COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER

Traveling with technology

For those that enjoy the latest technology, traveling presents some great opportunities to find even more gadgets to make your trip more enjoyable. I'm in the midst of a 10-day, three-country business trip that includes visiting the major electronic shows in the Far East, and have been trying out some useful products that I can recommend.

On long trips, the ability to use a notebook computer for an extended length of time requires either lots of spare batteries or an airplane power adapter that plugs into the electrical outlet by your seat. Fortunately, some of the newer notebooks, particularly those with Centrino processors, have improved battery life, some up to five hours rather than the typical two. If you need more life or don't have the latest notebook, you need an airplane adapter, assuming your airline has outlets available. Unfortunately, many airlines have yet to wire the coach sections.

For that, the best solution is either carrying extra batteries or using the N-Charge Power System from Valence Technologies (Nasdaq: VLNC) of Austin, Texas. Valence (www.valence.com) makes a lithium-ion battery "slab," about the dimensions of your notebook computer and a half inch thick, that provides an additional six to 10 hours of run time, depending on your computer. A power gauge on the battery shows its status. Their highest capacity version, the VNC-130, weighs about three pounds and sells for $300. While this may seem expensive, notebook manufacturers' batteries often cost well over $100 with much less capacity, and are useful only with the specific notebook.

If you do have access to power at your airplane seat, one of the newest and best power adapters comes from Targus International (www.targus.com) of Anaheim, Calif., the Universal AC/DC Adapter Model PAPWR300U. "Universal" is the watchword. It powers your notebook on the airplane, in the car and from all AC voltages found worldwide. So only one adapter is needed for all your traveling needs. This model has nearly twice the power of other adapters, 120 watts, to work with the more power-hungry processors and larger screens, yet is only about three-eighths of an inch thick, smaller than most adapters that ship with notebooks. It comes with exchangeable tips that allow it work with most brands of notebooks. Additional tips can be purchased for phones and PDAs. Cost is $129.

On this trip I am using the MegaBag from RoadWired (www.roadwired.com) to pack my equipment. This is one of the most well-organized computer cases I have used. There are over three-dozen pockets, many arranged in layers or panels. Two panels at the front of the bag unzip and hinge downward, like pages of a book, revealing an array of self-adjusting pockets of all sizes that hold your computer, files, power adapter, PDA, MP3 player, cell phone, pens, passport, receipts, cords, PC cards, etc. It's difficult to lose an item because almost everything is visible at once. It's well constructed of nylon and neoprene, measures 16" x 13" x 8" and weighs less than five pounds. Cost is $179, ordered directly from the RoadWired Web site.

If you prefer a fine leather briefcase to carry your technology and business papers, there is none better, in my experience, than those from Glaser Designs of San Francisco (www.glaserdesigns.com). Myron Glaser and his wife, Kari, oversee the design and construction of some of the most beautiful and practical briefcases and luggage. In business for nearly 30 years, they represent a lost artisan tradition of carefully handcrafting products that actually cost less than designer-name products, but are far superior in every way. Their briefcases are made using the finest materials and last seemingly forever. Glaser's new line of briefcase organizers is designed for organizing and storing high-tech devices. By using clever adjustable leather holders and moveable panels, you can build a case to suit your own needs and equipment. They make a range of sizes all the way up to 22" litigation bags. Costs range from $500 to about $1,000.

If you find that two carry-ons do not allow you to take all your gadgets with you, Scott-e Vests (www.scottevest.com) has a solution. They have pioneered a line of "technology enhanced clothing," their first products being jackets and vests. I am using their Sport TEC product, a jacket with removable sleeves that converts to a vest and sells for $99. It is fitted with 16 pockets to hold everything from small computers to books and newspapers, MP3 players, cell phones, PDAs, business cards and even a lunch bag.

From the outside the vest looks plain enough, but through its ingenious design, there are pockets everywhere, of all sizes. There are even provisions for running connecting cables and earphones between devices and your ears. While I first thought their products were somewhat nerdy, I have been wearing one while traveling and it works really well. With the jacket's pockets fully loaded, it's a way to beat the airlines' two-bag limit.

On this trip my cell phone did not work in Japan and Korea. Each country uses proprietary systems incompatible with U.S. cell phone standards. What has worked, however, has been my Palm Tungsten C PDA with built-in WiFi. (HP also makes WiFi-enabled PDAs, the h4355 and the h4155.) While I cannot use it to make phone calls yet, I have been able to easily find free WiFi hot spots in both Tokyo and Seoul to send and receive e-mail at numerous locations such as coffee shops, electronic stores and convention centers. In one location I found a choice of three hot spots to select from. And in the McDonalds in Akihabara, Tokyo's electronic district, a Yahoo VOIP (voice over IP) phone was available for customers to make free 3-minute calls to anywhere in the world. Surely a sign of the future and a topic of a future column.


Baker has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others. He is the holder of 30 patents and was named San Diego's Ernst & Young Consumer Products Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. He can be reached at phil.baker@sddt.com.

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