Road Warrior Travel Kit 2016

IMG_1770I like to hit the road with all the travel technology I need, just in case - so, it needs to be ultraportable and compact. Curating the ultimate road warrior travel kit has been a process of trial-and-error. Here is my current bag-du-jour... (roughly left to right, then top to bottom)

Portable Chopsticks. I like to have my own food utensils in a pinch. You could choose to pack a spork, if you don’t like eating with sticks.

Rechargeable Power Supply. I like these to be credit-card size, so I can shove them in my wallet. This one is from OREI and is a 3,500mAh battery. It uses the same port to power other devices as it does to recharge itself, which is convenient, except that it uses micro-USB. That means I have to pack along a micro-USB to female USB-C connector, so that I can actually power USB devices from it.

Flat Pack Sunglasses. The Nannini sunglasses have an ingenuous mechanism that allows them to pack completely flat. My personal preference is for the Flatmatic S1. You can order them direct from Nannini or if you like in the UK, you’ll get even better prices from Goggle Eyes. Amazon US has a very limited selection, but you could start there, if you prefer.

Flat Pack Computer Reading glasses. Again, from Nannini. The lenses are tinted to a warmer colour temperature for using electronic devices late at night. In addition, the lenses are specially treated to allow your eye to focus correctly on the pixels of the screen, instead of trying to focus just behind them (as the eye is want to do), which leads to eye fatigue. The lenses can be in different magnifications, or not. Buy direct from Nannini, or in the UK from Goggle Eyes. If you're just interested in clear reading glasses, you'll find a wide range of pack flat reading glasses direct from Nannini or from Goggle Eyes in the UK. Also, check out this ultraportable pair of reading glasses that not only fold flat but also in half!

Plantronics Voyager Legend. This is my current favourite bluetooth headset for telephony. It comes in a great little recharging case (the case itself is a rechargeable battery for the earpiece that also docks the USB dongle magnetically, so you won't lose it). Click here to read our review.

USB battery recharger. This one recharges AA or AAA batteries by plugging into a USB port. Recharging this way is very slow, though. Plan on leaving the batteries in there overnight.

Apple MagSafe Airline Power Adapter. This is a God-send for Macbook users who take both domestic and international flights. In the US, you can use it to plug into cigarette lighter sockets (I see these often on American Airlines). On international flights, the same cable will plug into those peculiar round sockets (found on Virgin Atlantic and British Airways flights). Even though planes are gradually upgrading to have standard power sockets, you’ll still run into these oddities from time to time, so it’s good to be prepared… otherwise, you’re entire flight could be ruined.

Amazon Fire TV stick. I like to travel with an AppleTV, too, but having a small Amazon Fire stick or Chromecast dongle is very convenient - especially when plugging it into a hotel room TV. Amazon Fire, unfortunately, seems to be locked to the country of origin, which is very annoying. That is not true of the Apple TV, which you can use anywhere and still see the content of the region in which your credit card is registered.

Elgato Turbo video rendering dongle. My compact camera shoots 1080p in a format that isn’t appreciated by my laptop or by YouTube, so I do a quick render into MP4 format by using this dongle. The dongle has a dedicated rendering chip built into it, so rendering is off-loaded from the host computer, resulting in much quicker render times. BTW, if you're looking for a good video player that can handle pretty much any format on earth, check out VLC.

Retractable power cable. This one also comes with an adapter to enable it to be used on different types of equipment - for example, female three prong connections. However, I seem to have lost the adapter! Also, get yourself one of these right-angle adapters. They are very handy for plugging in things close to the wall - like a portable router.

3-port USB auto charger. It’s important to get a device that can fast charge three modern gizmos at once. Check the wattage of the one you buy. Also, I like to get chunkier auto chargers and not super tiny ones (ie. something like this). The reason being that the really small ones can get stuck in the cigarette lighter and you won't be able to get them out with your finger nails. I’ve had to abandon a few in rental cars because of this.

Car Phone Mount. I like the Airframe+ from Kenu, because it is simple (no moving parts) and stretches wide enough to hold an iPhone 6 plus. If you need to mount a tablet, I found this one from Satechi pretty good, because it mounts in the beverage cup holder of the vehicle, giving it a tighter seal and connection than the sucker ones that attach to the dash or the grill of the air vents. As you turn its base, it expands outwards to wedge itself into a vice grip within the cup holder. This allows fairly heavy tablets to be held firmly in place.

Universal Power Adapter. There are so many to chose from but this one is the smallest and most versatile that I’ve come across for use in the UK. Here's the same plug but for use in the USA.  It has no fiddly bits to slide or damage.

USB Power Charger. Anker is my go-to brand for USB power chargers. The one pictured here is an Anker 2-port but they have a fantastic 60W 6-port option. They also recently came out with a 42W 3-port versionCheck out our page on USB power chargers.

Retractable HDMI Cable. This comes in handy when I want to connect my laptop, tablet, or streaming video device to a hotel television to watch my own movies or to give a presentation. I also travel with a small u-bend HDMI right angle adapter, because there are often obstructions on hotel TV’s from strange mounts or the in-hotel entertainment systems. This helps me to get around them.

Portable SSD. This one is a 256GB SSD from Freecom and is really tiny. I use it to back up videos and photos from my camera when on the road. I couldn't buy it from Amazon USA but they sell it on Amazon UK. I do own a Transcend 1TB external SSD drive but I find it very buggy; a lot depends upon the quality of the thunderbolt cable used with it. On the topic of portable drives and videography, I recently bought an OWC Thunderbay 4 mini with Thunderbolt connectivity. You can make an array of 4 SSD or 2.5" hard drives - it's up to you. The speed is great and the unit is small enough to pack in a carry-on bag.

All-in-1 media adapter. The one I’m using is from Transcend. It’s extremely small - the size of a USB stick - and can handle most camera storage media. Here's a similar all-in-one USB media stick from TechNet.

Retractable Ethernet cable. Make sure you go for a high quality one. Mine is CAT6 and flat, which makes it easier to wind. The Tera CAT-7 looks pretty good. Probably, my next purchase.

Sidekick Touch Screen Cleaner. This handy gizmo gets all the grease and smudges off the glass of my smartphone, tablet and laptop. It uses some kind of chemical pad, which swivels out and presents itself when you slide this thing open. You can buy replacement pads. I think each one is good for 500 wipes. Don’t touch them, though, or they’ll leave a black smudge on you (and your clothing).

Lexar micro-SD and USB adapter. My iUSBport2 accepts micro-SD cards, so I bought the Lexar because of its good price, high capacity and it includes a USB docking stick.

All-in-1 multi Recharging Cable. These are very handy. Mine has Lightning adapter, micro and mini USB. Here's a handy 6-in-1 cable.

Recoil cable winders. I love these little things. They come in a variety of sizes and you can keep all your cables tidy. They are spring loaded, so you just loop your cable around the plastic hook inside, give it a tiny tug, and it coils itself up with your cable. You can buy them direct from Recoil or from Amazon.

Micro-USB to Lightning Adapter. Whenever I misplace my Thunderbolt USB cable, this allows me to use one of my other cables, instead. Very useful.

iUSBPort2. This WiFi enables any portable external hard drive or micro-SSD card, so that the content can be shared and streamed to multiple devices. I use this to get around my tablet storage restrictions, especially on my iPad. Because it contains a rechargeable battery, it can power up an external USB hard drive. We wrote a review of the first iteration of the iUSBPort, although this is now an updated version 2.

Now, I didn’t put it in the picture but I do like to travel with the newer Sandisk Connect, as well. It’s storage, however, is built-in and not upgradeable. Nevertheless, it’s the size of a stick of gum and very convenient in a pinch. Just have to remember to recharge it, before hitting the road!

Sandisk iXpand. This serves a similar purpose to my iUSBPort2 and Sandisk Connect devices, but there are times when I just want things to be easy and straightforward. This storage device connects directly to my iPhone/iPad via its built-in Lightning connector. I have the earlier model and there's now a newer (and smaller) one available.

Very Short USB Cables. I love having short cables with all kinds of connectors lying around in a pinch.

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Plantronics Voyager Legend [REVIEW]

I must go through several bluetooth headsets every year in my quest for the perfect storm of portability, battery longevity and range. At the moment, I'm quite smitten by my Plantronics Voyager Legend. This wasn't what I expected, mind you, because it isn't the most svelte-looking unit on the market. However, don't let it's kludgy, 50's hearing-aide style deter you. This is a really good headset with a lot of functionality.

The Legend is surprisingly light, despite the enormous battery pack that you must wear around your ear. That said, I did get some ear-fatigue and soreness inside my ear after wearing it for several hours at a time. But this turned out to be because I had chosen the wrong ear-bud size. By mistake, I went for the largest one, hoping to block the hole of my ear-canal and cancel out more of the ambient sound. This lead to soreness, because the ear-bud ended up taking on the weight of the earpiece, instead of letting my ear, itself, take the weight. Switching to the next size down for my ear-bud solved the problem.

Talk time is supposed to be around 7 hours. I generally got close to 5-6 hours. Perhaps, this is because I like to wander far away from my phone when I'm talking, which taxes the battery. The range on this earpiece is the best I've had so far. I don't know what the line-of-sight range is, but it allowed me to go into other rooms in my house without dropping the connection. I even carried on a conversation while heading down one flight of stairs to check the post without any noticeable distortion.

The Legend comes with some very nice accessories, including a carry-case with built-in rechargeable battery. This holds the earpiece and a bluetooth USB dongle, which you can use to connect your earpiece to a computer. Thoughtfully, the micro-USB cable that's included to charge this carry-case also comes with a separate attachment that can be used to connect directly to the earpiece and recharge it. Finally, there is a recharging stand that you can dock your earpiece into when not using it.

Here's what all the kit looks like. You'll see that I've docked my earpiece in the stand. I'm recharging the carry case, too, and you'll notice the direct earpiece attachment floating but tethered to the cable.

plantronics-legend-kit

In terms of functionality, the Legend will connect to a computer and your phone at the same time. getting it to connect to the computer is pretty straight-forward. The USB dongle is already paired to your earpiece. When you plug the dongle into your computer, you'll see the Legend show up in your audio/microphone settings.

When a call comes into your phone, the Legend will speak to you and ask you what to do. If you say 'answer' it will answer your call. If the earpiece is lying on a flat surface and you pick it up, it will automatically answer the call. If you get an incoming call on your computer, you need to click on a call pickup button on the earpiece. When you get an incoming call on both your phone and computer at the same time, it will answer your phone if you say 'answer' and answer the computer if you press the pickup button. Sometimes, it doesn't always follow this order, however, and you might need to experiment.

Overall, I'm very happy with the Plantronics Legend. I appreciate its light weight, long battery life and the accessories that come with it. Plus, it's really great that I can use it on my phone and computer at the same time.

Buy the Plantronics Voyager Legend from Amazon.

Jump Cable – USB/Thunderbolt Recharger [REVIEW]

The Jump Cable (originally a Kickstarter project from Native Union) is now available in stores. It's a very sound concept that suffers from some problems in its implementation.

The idea of the Jump cable is to perform as a USB to Thunderbolt cable for everyday use as well as functioning as an iPhone or iDevice recharger in a pinch. There is a battery embedded in the cable recoiling block (e.g. the cable tidy), which recharges whenever the cable is plugged into a power device, so that it has a battery charge available to you when your phone needs recharging, or some extra juice in a pinch.

The product is very likeable at first, because it is small and lightweight - fitting easily into a spare pocket. The battery winder keeps the cables neatly tucked away and the battery itself - although not rated - purports to offer an extra 30% of battery life to your iPhone in a pinch.

As you use the product, however, you will find a few things to gripe about...

First, the price. $50 is a lot for a small battery recharger with a cool form factor. This would be better priced around $20, especially as the battery isn't particularly large. It's better as an emergency battery backup to help you make that all-important last-ditch call before your phone dies, or to help you send some really important emails.

Second, the cable tidy itself grips the plugs on the ends of the cable so tightly that it's really hard to pop the USB and Thunderbolt ends out of the casing. You will definitely need nails to do this... and will probably break a few along the way.

Third, the trigger button is a very bad idea. Basically, you need to press a small button to tell the device that it should start sharing its battery juice with whatever is plugged into the end of it. In reality, this is a safeguard so that the device doesn't run itself down when plugged into a phone, except when you want it to. That's the downside of having the same cable you want to use on a regular basis also doubling as your emergency phone battery! The button is fiddly and it has some effect on three tiny, tiny LED lights that are supposed to give you visual feedback as to what's happening. I think they flash when they are in juice transfer mode, solid when not. Or, are they flashing when the unit is recharging? It's easy to forget which. All I remember is that three solid LEDs mean that the battery in the Jump is fully charged.

I haven't used it for more than a few weeks, but should point out that other users have said the battery starts to lose its charge after a few months of use. I am unable to confirm if that's true. It's possible that they are just as confused (as I am) as to when to press or not press the trigger button, which may interfere with the Jump's battery recharging process. I'll keep an eye on this and report back.

Doxie Portable Scanners – Ultraportable & Simple

 

As smartphones improve their cameras, they can be used more and more as portable documents scanners (with special Apps). Nevertheless, this works better for smaller items, such as receipts. Trying to scan an A4/Letter sized sheet of paper can be tricky (especially, when you try not to cast a shadow with the phone over the page when you take the picture). If you have several pages to scan, it is a chore.

Doxie has a range of extremely portable scanners to help you archive all those pesky bits of paper, including a raft of A4/Letter sheets. There's the Doxie One, The Doxie Go Plus, Doxie Go Wi-Fi, and some other variants on those two. Let's focus on the Doxie One and the Doxie Go Wi-Fi, as these are the most interesting in terms of features and purpose.

Both Doxie scanners are similar in size (comparable to a rolled-up magazine or empty roll of paper towel). They are both self-powered. The Doxie Go Wi-Fi has a built-in rechargeable battery (up to 300 page scans on one charge), whereas the Doxie One uses 4x AA batteries (which could be rechargeable, if you so wish). The Doxie Go Wi-Fi has more features, such as built-in Apps that let you sync your scans directly to the Cloud with services such as Evernote, Dropbox and Adobe. The Doxie One does not. Instead, it uses an SD card, which you can shuttle back between your laptop or Tablet (The Doxie Go also has an SD card for similar use).

The Doxie Go Wi-Fi has one up on the Doxie Go Plus in that it supports direct syncing to iOS devices. It also allows itself to be a network-scanner, so you can attach it to your local network and scan to other devices sitting on that network. There is also a "iPhone/iPad Sync Kit" that you can buy for the basic Doxie Go that includes an Eye-Fi card to send scans wirelessly to iOS devices.

The Doxie One is limited to 300 dpi scans, whereas the Doxie Go range support both 300 and 600 dpi. Both models have OCR built-in (ABBY), so that they can produce archival pdfs that are text-searchable. Scanning a 300dpi A4 colour page takes about 8 seconds.

In summary, if you are looking for an inexpensive, ultraportable, battery-powered scanner that is very simple to use and gets the job done, this could be it. There is only one button to mess with and there are a variety of models to choose from depending upon how important Wi-Fi and device connectivity is to you.

Shirt Shuttle combats wrinkled travel clothes

That freshly pressed shirt will probably look anything but... by the time you get to your destination and pull it from your bag. While there are shirt boards that may help you to do the folding origami and protect your shirts from some of the squish-squashing of travel, there really doesn't appear to be a foolproof method.

Enter the Shirt Shuttle...

Crush proof to 100Kg, water-resistant and impact resistant, this might look a bit like overkill. But, if you shirt absolutely, positively must look like it came fresh from your drawer - no matter where it's been in the meantime - then this could be the answer to your shirt prayers.

Inside the Shirt Shuttle is a board to help you fold the shirt to fit within the confines of the box. Two lids snap together and protect the shirt inside. It is a bit bulky, buy, hey - it protects your shirt from armageddon!

Buy on Amazon.com

Lighter Sized External Portable SSD Drive – Freecom mSSD 256GB [REVIEW]

The mSSD from Freecom is a fantastically small and lightweight SSD drive that comes in a 128GB or 256GB capacity. One of the benefits of a drive so small is that it fits easily in a shirt pocket and, because it is so light (29g), you'll hardly notice that it's there. It also comes with a USB 3.0 interface so that file transfers are a speedy at 5Gbp/s (as opposed to USB 2.0's 480Mp/s spec). As you would expect, the drive is powered off of your computer's USB port.

I bought the Freecom mSSD, because I found myself constantly fighting the battle of the bulge with iTunes on my laptop. Being a fan of many TV shows, podcasts and music meant that I was always running out of space (my laptop is a MacBook with a 750GB SSD). I thought about purchasing a regular external hard drive, but there were a number of reasons to go with this SSD instead.

The price was not exorbitant for what you get. I purchased it from Amazon.co.uk for £158. That's about a £30 premium to other external portable SSD drives from Samsung and Transcend, but this drive is almost 1/3 of their size. I thought the reduced form-factor was worth the extra money.

Freecom mSSD sizeSize matters to me, because I like to keep all my most important cables and accessories in a small zip-up bag and this easily fit into it. Also, when I listen or watch iTunes content off my laptop, I tend to be perched in an airplane seat, or some other restricted place, and like a drive that is small and light enough to put onto the laptop keyboard without having a tethered drive hanging off to the side, or actually in my lap. As you can see from the photo, this drive isn't much larger, or thicker, than a small lighter.

Another reason I wanted to go with SSD was that there are times when - in a pinch - I like to dump files from my camera while I'm on the road and I'd prefer to put them on a medium that's safer than HHD, until I can properly back them up in several places when I return. Generally speaking, I keep three back-ups of important data like this: one in the Cloud, one on an HHD, and one on a RAID array.

I've been using it for a few weeks now and am very happy with the transfer speed for files that I use in iTunes. I haven't used it as a back-up my laptop, so it would be interesting to see how much slower it would be than my portable HHD for that purpose. I must say, though, that the device does run very hot when transferring large amounts of data back and forth, so you don't want to put this on your leg while using it.

Sadly, this product does not seem to be available in America. Click here for more info from the manufacturer.

For American buyers, check out the Oyen Shadow Mini, which is close in size and goes up to 1TB.

Buy from Amazon.co.uk

 

US Buyers, check out the Shadow Mini on Amazon.com