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CES 2012: How Our Staff's Mobile Gear Performed

There's no more challenging test for mobile gadgets than covering the Consumer Electronics Show. Harried journalists like us run around the giant Las Vegas Convention Center shooting photos and videos at overcrowded booths. We then rush to upload our videos, edit our photos and publish our stories. We may go hours without being able to charge our laptops or gain access to a solid Wi-Fi connection. In this toughest of environments, having the right notebook, smartphone, camera and mobile broadband connection can make the difference between being able to put up posts on the fly or having to retreat to the press room.  

This year, each of LAPTOP's reporters brought a different set of mobile gear to CES. Here's what we brought and how well it worked.

Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief

  • Laptop: Apple MacBook Air 13-inch -- What I love most about the 13-inch Air is how quickly it resumes from sleep. I never had to wait for my notebook to spring back to life when I wanted to write a quick post between meetings or fire up to cover a press conference. And unlike Ultrabooks, the trackpad worked flawlessly. My only complaint is that the battery died quickly when using a 4G USB card. I learned to switch to Wi-Fi whenever possible.
  • Smartphones: iPhone 4S (AT&T) and Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Verizon) -- I carried two phones at CES because neither device offered very long endurance. In general, I found the iPhone 4S easier to use when constantly checking my calendar and following threaded conversations on email. The Galaxy Nexus came in handy when AT&T’s network got overloaded and I needed to bring up a webpage more quickly over Verizon’s network or send out a tweet without delay.
  • 4G Modem: Verizon Wireless 4G LTE USB Modem 551L (Novatel) -- Verizon’s very popular 4G USB modem delivered excellent upload and download speeds, and was fairly reliable throughout CES 2012. I just wish that Verizon’s VZAccess Manager software didn’t take so long to connect after resuming from sleep. In some cases I had to try to detect the modem for the software to recognize that the device was even plugged in. 
  • Camera: Canon Rebel T2i  -- I preferred the T2i to one of our other company cameras, the mirrorless Sony NEX-C3K, because DSLRs are just faster, and speed is very important when you’re trying to take shots of products and other people around you are jostling to get the best position. I also thought the T2i did quite well in low light with only automatic settings enabled.
  • Camcorder: Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD1010 -- This oldie-but-goodie pocket HD camcorder from 2008 did the trick for capturing quick clips of new products at CES. I especially like how well the camcorder focuses when zooming in on fine details, something the Flip and the like just can’t hack. Our dedicated video team had much powerful gear, but in a pinch the Xacti worked like a charm.

Follow Mark Spoonauer at @mspoonauer on Twitter and read his weekly Spoonfed column.


Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director

  • Laptop: Lenovo ThinkPad X301 -- Though it's a couple of years old now, my ThinkPad X301 remains my favorite traveling companion because of its lightweight rubberized chassis, its awesome tactile keyboard and its 1440 x 900 screen, a resolution you just don't find anymore. Though the 1.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU inside shows its age every time I try to edit video or hi-res photos, I still haven't found a notebook that feels as good in my lap or in my bag.
  • Smartphone: Samsung Stratosphere (Verizon) -- In Las Vegas, I lived a tale of two Stratospheres. It was the best of phones; it was the worst of phones. On the positive side, the phone lasted all day long with its extended battery and it provided amazing 4G LTE speeds of around 10 Mbps down and 4 to 5 Mbps, so good that I tethered it to my laptop and used it to upload our videos to YouTube. Unfortunately, the single-core device was also a freezaholic as the UI constantly froze, especially the glacial email software. So many times, I'd hit the reply button to respond to someone's email and then wait 5 to 10 seconds while the system paused and threatened to crash. 
  • Monitor: Lenovo ThinkVision LT1421 Monitor -- This portable, 2-pound USB monitor made me the envy of all my colleagues, because I was able to create a dual screen setup in my hotel room. Better still, the ThinkVision LT1421 required only a single USB connection for both power and data.
  • Camera: Canon Rebel T1i -- The DSLR took solid photos, even in low light, though I wish it had more accurate color reproduction as I often had to color-correct shots after I took them. Strangely, the camera also occasionally refused to autofocus, and I was forced to manually adjust the lens for every shot.
  • Camcorder: Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD1000 -- An oldie but goodie, this pocket cam lasted all day on a charge, captured sound really well with its internal microphone and got pretty sharp images even in low light. Why did Sanyo stop making these?

Follow Avram Piltch on twitter at @geekinchief, keep up with his activities on Google+ and read his weekly Geek's Geek column.

Daniel Howley, Staff Writer

  • Laptop: HP Folio 13 -- HP’s Folio 13 UltraBook proved to be a faithful companion throughout my long days and longer nights spent at CES. At 3.2 pounds, the lightweight Folio 13 helped keep my shoulders from giving out under the weight of my equipment bag. And with 7 hours and 50 minutes of battery life, using the Folio 13 meant I was never left hunting for a power outlet on the show floor. The Folio’s three-second resume from sleep time also proved its worth more times than I can count, bringing the notebook to life in an instant as I fire off stories between scrambling to meetings.

Despite all of its benefits there was one thing that kept me from coveting the Folio 13 upon my return, its maddeningly jumpy touchpad. After using the Folio for more than a week, it seemed to me that HP forgot to include any palm canceling software with the touchpad. Typing long posts meant the touchpad would frequently cause the cursor to jump to a previous line, wasting precious time and resulting in endless amounts of frustration.

  • Smartphone: Motorola Droid X -- My phone of choice at CES was my own first-generation Droid X. Throughout the course of CES, the Droid X was by my side, or rather in my pocket, providing me with email updates and GroupMe messages. The one issue I had with the X was how quickly its battery seemed to die, but after a day or two of use, it became clear that the battery life issues were related to the strain put on the X by the still-in-development GroupMe app I was using.
  • 4G Modem: Verizon Wireless 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MiFi 4510L -- Verizon Wireless’s 4G LTE MiFi 4510L  hotspot provided extremely reliable web speeds. Unfortunately I found myself getting roughly three hours of battery life out of the MiFi, which, although decent for a hotspot, is not nearly enough for a show like this.
  • Camera: Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 -- Olympus’s PEN Mini E-PM1 had one incredible battery. We snapped hundreds of pictures and shot mountains of video and still the Olympus didn’t give out. Image quality was great and videos looked spectacular. But we could have done without the camera’s poor auto-focus. 

Sean Captain, Managing Editor of TechNewsDaily

  • Laptop: Asus ZenBook UX31 -- Super-thin, super-light Ultrabook laptops were the closest thing to a sensation at this year's CES. So I felt right fashionable with one of the early models, the Asus ZenBook UX31, which was still kicking around the office after LAPTOP's October review. Though the notebook was very thin and light, it was way too difficult to use. A wonky touchpad often lost track of my finger, causing the cursor to careen randomly around the screen. And the mushy keys offered no clear indication that they had registered. My words were "ful o mising letrs," and my fingers were always cramped.
  • Camera: Canon EOS T3 Digital Rebel -- Everyone gasps at Canon's T3i digital SLR - first at the specs and then at the price. Drop that little "i" and save at least $150 with the regular T3 model. It's still a fast, sharp shooter, and the HD video of "only" 720p resolution is just fine, as you can see in the first segment of this video. The DSLR is relatively light and survives banging around probably better than it was intended to. The one real annoyance -- common to all Canons -- is indoor shots rendered rather orangey. A quick tune-up in any photo-editing app fixes that, but it is one extra step.
  • External Battery: New Trent iDual-Port Pack IMP50D -- This 5000 mAh battery has more than three times the charge of the built-in phone battery on my Motorola Triumph, and it connects to your phone via a USB cable just like a wall charger. Some might say I looked silly with a wire snaking out of my back pocket and dangling from my upheld smartphone. I think I looked badass.
  • App: Livo Recorder Pro -- No one can write or type fast enough to capture an excited product manager or inventor. And with the crush of other journalists and onlookers, there's no time for them to repeat what they said. The $4 Livo Pro recorder app for Android saved me. One button press turns on recordings, which I could name or rename at any time and then just listen to on the phone or email for safe keeping.

Follow Sean Captain on Twitter @seancaptain.

Davey Alba, Staff Writer

  •  4G Connection: T-Mobile Sonic 4G Hotspot -- When we reviewed the Sonic 4G Hotspot, we gave it 3 stars, but in Las Vegas it acted like a zero star product, failing to connect or offering speeds so slow that I couldn't use it. I had to resort to ducking into the official press room or the Emerald Room to get any posts done.
  • Laptop: MacBook Air 13-inch (2011) -- Loaded up with all the necessary software, the Air 13-inch was everything you'd want from a notebook: thin, light, long-lasting and powerful. I couldn't be happier with this machine.
  • Accessory: Belkin 6-Outlet Power Strip -- People often overlook power strips when packing for CES, but the Belkin proved to be an essential accessory that got me -- and a lot of my coworkers -- out of countless sticky situations when we'd run out of juice.
  • Camera: Nikon D60 -- Although I wish I had something better than the kit lens for long-distance shooting, it got me the pictures I needed, whether in low or bright lighting.
  • Smartphone: iPhone 4 with Third Rail iPhone external battery case -- Loaded with the GroupMe app, the iPhone 4 was my lifeline to the CES team. The external battery provided me with the extra charge I needed when the phone's internal juice drained too quickly because of the constant GroupMe message notifications.

Follow Davey Alba on Twitter @d4v3y.

Kenneth Butler, Web Producer

  • Laptop: Acer TravelMate Timeline X 8481t-6440 -- Because of its massive 8-cell battery, I was able to use the Acer TravelMate Timeline X 8481T heavily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. before it needed a re-charge. Keep in mind, I was using the USB 3.0 port to charge and tether a Droid RAZR smart phone most of that time, too. 
  • Smartphone: Droid RAZR (Verizon) -- When I tethered the Motorola Droid RAZR to my notebook, it provided a flash flood of connectivity with small leaks of slow service here and there. I didn’t test with, but I managed to upload small videos to YouTube in less than 10 minutes all over Vegas -- from my hotel room to the press events at the Wynn to the blogger’s room at the convention center. And for those moments I couldn’t connect, resetting the phone always helped.
  • Bag: Crumpler 15-inch Laptop Bag -- I bought my Crumpler notebook bag so long ago, the Australian company doesn’t even make it anymore. But it’s still my favorite lugger after all these years, especially when it comes to carrying a notebook, Sony NEX camera, two smartphones and all the requisite cords and adapters that gadgetry entails.
  • Camera: Sony NEX-C3K -- I got a lot of compliments on the NEX-C3K in Vegas, but I have mixed feelings about its performance. It took decent pictures in and around the show, but the controls were difficult after using a DSLR for a few weeks. During one meeting, it took me five minutes to get the camera out of a special picture effect called posterization mode. That setting made our shots of a new Vizio notebooks look like scenes from a Hunter S. Thompson acid trip. Not cool. We also had a tough time getting the auto-focus to focus on the correct objects in our field of view.

Follow Kenneth on Twitter at @krichbutler.