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Travelling with gadgets

05/08/07 | by Adam | Categories: Technology

Periodically I'm sent on business trips to miscellaneous locales, some far flung, some a little more domestic. As such I'm frequently looking for ways of meeting my gadget-mania. This is what's I've chosen at the moment:

  • Apple MacBook (Core 2 Duo 1.83 GHz version): It's a little older now but to my mind is stil the nicest laptop in its form factor. Good screen, plenty of horsepower, built-in WiFi, OSX and XP support, reasonable weight, decent keyboard, good battery life, and a compact universal power supply. It fits very well into my satchel so I don't need a bulky laptop case. I dislike the extra weight and bulk of DVDs or audio CDs so the internal 160GB drive stores all the movies and TV shows I want to watch as well as the MP3s to listen to. Should I buy any content while on the road, I can rip and store it internally too. The microphone and built in camera are nice, although I tend only to use the former. When travelling, one of the most important parts of the Mac is that USB port. In addition to being able to transfer data, it also acts as the charger for most of the rest of the equipment meaning I only need the Mac's universal powerbrick and -- depending on country -- a single plug adaptor.
  • Logitech MX510 USB optical mouse: For travel, I don't go wireless. Recharging stations, communications dongles and so forth are an utter pain. This is a comfortable mouse which at its full size takes up only a marginal amount of space and frankly makes using a laptop a lot easier.
  • Palm Tungsten T3: Again, not the newest of its breed, but it has excellent battery life, a nice screen, good form factor, intuitive interface and can recharge off the USB sync-cable on the MacBook; I do wish Palm had opted for a standard USB connector on the unit though. Bluetooth support means it can connect to Rogers' grossly expensive GPRS system when needed. It makes a fine MP3 player too although the battery life does take a hit, and it's too important a tool when travelling to lose due to that.
  • Belkin F8U1500-E Wireless Keyboard: There are times when the laptop is just too inconvenient to use, during travel or in offices. It's therefore great to pull out a wallet sized keyboard that unfolds and lets me type in my notes at quite a clip into the Tungsten. The IR nature of the beastie means it works a treat on the cramped table in the economy section of pretty much any North American airline.
  • Nokia 6310i: In phone terms, this thing is ancient. One of the first Bluetooth capable phones, it's rock solid and the battery has held up beautifully. There're nicer, newer ones out here but the proven reliability of this one has my trust. Didn't really need that colour screen anyway! With an USB charging pack bought from London Drugs, plugging it into the Mac for a while works fine.
  • Samsung Sansa e280: This is a perfectly good MP3 player; I'm just not sure about the interface design. It too uses USB to charge so no bulky power brick is required. Most importantly it means I can drain the battery and not lose travel information if I did the same thing with the PDA or be unable to contact people if I did the same thing with the phone or laptop.
  • Sony MDR-NC11A Noise-cancelling earbud headphones: It comes with three sizes of ear buds; none of them fit all that comfortably. The battery to power the noise-cancelling circuit fits into a largish container about half way down the cord. It's carefully placed so that you can't really hook it to anything and it's heavy enough to rip the earpieces out of your ears. The sound quality is fine and the noise cancellation works like a charm, but I remain unimpressed.
  • Simple Perfection cable kit: This is a folder about the same size as an organizer that includes two retractable USB cables with exchangeable heads. Those can be switched to not just the various flavours of USB but also to networking or phone cables. As I rarely need more than one or two cables on a trip, this is great!
  • Panasonic TZ1 Digital Camera: While it's an excellent and small camera, it has a number of negatives for me. It doesn't recharge via USB so requires a standalone charger. The MacBook lacks any card slots so I either have to carry around a separate reader to transfer the data, or carry around the data cable as it doesn't use a standard USB connector and prevents me from using the multipurpose USB cables mentioned above. If I did more travel than I do, those two might be deal breakers for me, but fortunately it squeaks through despite them.

There are several items not on the list.

  • Motorola HS810 Bluetooth earpiece: I don't know how people use these things. It's uncomfortable, poor battery life, sounds terrible. I thought it would be a great addition to the gadget collection when I bought it. It hasn't been.
  • Plantronics 590A Pulsar Stereo Bluetooth Headset: I've raved about these in the past. They're good to listen to but terrible for travel. When on aircraft, you can't use them properly due to the wireless nature of Bluetooth. There's the fallback position of the wired connection, but that's another small item to lose or forget about. The battery life is good, but not great. They are extremely bulky and you can't put them away quickly while going through customs or trying to pack or unpack the carry-on while grabbing a seat on an aircraft. It's too bad, but they're off my travel list.
  • Standalone media player: I've frequently thought that the Archos or something similar would be nice. Maybe it would, but I can't justify that piece of equipment yet.
  • External data storage: In the past I've carted around 80GB USB2 2.5" external drives for music and video storage. They're pretty compact, but I found that I just never used their capacity. Perhaps if I was on the road for a month or longer I might, but the internal storage on the laptop is plenty for the traveling I do.

The main trade offs on these things are functionality versus inconvenience. If I have to carry around a mass of cables, that's bad. Same for rechargers for battery-based devices. Sometimes I wish the MacBook had a better graphics chipset, but the current size, weight and battery life work just fine for me. Frequently my gear isn't the newest and that's a function of budget and confidence in it; I'm willing to live with old tech if it's not significantly worse than what's now available and I trust it. I'm definitely wondering if Apple's new iPhone will be a good replacement for the e280, Nokia and Palm combination but that shared-battery issue is still critical for me.

And, yeah, I still carry two paperbacks and a printed itinerary with me when I travel in the general knowledge that even the best gadgets can screw up at the wrong time!

So what do you consider travel essentials at least in the domain of gadgetry?


1 comment

Comment from: Nimble [Member]  

You might have suspected it, but I’ll confirm it. I go practically gadget-free when I’m travelling, and that includes business travel and even conferences.

Usually, I travel with up to two gadgets: a cell phone (since relatively recently) and a pocket-sized digital camera. That’s it. I don’t usually bring anything for music, or computing or any pocket games. I bring books and something to write or doodle in, and take in local entertainment on TV and perhaps internet cafes, if I feel particularly out of touch.

In Africa, we had a combination alarm clock / thermometer / flashlight, but that’s about it.

How do I live? I… I don’t know!

05/09/07 @ 20:01
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