Have gadget, will travel - the best tech for business trips
Published 28/04/2016 | 02:30
Bringing the most suitable technology with you is crucial when travelling for business. Should it be a light laptop or a pro laptop? Which phone has the edge? And what other tech gadgets make life easier and more productive when you're on the road? Our technology editor chooses the best new products for those who need to travel for work
Laptops and pro tablets
The laptop or pro tablet you choose will be the work horse on your trip where much of the heavy lifting is done. It's important that the machine you choose is light, strong, powerful and has good battery life. Here are four laptops and pro tablets that make the grade.
iPad Pro 13 (from €939 or from €1,117 with Smart Keyboard)
Can you really replace a laptop with a tablet? Normally, no. But with this machine, you can. With Apple's A9X chip in it, there really is no lag at all when it comes to working on it. The better multitasking ability with iOS 9 helps, too: you can run two apps (email and Word, for example) side by side on the screen. And the extra real estate that the 13-inch display provides (it is actually twice the size of a standard 10-inch iPad) means that you get to see more on screen, which is a big help when writing, editing or browsing. It's slim and light, too, making it easy to carry in a bag. For typing, this is a different level to most tablet-keyboard set-ups: Apple's Smart Keyboard (€179 separately) makes it fly along. And as well as having its own mini-stand mechanism, the keyboard doubles as a protective cover. It has a dedicated stylus called the Apple Pencil (bought separately). For things such as USB connectivity and specialised software, laptops are still on top. But this works really well. (A 10-inch variant is also now available for around €250 less - see Review section this Saturday.)
Toshiba Portege Z30-C (€1,470)
If you're a corporate road warrior, your laptop choices are probably narrowed down to whichever Windows PC distributor your IT department has done a deal with. There are very decent options available from Dell (XPS 13), HP (Spectre 360) and Lenovo (basically any Thinkpad). But Toshiba's light 13-inch Portege Z30-C is also worth a look. As well as being very light (1.2kg), the laptop has some things that older business travellers, in particular, will probably like. One such feature is its nubbin-like track point in the middle of the keyboard. As well as being backlit and spill-resistant, the laptop's keyboard is comfortable and practical. It has a good battery life, a glare-resistant screen and plenty of power (i7 processor, 8GB of Ram).
MacBook Air 13 (€1179 from CompuB)
There are three main MacBook models competing to climb into your laptop bag: the new MacBook, the MacBook Air 13 and the MacBook Pro Retina 13. All three have individual strengths. But if you're a business traveller without heavy computing requirements, I'd go for the middle option, which is the 13-inch MacBook Air. It's quite light (1.35kg), very slim and now comes with some real power under the hood (8GB of Ram and up to Core i7 processor). It beats the featherweight MacBook for power and connectivity (although it slightly lags the 12-inch MacBook for screen resolution). It also beats the MacBook Pro Retina for slimline design and weight without conceding much power. And it beats both siblings for price (by over €300) and battery life. I could see some situations where the slightly smaller, skinnier, lighter MacBook might fit the bill. But I think the Air will suit most business travellers best.
Yoga 3 Pro (€475 from Argos)
Lenovo has added a twist to the tablet genre, one that is aimed mainly at a travelling workforce. It has put a reasonably decent pico projector into the barrel of its 'pro' 10-inch Android tablet. The result is a machine that's relatively heavy, but which lets you beam presentations, slides, or anything you like from the back of the tablet. The quality of the projections - which go up to a 70-inch display equivalent - are very passable for something in this form factor. It certainly meets a basic Powerpoint quality threshold. Lenovo has added metal and leather to the tablet to give it a premium feel (while also adding a little weight). It has a bright HD screen, a good processor (for a tablet) and a miniature stand lets you prop the unit up on its own or hang it from a hook on a wall. An additional keyboard accessory from Logitech or Zagg is advisable. This is innovative and will hit a niche audience quite well.
The phone you bring on a business trip is now probably the single most important item in your tech arsenal. It's a first contact point for email, calls, messages and is the main tool for booking services or checking things like reservations. Here are the three main phones you should be considering.
iPhone 6S Plus (€869 unlocked or from €199 with operators)
In Ireland, iPhones are the default business handset provisioned by corporate IT departments. For frequent travellers, the iPhone 6S Plus is the one to get. There are a few reasons for this. The main one is the device's screen size: a 5.5-inch screen is infinitely more useful than a 4-inch model for someone who needs to use their phone for work on the fly. Business users who have a large-screen phone know this and few would go back to a smaller handset. Battery life - previously a big problem with iPhones - is also much better on the 6S Plus than on smaller models. And this phone has a lot more muscle under the hood, thanks to Apple's 'A9' chip, than most handsets out there. There are other features to note, including '3D Touch' for shortcuts into apps and a better camera. Lastly, 'S' models of iPhones tend to be slightly better built than non-'S' models as the kinks in physical design are usually ironed out.
Samsung S7 Edge (€872 from Argos)
If you're the type who likes expensive-looking hand luggage and Moleskin notebooks, the aesthetic sensibility of Samsung's S7 Edge will probably appeal. The S7 Edge's main calling card is that the screen tapers off on each side to give it a curved glass finish. The visual effect is very impressive: this is definitely a phone that captures your attention when it is plonked on a boardroom table. Samsung also shrinks the overall size of the phone while maintaining a phablet-grade 5.5-inch screen by eliminating the bezel on each side, making the handset more able for one-handed use than any other 5.5-inch smartphone rival. Under the hood, the S7 Edge is a beast with 4GB of Ram and a superfast processor. It's also practically waterproof. And it includes an external memory card slot that lets you expand its onboard 32GB up to 200GB.
HTC 10 (from free on Three or €749 unlocked)
Not everyone wants an iPhone or a Samsung. And among long-time smartphone users, there is still quite a bit of affection for HTC, which once made the best phones on the market. The 5.2-inch HTC 10's screen is at the upper end of the market, with 564 pixels per inch and a better-than-full-HD 2K resolution. Its 3,000mAh battery is also one of the better power reserves among smartphones, while its USB C port means faster recharging. (30 minutes gives you a 50pc charge.) There's also a slot for an SD memory card to augment its onboard 32GB of storage. The phone's engine, built on 64-bit architecture, is pretty powerful and its new camera is close to the top lens you can get on a phone. HTC has redesigned the frame of the phone, too, with 'chamfered' edges. If you have a choice, this is a nice alternative to the other market leaders.
Other useful business travel tech
Techlink Recharge 12,000 (€75 from Apple online store)
For any business traveller, this should absolutely be the first tech-related accessory you pack. Techlink's Recharge 12,000 is about the size of a large phone and twice as thick. It comes with mini cables for iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Micro USB (Android phones, other gadgets). And it lets you charge two devices at the same time, one of which can be done at an accelerated rate. Its 12,000mAh capacity means you can charge an iPhone about five times over. It is cleverly designed, with a flap that opens to let you stand your phone or tablet upright while it's charging.
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0 (€399 from PC World)
GOOD Noise-cancelling headphones don't just plug you into your tunes - they plug you out of distracting or annoying background noise when you're trying to work, even when not connected to any music source. This pair of noise-cancelling headphones is worth the investment. Sennheiser's soft leather makes the Momentum Wireless 2.0 light and comfortable with good quality audio and super noise-cancellation. The onboard microphone means that you can use them as a wireless Bluetooth phone headset, while they also fold up for easy transportation in their own case.
Sony X11 cube (€55 from Harvey Norman and Argos)
I often need to dial people in to meetings (or to conduct phone interviews) when working on the road. Sony's powerful little (6cm by 6cm) X11 sound cube has served the purpose really well. It's a nicely designed miniature speaker with a microphone built in - there's none of the tinny audio you get with a phone speaker. It's a straightforward set-up, pairing wirelessly with a phone or other Bluetooth audio source. It also works really well as a proper music speaker, if you like a little background ambiance while you work.
SD card adaptor for iPhone/iPad (€35 from CopmuB)
This type of adaptor is generally handy in a variety of instances. Most business laptops have SD card memory slots and, in instances where wifi isn't available, this is sometimes the only way to transfer files to a phone. If any part of your trip involves taking photos with an actual camera (especially one without wifi), this is also invaluable for editing and sharing the photos quickly.
4 Port USB Mains Travel Charger (€30 from Lindy.ie)
One hazard with hotel rooms is how parsimonious they are with power sockets. If you have more than a laptop and a phone to recharge, this causes problems. Lindy's 4-port travel charger is a way of beating the system. It packs four USB-power connectors into a single plug, meaning you can connect several smartphones, tablets or other gadgets at the same time. It also comes with adapters for Europe and the US.
Imation Secure Software Encryption Flash Drive 32GB (€70 from Officeshop.ie)
USB keys are almost disposable items these days. And that's the problem. So if you need extra backup for documents you wouldn't want to share, one solution is an encrypted flash drive. Imation's model is similar to many in the field. Its 256-bit encryption matches it to a rigorous security standard, while seven failed attempts to log in will automatically erase all data on the drive.