Travel Technology Re-think

I’m working through my technology solutions for the year ahead and would love reader input. There are some travel items that I’m thoroughly happy with.

I love my Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer laptop bag, it’s a great bag with plenty of room and the right pockets for me and it unclips to sail through the TSA without taking out my laptop. Sadly foreign countries that require laptops to come out don’t recognize “TSA Approved” laptop bags, even when they enforce “TSA Silly” liquid bans. I wish they’d follow the US lead in those few customer-friendly initiatives that exist, not just in the stupid ones. A laptop bag may not be electronic, but a good one fits my definition of travel technology.

I’m happy with my five year old D-Link wireless pocket router, which has been useful for plugging into a hotel wired connection and creating a wireless signal. It’s less and less important to have as wireless has increasingly become the standard at hotels, but there are still too many properties where the wireless signal doesn’t reach all the way to my room especially at the end of a hallway, where I’ve found myself perched in the doorway (or sometimes in the bathroom, if that’s in the doorway, at least there’s a place to sit!) in order to try to grab a signal. So a wired connection can still come in handy, and it’s great to make that wireless, and especially when traveling with my wife so we can both be online at the same time.

I also still carry my compact travel power strip, outlets are too often scarce in hotels rooms, even if there’s one or two at the desk that may not be enough. I want to plug in my computer, my phone, maybe my wireless pocket router, and what if my wife is with me and has electronics as well?

But the biggies are where I’m doing my re-think.

  • Laptop. Seven months ago I moved to the Samsung Series 9 ultra portable. It’s a sleek looking machine, but I’ve found that it dents easily, I guess I’m hard on a laptop even though I don’t actually take it out at checkpoints in the U.S. The battery life is poor, I can just make it through a mid-con flight with wireless internet running unless I power the screen down to pretty dim levels which doesn’t always comport with the level of light in a cabin. And through no fault of my own, a couple of the keys are peeling! Samsung won’t warranty it (and that’s without showing them the casing with all of its dents and dings, hah!). The hard drive is also pretty small, but that’s fine as long as I don’t load the machine up with movies and music, I can stick about four DVDs at a time on it without too much trouble and if I want more I have a pretty nifty terabyte portable hard drive and a fast USB cable. My requirements in a laptop are lightweight, that I can work on in a coach seat that’s not economy plus, but that’s big and powerful enough to be my desktop as well. It needs to have decent battery life, ideally it would last a cross country flight with internet. And it needs to be sturdy enough so that getting dropped occasionally won’t destroy it, something that my last two Lenovos were great about. Any good ideas, with the caveat that it needs to be a PC and not the Macbook Air?

  • Smartphone. My Blackberry Bold 9700 is two years old. It’s still perfectly functional but I feel like I’m missing out on all the things that phones can do these days. Now, my primary uses for it are email and actually making calls. So it needs to be a good phone and I really value Blackberry’s physical keyboard even at the expense of screen size. The device doesn’t have nearly enough memory to do much, and I detest web surfing on it. I’m reluctant to switch to a device that lacks the keyboard since I tend to write several paragraphs-long emails even from my phone, I’m not sure that I’ll manage just dictating to Siri. Part of me thinks it would be a good idea to wait it out for the new Blackberry 10 operating system, though I’m not hopeful about it especially since it’s been pushed back from the spring to “later in 2012” — my fear is that Blackberry is a dying platform and that they won’t be able to save it. What do the experts out there think?

  • Camera. I beat up a camera pretty good, just like my laptop I suppose, I leave it in my laptop bag and not in any sort of a case so after a couple of years it’s probably time to look for a new one. I’m a terrible photographer. I’ve never invested in learning to improve my photo taking abilities. And I probably won’t. What I need is a really good point and shoot camera, something that is going to take great pictures automatically, in spite of me. And especially in low light without a flash, regular readers know I like to take pictures on planes and I want to do it discretely. In my ideal world I’d be able to jettison a device, and have a really good camera included in my smartphone. The blackberry camera certainly isn’t that. I also want it to be small, not credit card sized necessarily but something I can stick in my pocket easily. There have been many great reviews of the Canon S95, and it certainly takes great pictures for Lucky’s blog, but I figure that new technology must certainly have surpassed it. What’s the latest and best camera that meets my description?

Hopefully View from the Wing readers can help me sort out my technology needs in the New Year. And thanks in advance!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Consider Canon ELPH 300HS, which can now be had for about $150 on a good sale. Get the black version which has a textured finish. Excellent low light pics due to new CMOS sensor. 24mm equivalent wide angle and 5x optical zoom. Shoots video up to full 1080p. About the size of a deck of cards. Amazing performance, especially for the price. Canon makes a waterproof case for this camera (about $50) good for snorkeling depths (10 ft max). Most Canon cases are far more expensive and rated for scuba diving.

  2. If you can hold off a bit on your notebook decision you may consider waiting to see what comes out of all the CES activity this week. Analysts are expecting 30-70 new ultrabooks to be announced.

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