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Five devices I took with me to TechRepublic Live 2011

Donovan Colbert travels with less tech than he used to, but there still are a few things on his "must pack" list. What devices do you pack when you travel?

I recently attended TechRepublic Live 2011 in Louisville, KY. Some of the most talented writers, contributors, and members of the TechRepublic community attend the event to share ideas, insights, and predictions about trends, directions, and careers in IT. It's a major show of tech force, and there were an abundance of cool laptops, smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets on display.

In the past, I've been burdened with a plethora of tech overstuffing my backpack, which is specifically designed to carry a 17" laptop. With the rapid changes in mobile devices over the last several years, I now travel quite a bit lighter, but I'm still packing a pretty impressive haul of mobile gadgetry whenever I set out. Here are the top five devices that I brought with me on the five hour drive.

Droid 2

I'm not counting my smartphone in this list, because it always travels with me (by default) everywhere I go. However, it deserves an honorable mention, because on a long trip like this, the Droid 2 really struts its stuff and shows why Android is such a popular mobile OS. With the car mount and a charger, my Droid served as my GPS unit for the entire trip. While I find that my dedicated GPS unit is frequently better on the highways, the Droid 2 has a consistent edge in large cities.

With the FourSquare app, I checked in to the Hilton Garden Inn, which hosted the TR Live 2011 event. Then that evening, the Droid 2 GPS led us to The Blind Pig gastro-pub in the maze of the warehouse district like we were locals. Back at the hotel, with the nightstand dock, the Droid 2 served as my alarm clock and made sure I woke up early enough to get the to event on time. Plus, of course, I made phone calls on it.

1. ASUS Transformer TF101 and Keyboard Dock

I've talked a lot recently about my disappointment with the shortcomings of the Android platform. I've complained about platform stability, ugly apps that weren't innovative, and a persistent problem with lagging text input in browsers on the Transformer itself. Some readers have taken this as an admission that the Transformer is an inferior product. Despite my complaints, the Transformer was actually the first thing I packed.

At the event, the Transformer proved that it deserved to come along. The lightweight social media apps, coupled with the convenient netbook format when docked, was an ideal platform for live micro-blogging to Twitter, keeping up on my personal and corporate e-mail, and checking out the activity on my blogs on TechRepublic. The only limitation was that the lagging browser input on the device prevented me from responding to forum posts on my blogs.

While everyone with traditional laptops huddled near the electrical outlets in the conference room, I went untethered the entire day and barely put a dent in my battery. I was able to post pictures from the event to Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ using my Droid 2, and then view those images on the generous 10" display. It was the perfect balance between the cramped quarters of a smartphone and the power-hungry and noisy format of a netbook or full-sized laptop.

In the evenings, I used the Transformer for lightweight computing and let my daughter watch movies and surf Flash-based children's sites. On the long drive home, she wrote short stories on the Transformer to occupy her time. I brought the small AC adapter for the Transformer along with me, but I didn't need to charge the device at all during the four-day trip. I'm sure none of the other attendees with their traditional laptops can match that claim.

2. Lenovo S10 Windows 7/JoliOS dual-boot netbook

Due to the Transformer's lagging browser input, the second thing I packed was my Lenovo S10 laptop. I knew that I'd want to keep up with the forum posts on my current blogs on TechRepublic, and I knew that the Transformer would be a disappointment in this regard. The S10 was extra weight and bulk, but I did use it on the first two days. Despite a 9-cell extended battery, the S10 died on Standby by the end of the second day of the conference.

I also packed 1 USB joystick and 2 USB D-pads in case I struck up a retro gaming session with Commodore 64 emulation on the Lenovo with any of the other attendees. This is something else that the Transformer should be able to deliver, but it seems to fall short on performing acceptably. It's too bad that I felt compelled to bring the S10 and that my reasons were justified by my experience. On the plus side, the S10 and the Transformer together are probably lighter than the majority of 15" full-sized notebooks.

3. 1 TB 2.5" external mobile hard drive

While the Lenovo S10 has 500GB of internal disk storage, my Transformer has a relatively meager total of 64GB of space, split up between an internal 16GB, a 16GB MicroSD card, and a 32GB SD card. It may be overkill, but I hate accidentally leaving files at home when I'm traveling. With my 1TB 2.5" external mobile hard drive, I never have to worry about that. I can hook up the external drive to either my S10 or my Transformer. This is convenient for sharing and transferring files. During this particular trip, I didn't use or access the hard drive at all -- but at 2.5" and hardly any weight, I'd rather have an extra TB of storage with me and not need it, than need it and not have it.

4. Virgin MiFi 2200 personal hotspot

As I said in my review of the Verizon 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MiFi, the Virgin MiFi is no performance champion. Its 3G radio is slow, even for 3G devices, and it's barely useful when moving because it's incapable of roaming onto non-Sprint towers. If you have a very good signal and you're stationary, you can stream videos from Netflix or YouTube with decent reliability, but it can't hold a candle to the Verizon 4G MiFi in performance.

Fortunately, I bought the Virgin MiFi hotspot when their plan offered a $40/Unlimited plan, and that will remain on my device as long as I never switch to another plan. Would I rather have a Verizon 4G LTE device? Absolutely. Is the price difference between the two devices justified? In light of the 5GB maximum cap on the Verizon device -- absolutely not. The hotspot also supplied "in-flight" entertainment for my daughter and wife during the drive, when they used their iPod Touch and iPad respectively.

5. iPod 5G Video/Classic

With a Transformer, Lenovo S10 netbook, iPod Touch, and an iPad all on board, one might question why I would bring along a dated iPod Video Classic as well. The truth is that the iPod classic remains an ideal solution as a purpose-designed media playback device. The click-wheel interface and simple GUI are easy for my wife and my daughter to navigate without distracting me from driving with questions. My wife's car has an aftermarket iPod adaptor that integrates perfectly with the steering wheel mounted audio controls. It features long battery life (even in constant use), has the ability to play back video and audio, and the 80GB capacity stores my entire music library and multiple movies as well. It will be a sad day when it dies, and I'll most likely replace it with a 64GB iPod Touch.

What devices do you bring with you when you travel? Share your list in the discussion thread below.

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

3 comments
Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

How is the Mifi device for authentication? We've been looking at them for VPN access by mobile staff but I've yet to find one that does a simple wifi router style authentication; it always seems to want a second step of clicking through a web-page wall.

dcolbert
dcolbert

After an initial setup, the connection is persistent, and your device will detect the MiFi as a regular WiFi hotspot/router. The connection to the service is persistent, too. Once you go through the hoops the first time, you don't need to again (generally speaking). My experience was the same with the Verizon 4G LTE MiFi hotspot, too. I guess the only difference is that this is a non-contract device so when I re-up my plan, I do get redirected to a web-wall where I have to authenticate and purchase a plan option. On our recent trip to Orlando I was far less impressed with the Virgin 2200. It was nearly useless on the road during the trip down. We stayed in South Carolina for one night at a KOA and the speed was not very good despite being in a fairly well built up area, and we found the same thing when we stayed at a Disney resort in Orlando. This made me realize the speed really wasn't great in Louisville, either. Stuttering video with Netflix and Youtube is a persistent problem in multiple locations. Driving through dense urban areas I generally get great throughput, even when mobile - but those are the places where you need a MiFi hotspot the least.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The one thing that's driven me nuts with service providers is the choice to over-comlpicate things for the customer. DSL highspeed - Bell decides to use PPoE authentication where the user must run a megalithic piece of bloatware just to feed the DSL modem the credentials. This, instead of simply realizing that the other end of the hard line was the customer's home and a dhcp would give the customer's device an IP. (I switched to Rogers just after Bell/Sympatico made that decision because they used a cable modem with dhcp) broadband dongles; yet to see one that simply presents itself as a network device, the two that have come through here have both needed specific drivers with there own network connection managers. Why? Why not just stuff the SIM chip in the dongle, keep the cell network authentication there and tell the other end of the USB plug "I'm a wifi and I might be connected already." Glad to hear someone is making sane Mifi bricks. They should authenticate once then operate like a normal wireless router. I was rather surprised to get a helpdesk call from a user who has to go through a browser page "yes, this is me, reconnecting to my Mifi" every time.