Tuesday 23 July 2019

Adrian Weckler: A business traveller's tech guide

Noise-cancelling headphones can help you maintain focus (stock photo)
Noise-cancelling headphones can help you maintain focus (stock photo)
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Over years of travelling for work, I think I've come close to perfecting the maximum amount of tech in the minimum space possible. Here are five crucial things I've learned.

1. Power backup

This may be the most critical single accessory in a business traveller's arsenal. There are often no power ports to be had in an airport, cafe or even a conference venue. That presents a clear and present threat to your ability to work uninterrupted. I have found a backup power bank utterly indispensable when travelling for work. The model I use is Techlink's Recharge 12,000 (€60), which can recharge a high-end smartphone two to three times over or an iPad Pro from scratch with enough left over to half-charge a phone. But that model is difficult to get these days.

A good alternative is Mophie's Powerstation USB-C XXL Universal Battery (€140 from Apple's Irish online store or €180 from Littlewoods). It has almost twice the recharging capacity of the Techlink power backup unit and isn't much bulkier, weighing around 0.4kg. This is especially useful seeing as more and more new laptops can be recharged using their USB-C ports. This is the case, for example, with new MacBook Pro and MacBook laptops as well as some Windows laptops from major brands such as Lenovo. So this type of power bank is probably the savviest investment you could make.

2. A US sim card or local phone

For travellers to the US, there is one thing that is increasingly crucial: getting a local sim card. Irish operators do offer plans that give you a low amount of data for a fixed price, but these are hopelessly inadequate for those who need constant access to email and online services and who can't rely on local hotel wifi.

For example, Vodafone's 'Red Roaming' arrangement gives you 0.2GB per day for €3 per day. This is enough data to peek at your emails, messages and (maybe) a social media page or two, but nothing more. People who aren't experts at managing their apps' background activities (which is most of us) could get badly stung here, too, as the cost goes to an astonishing €60 per GB (or cent per MB) after the 200MB level is reached.

It's simply not realistic for many modern business travellers. (Three and Eir are no better, by the way, but don't have as many business customers as Vodafone.) There are a few options in the US. T-Mobile has a mediocre offering of 2GB of data (in total) and intra-US calls and texts for $30. This is fine for a weekend, but won't see you through a week. The option I now use is Verizon's (prepaid) Unlimited 4G data for $75. On a recent week in the US, I used 14GB on this plan (without recourse to Netflix), so it was well worth paying the extra up front rather than continually going back to top up every 36 hours.

3. Reconsider your laptop

Just over a year ago, I made a switch that has improved my work travel experience immeasurably. I switched from a laptop to an iPad Pro. Since then, I consistently get much better battery life (the iPad Pro usually lasts around 50pc longer than any laptop), while the question of running out of power was fixed too, as iPads can be recharged from the same portable power banks as iPhones. There are other benefits.

The iPad Pro weighs around half what the average laptop does and is much easier to fit into a pocket, not to mention using it on the tray of a typical plane seat. The model I have (the 10.5-inch version, which costs €749) has a screen that's really not much smaller than a typical laptop, either. And iOS now lets you do things like drag and drop or split the screen into two parts to work on different applications (such as email and Word) at the same time. The Smart Keyboard (€179) I use with the iPad Pro doubles as a screen protector and is absolutely fine for the considerable amount of writing I do. (I did experience a glitch with the keyboard which necessitated its replacement, but the new one is perfect.)

Its only real drawback is that it's not as sturdy as a laptop in situations where I actually have to place it on my lap, as opposed to a hard surface. Otherwise, I now get more work done with much less weight and bulk to worry about. (For those who prefer sticking to Windows, you can do something similar with a Microsoft Surface Pro or any number of 2-in-1 convertible laptops from Dell, Lenovo or HP.)

4. Noise-cancelling headphones

This will vary according to taste but, for me, is critical to maintain focus during long periods in transit, or when trying to work in a cafe or din-filled room. For those unfamiliar with how noise-cancelling wireless headphones work, a couple of microphones on the exterior of the gadget check for ambient sounds and reverse the frequencies, so to speak, for when the audio leaves the speakers to reach your ears. It works best for constant, humming noise such as when you're in an airplane or an office environment. Irregular piercing sounds, such as sporadic voices, aren't quite muffled away as much.

There are lots of sets to choose from, from €50 JVC and Philips models to Sennheiser to high-end Bose and Beats. The set I wear most is Sony's MDR-1000X, which cost around €300 in most shops. The leather cups and headband combine to cut out most external noise while the audio quality is fairly top notch. A microphone on it means the headphones can also be used as a hands-free call assistant, although this lessens the reception a little.

5. Privacy filters for screens

Believe it or not, over-the-shoulder data theft is a thing. It happens in a busy airport, lounge or seminar. I recently tried out a couple of privacy filters from 3M that fit phones, tablets and laptops. They ensure that while the person in front of the screen can see everything perfectly, anyone peeking from an angle can't see the content clearly.

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