There’s no more challenging situation for mobile technology than a business trip. As tech journalists, trade shows like Mobile World Congress and Computex are our playoffs and CES is the Superbowl. Your big game for business might be a sales trip, a conference or a visit to the West Coast office. Whatever the occasion, you need to stay connected and productive in the airplane, the hotel, the convention center and everywhere in-between.
Here are our 15 favorite travel gadgets to help make your business trip more productive.
Hotspot: AT&T Liberate / Xcom Global Mi-Fi
Whether we’re posting news on the fly, uploading 1080p hands-on videos in the middle of a convention or chatting with our toddlers via Skype, there's nothing more important than staying connected. A 3G/4G hotspot is the best way to get your laptop and other devices connected--including those brought by others in your travel party. For trips within the U.S., we love the AT&T MiFi Liberate ($99.99 w/ contract) for its blazing fast 4G LTE speeds, all-day battery life and easy-to-use touch screen interface. It can connect up to 10 Wi-Fi-enabled devices. When traveling abroad to tech shows in Europe or Asia, we always rent a hotspot or USB modem from XCom Global, which provides unlimited 3G downloads around the world for just $14.95 per day.
Portable Monitor: Lenovo ThinkVision LT1421 / LT1423
There’s nothing better than having a second monitor at your desk for multitasking, so why not get the same productivity on the road? I always pack the 14-inch Lenovo LT1421 in my bag and use it as a second screen. For instance, I can edit a photo on one desktop while I write a news article on the other. Because the 1366 x 768 resolution monitor weighs just 1.6 pounds and gets power and data over a single USB connection, I can carry it in my bag and use it in the press center, my hotel room or anywhere I have access to a desk. Later this spring, Lenovo is coming out with a new-and-improved model named the ThinkVision LT1423. For $349, the 13.3-inch LT1423 weighs the same as its older brother but provides a sharp 1600 x 900 display and touch / pen support. A wireless version will follow in the summer for $449.
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External Battery: Energizer XP18000
You can never be too rich, too thin or have too much juice. While most external batteries charge USB devices only, the Energizer XP18000 provides your laptop, phone, tablet or even your camera with a whopping 18,000 additional milliamp hours of additional energy. At 1.1-pounds, the XP18000 isn’t as light as your average phone charger, but is worth its weight in lithium ions. In our tests, the battery was able to add 8 extra hours of endurance to a ThinkPad X230. When walking around a trade show, I slip the XP18000 in my laptop bag’s internal pocket and connect its wire to my laptop so it can charge as I walk from one location to another. Even better, the battery doubles as an AC adapter, so you can charge both it and your notebook over a single connection.
Smart Phone: Samsung Galaxy Note II
The life of a business traveler is filled with multitasking, so why buy the best phone for performing two tasks at once. Samsung’s Galaxy Note II ($299 with two-year contract) not only allows you to take accurate notes with its stylus, but enables you to use two applications at once on its huge 5.5-inch display. For example, you can compose an email while watching a movie ,or you could look at a restaurant review on one side of the screen while looking up directions in Maps on the other side. Other highlights include a quad-core processor, fast 8-MP camera and Samsung’s plethora of unique sharing features. Best of all, this superphone lasts over 9 hours on a charge, the longest of any handset we’ve tested.
High-tech Jacket: Scottevest Fleece Jacket 7.0
Sometimes on a trip, you just want to leave your bags in your hotel room while you go out to dinner, without leaving all of our gear behind. The Scottevest Fleece 7.0 ($160) has 23 different pockets, including one that’s deep enough for a tablet and another that holds your eye glasses. The sleeves come off to make it easier to wear in warm weather. A new Quick Draw pocket lets you access your smartphone through the Clear Touch Fabric, and there’s even a travel documents pocket with a locking zipper pull.
SmartWatch: Martian Watches Passport
When someone tells me to talk to the hand, I now take them literally by activating my Martian Watch. The end result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Martian Watch ($299) looks like a regular analog timepiece with real physical hands and numbers, but hit a button and you can use them to make calls or send voice commands to your phone. A 12-character scrolling LED screen also shows email, Facebook and SMS alerts right on your wrist. The watch works with Siri on iOS or Google Voice / S Voice on Android, but not yet with whatever mobile OS K.I.T.T from Knight Rider is running. Martian sells its smart watches in three styles: the sporty Victory, classy Passport and colorful G2G with prices starting at $249.
Camera: Sony NEX-Alpha
Sure you could take photos with your smartphone, but if you need quality photographs for a business presentation or, in our case, a news article, you need a serious mirrorless or DSLR camera. Sony’s mirrorless Alpha NEX-5R not only shoots high-quality 16.1-MP shots and 1080p video, but also allows you to immediately share those pictures via Wi-Fi after editing them with one of the camera’s embedded apps. Attach a zoom lens to catch close-up photos of that corporate keynote or throw on the macro lens for detailed product photography.
Fitness Tracker: Fitbit Flex
All those airport stops at McDonalds and late-night room service orders can take their toll on your waist. Fortunately, with the help of the Fitbit Flex ($99) wristband, you can keep better tabs on everything from your activity and diet to your sleeping patterns. Coming this spring, the Flex syncs with your iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S III, or Galaxy Note II or iPhone and stores information about how many calories you’ve burned and hours you’ve slept so you can see just how much more exercise you need to work off that McRib. We also like the silent wake alarm so you can get up on the right side of the bed.
Speaker: DBEST London Duo PS4003BT
You don’t have to make due with your smartphone or notebook’s wimpy speakers in the hotel room. Just bust out DBEST’s London Duos, which pump out loud and clean audio via without weighing down your carry-on. Just connect to the main speaker via Bluetooth and it will transmit audio to the second unit via an audio cable. The best part is the 22 hours of battery life we saw in our testing. The two speakers magnetically attach to one another for easy travel, and they come with a travel pouch.
More: Portable Bluetooth Speakers Reviewed: Palm Sized, Big Sound
The market is flooded with laptop bags: shoulder bags, rolling bags, messenger-style bags and even leather briefcases that hold a notebook. We like the backpack-style Powerbag ($179.99), because it contains a built-in 6,000 mAH battery that can charge your smartphone or tablet while they sit inside. An external battery level indicator lets you know how much juice you have left while the bag folds flat to let you go through TSA security without removing your laptop. Coming this April, the $199.99 TYLT Energi Backpack comes with a larger 10,400 mAh battery built-in and the ability to charge up to three gadgets at once, routing its wires through a series of internal pockets. A special “Protect Pocket” keeps your smartphone or glasses safe and easy to access.
Laptop: ThinkPad X1 Carbon / MacBook Air 13-inch
The best business travelers’ laptops provide plenty of battery life in a thin and light chassis with a comfortable keyboard and sharp screen. Lenovo’s 3-pound ThinkPad X1 Carbon is the ideal choice for PC users with its generious 1600 x 900 screen, comfy keyboard, accurate pointing stick and nearly 8 hours of endurance. Mac aficionados will prefer the MacBook Air 13-inch, which weighs just 3-pounds and lasts 8 hours and 10 minutes on a charge while providing a best-in-class touchpad and colorful 1440 x 900 display. We also love the slim and sturdy unibody aluminum design.
Apple 4th-Gen iPad and Belkin YourType Folio Keyboard
The most popular tablet on the market is also one of the best for business. With a slew of productivity-oriented apps such as iWork, graphics software like Adobe Photoshop Express and video editing programs like iMovie, the 4th-gen iPad is as good for work as play. To make editing documents easier, a Bluetooth keyboard and stand is essential. We prefer Belkin’s YourType Folio Keyboard because of its lightweight design and responsive keys.
Projector: Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector Review ($299)
Whether you’re showing a mockup webpage to the boss, making a sales presentation to a client or having movie night in your hotel room, you’re going to need a portable projector that’s as light as it is bright. The $299 Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector weighs just 8 ounces, but can beam an image as large as 50 inches for up to 2 hours. With colorful images and a high-contrast presentation mode that’s ideal for reading text, the HDMI Pocket Projector works equally well for work or play.
Power Outlet: Monster Outlets to Go 300 Travel
When we travel to a hotel, there are never enough outlets by the desk for all of our gadgets. If we don’t want to charge our camera in the bathroom, our notebook under the desk and our phone on the bedside table, we need to bring a power strip along for the ride. Monster’s $54 Outlet to Go 300 provides 3 AC outlets and 2 USB charging ports in one compact wall-wart. Best of all, the “Travel” version of this device includes power adapters to keep you plugged in abroad in over 150 countries.
Headphones: Parrot Zik by Starck Headphones
Even a serious business trip can’t be all work and no play. When we’re watching a movie using our tablet on the plane, far too often the noise of the engine is so loud that we can’t even hear the words. The ultimate set of travel headphones, the < a href="http://www.parrot.com/zik/usa/">Parrot Zik uses noise-cancelling technology to help you hear your music. Better still, this Bluetooth headset connects with your phone or tablet via NFC so all you need is one tap to connect.