor connected devices like tablets and smartphones, the task of taking your office on the road with you is getting easier, but there's still a compromise between the gear you need to maintain full productivity and the reality of wrestling your way through airport check-in queues. So what are the options? In the first of a three part series that will look at the best of what's new for the mobile technophile, here's our pick of essential accessories tailored to the needs of the mobile business traveler.
Charge upWhile advances in battery technology and netbooks running on low voltage processors have helped extend the running time of mobile devices, there’s still nothing more stressful for a mobile computer user than running low on power. That’s why the first accessory in any road warrior’s arsenal should be a charger to ensure your batteries are fully charged and the electrons are kept flowing when needed.
If you’re carrying just one device then the power adapter that came with the device will do the job, but if you’re packing a few mobile devices then their respective power adapters can quickly add some unwanted bulk. The mCube slim universal adapter from Innergie can help save some space with its ability to charge a wide range of devices through the use of interchangeable tips and a slide switch to alter the output between 15-17 and 18-21 volts. The mCube slim’s form factor is also portable-friendly, is approved for in-flight use and can charge two devices at once. Price: US$99.99.
While many new cars these days come with USB ports to keep mobile devices powered up while on the road, it’s probably not a bad idea to pack a USB adapter that plugs into a car’s cigarette lighter like the iLuv dual USB or Thanko DC 12-24V socket adapter. They’re small and cheap and for peace of mind they’re definitely a worthy addition if you regularly drive hire cars. Price: US$8 to $14.99.
If you’re the sort that takes multiple USB devices on the road – and let’s face it, who isn’t? – then the Kensington 4-port USB Charger can cut down on the number of chargers crowding up your luggage. If you’re also carting around a laptop or netbook – and once again, who isn’t – then the Lenovo Power Hub will let you save even more space. This handy unit combines a laptop AC power adapter with a 4-port powered USB hub for your peripherals and additional mobile devices. It works with 90W and 65W Lenovo ThinkPad laptops. Price: US$74.99.
See and be seenPerhaps the biggest trade-off when you are trying to shed weight from your travel kit is screen real estate. The weight difference between a 10-inch netbook and a 17-inch desktop replacement laptop is substantial, but when it comes to delivering a presentation, or sitting in a hotel room with a stack of programs open, these weight savings can really bite back.
An add-on USB monitor is a handy piece of kit to have tucked in your suitcase for such situations and the Mimo 710-S “Mobile Slider” fits the bill particularly well with its travel ready clamshell design. The 7-inch, 800 x 480 display has a 400:1 contrast ratio, built-in video card and flips between portrait and landscape mode. When in transit, the base becomes a screen protector and there's also a carrying case. Price: US$200.
On the other side of the equation, when you want to share your screen with others a pico projector is the answer. The latest to cross our desk is the SHOWWX+, a unit which projects 16:9 widescreen images at up to 848 x 480 pixel resolution (WVGA) with a contrast ratio of 5,000:1 and brightness of 15 lumens. It can be adapted for use with smartphones, tablets or portable computers and only adds 122g (4.3 oz) to your travel burden. Price: US$449.
Another offering worth considering is Aiptek's recent update to its V10 pico projector, the V20. Here you get 15 Lumens, 640 x 480 pixel (VGA) resolution in a 4:3 aspect ratio and a projected image size of 5" - 65" (15cm - 165cm). Price: US$350.
More input pleaseWhile some netbooks boast relatively comfortable keyboards and touchpads, if you are sitting down for a long stint in a hotel room or trying to make the most of your screen-only device like an iPad, or even a smartphone, something a little more spacious in the input department can be a blessing.
For those who don't like using touchpads, a travel mouse will help keep the cursor in motion. While some of us at Gizmag are sold on the Apple Magic Mouse for both office and travel use, there are some recent releases in the travel mouse department that might shave a little more volume off your kit while still letting you remain productive.
Two notable examples are SmartFish Technologies' new Whirl Mini Notebook Laser Mouse (Price: US$49.95) – a design developed with the assistance of New York’s Orthopedic Hospital that pivots to provide extra comfort for your hand and wrist – and the Eclipse Mobile Mouse – a sleek little follow-up unit to the Eclipse Touch Mouse, which features a 4-way, 360 degree scroll ball, a 1600dpi laser and an adjustable back leg so you can set your preferred glide height. Price: US$59.99.
If you are happy with touchpad input, but just don't like where it's positioned on your laptop or netbook, there is another option. The Adesso Browser Cat USB Touchpad. takes a traditional laptop touchpad configuration and puts it in a portable plug and play USB peripheral. Price: US$40.
If you're really traveling light, then the Jorno Bluetooth keyboard could be the answer. The Journo is a folding full QWERTY keyboard boasting a full complement of function keys that folds down from its full size of 8.5 x 3.5 x 0.3 inches (21.59 x 8.89 x 0.76 cm) to a pocket-friendly 3.5 x 3.5 x 0.9 inch (8.89 x 8.89 x 2.28cm) package weighing 8.8 ounces (250g). The clever design also creates a stand for your iPhone. Price: US$99 (available 2011).
Another option is Thanko's folding USB keyboard, which isn't quite as compact when folded at 3.6 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches (9.1 x 12.9 x 2 cm) and weighs about the same at just over 8 ounces (227g).
If you're not satisfied with anything less than a full-size wireless keyboard complete with numerical keypad, then Logitech's latest solar powered offering could be worth investigating. Of course you'll need a bigger suitcase... and a business trip to the Bahamas wouldn't go astray either. Price: US$79.99.
Finally, while on keypads, Mac fans might be interested in LMP's add-on Bluetooth keypad for Apple’s Wireless Keyboard. Unfortunately we'll have to wait until next year for pricing and availability details though.
To USB, or not to USBThere's not really a choice of course, but with all of these peripherals and storage solutions you can soon overwhelm the available USB ports on your portable computer of choice. We particularly like this USB expansion solution from Belkin (Price: US$49.95), which includes a 3-port base for the office and a detachable 4-port travel hub. If you are planning to escape with a wheelbarrow full of peripherals you can get carried away with the likes of this 12-port hub from Sanwa. Price: 4,480 yen (approx. US$53).
USB 3.0 is beginning to make an appearance in small form factor notebooks, but if you have a PCIe Add-In Card and ExpressCard adapter on your existing machine you can still get access to increased transfer speeds. Belkin (US$80), Startech (US$50) and TRENDnet (from US$50) are some of the company's offering this solution with dual USB 3.0 port adapters.
Store itWhile cloud computing (a BIG topic for another time) offers storage and processing solutions for those traveling light, factors like available bandwidth and the size of the files you are working with (i.e. video) means that sometimes more conventional storage solutions are a must.
Small also means easily lost of course, so our weapon of choice in this regard has become the Samsung S series portable drive. Still diminutive, but packing up to 1 TB (US$119) and soon to become USB 3.0 compatible, there's no need to carry around a handful of drives. Another slightly larger product that's also won fans at Gizmag due to its rugged casing is the LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 (US$170 for 1 TB).
If data protection is a priority, there's also some interesting takes on security out there with products like the LOK-IT USB drive (US$154.50 for 16 GB) and the Aegis Padlock (US$199 for 750 GB) offering a physical keypad so that data can be PIN protected.
Get comfortableIt's one piece of kit that often gets left behind, but a stand for your notebook can be invaluable when you find yourself on a long stint away from the office. The Cricket portable laptop stand gets a nod for sheer simplicity of design and compact folding form factor ( US$50). Logitech has just released a netbook version of its more high-tech offering – the Lapdesk N550 – designed for when you want to kick back and actually use the computer on your lap. While it might be harder to shut the zip on your bag if you throw this 1.1 kg (390 ounces) unit in, you'll get the benefit of a cooler machine and extra speakers. Price: US$59.
Bag 'em upOnce you’ve got all the various pieces of your mobile arsenal sorted you’ll obviously need something to carry them in. When shopping around it’s a good idea to take the devices you’ll be carrying with you to ensure a snug fit with plenty of protection in all the right places.
Through the integration of thin-film solar cells there are also bags that can capture energy from the sun to charge up your mobile devices. While they aren’t yet powerful enough to charge up a laptop, solar bags, like those from Eclipse Solar Gear, are an environmentally friendly way to keep handheld electronic devices such as a smartphone or iPod powered up – if you are lucky enough to be out of doors. Price: US$99.95 – $199.95.
Some of our other favorites are the ShapeShifter bag from ThinkTANK which is specifically designed to expand to fit in some extra camera gear, PacSafe’s range of laptop bags which are built to thwart the thieves and protect your gear with slashproof eXomesh panels and lockable tamperproof zippers, and Targus’ Checkpoint-Friendly Air Traveler Laptop Case which is designed to let you clear airport security without having to remove the laptop from its case. Prices: US$249, $100 and $100 respectively.
This is a sample of the best gear for the mobile traveler we've seen and used, but we'd love to hear your thoughts on what works for you when you're on the road. Hit the comments section below to tell us more ... and stay tuned for our next installment which will look at the latest mobile gear for the weekend adventurer.