The ultimate tech guide for business travellers
As business becomes more outwardly focused for Irish companies, the need to travel increases. So what are the best technology tools to keep us focused when we're in transit? Here are 12 devices, gadgets and accessories that every frequent business traveller should know.
Sennheiser PXC 250 noise-cancelling headphones
(€160 from Harvey Norman)
If there's one certainty in life, it's that the overnight flight back from Chicago to Dublin will have 12 sets of teething toddlers, evenly spaced throughout the plane to effect maximum hubbub. With this understood, it's a no-brainer to pack a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
These cans actually do cut out noise – a battery-powered gadget in the headphones inverts the frequencies of outside sound, dampening the effect to your ears.
There are lots and lots of sets to choose from, from budget JVC models to high-end Bose and Beats. Sennheiser's PXC 250s are a decent, foldable pair that won't cost the earth.
MacBook Air 11
(from €950 in Compustore and Harvey Norman)
For business travellers, it doesn't get much better than Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air. The ultra-slim laptop fits easily into bags and can be used without hunching on economy-class seat trays. The machine's battery life is excellent, too, giving a reliable seven hours (out of a manufacturer-claimed 10 hours). There isn't as much oomph under the hood (dual-core 1.6Ghz Intel i5 chip) as its MacBook Pro sister device, but there's almost nothing you're likely to do that will expose this as a weakness.
Microsoft Surface Pro 2 & 3
(from €820 at PC World)
If you have to have a Windows laptop, Microsoft's own Surface Pro line of tablets are an excellent choice for frequent business travellers. Both the 11-inch Surface Pro 2 and the newly-launched 12-inch Surface Pro 3 switch from full mouse-supported Windows (8.1) into a very useable Windows touchscreen tablet, giving you a lot of options. (For example, if you're stuck in a tight space, the tablet mode is easier to use.) Thanks to their ports and full Windows compatibility, you can attach and run anything you would normally do with a full-size Windows laptop, such as external hard drives, new business software or whatever.
Zagg ProPlus Keyboard
(€100 from Zagg.com)
If you've comfortably switched over to an iPad or tablet for work, but miss the productivity advantage of a laptop keyboard for long emails or documents, a good keyboard is a godsend. For travellers, keeping girth and weight down (there's a lot of variation, even for tablet keyboards) is crucial. This is why Zagg's ProPlus iPad-compatible keyboard is pretty hard to beat. Aside from being a good keyboard, it's also super-slim and very, very light. And it's one of the few tablet keyboards with a backlit keyboard, a feature usually only seen on high-end laptops.Huawei E5331 portable wifi hotspot
Huawei E5331 portable wifi hotspot
(€65 from Expansys.ie)
Unless you have a really good mobile data roaming plan – and if you're travelling to the US, you're unlikely to – you will probably be left seeking out wifi hotspots to do the bulk of your work online. Huawei's E5331 provides an alternative. With one of these, you simply purchase a pre-paid data sim card when you land (they cost about €30), stick it in and you now have your own portable wifi hotspot (at up to 21Mbs) for your laptop, tablet or phone. It can be used anywhere you'll get that operator's phone signal. (In Ireland, you can simply switch on your own phone's mobile hotspot function to do the same thing.)
Mudder Universal Plug Adapter
(€15 from Amazon.co.uk)
All the gadgets in the world are no use if you can't charge any of them. This is why it makes sense to have a reliable plug adapter (or three) with you at all times. Mudder's universal adapter is more useful than most. It can accept most of the world's plugs, adapting them into suitable connections for Irish, British, European, US or Australian power sockets. Indeed, over 150 countries are covered by the little adapter. It even has two USB ports, allowing you to charge gadgets such as phones and tablets at the same time.
Once, it was only Ryanair that cared. Now, most airlines have become militant about 'big boned' bags and lardish luggage. It hits you most on the way home, when you've acquired new merchandise or gifts for colleagues, friends or family. One way of being exact about it is to bring a mini scales with you to weigh your bag. There is no recommended model here: hundreds of shops sell them, from discount chain Dealz (€1.50) to Boots (€5) to Harvey Norman (€7.50).
Philips PicoPix 3410 pocket projector
(€400 from PC World)
There are still some lines of business where illustration is the best form of sales and marketing. But the thought of lugging around a full sized projector – with all of its cables and connectors – seems ludicrous. This is where 'pico' projectors come in. The pocket-sized devices are little bigger than smartphones. With built-in rechargeable batteries, they're completely portable: all they need is a simple HDMI or VGA cable to a laptop or tablet and they're ready to go. Philips' PicoPix 3410 projects up to 120 inches in size, runs for two hours and even has its own soundbar.
While Google's video-streaming Chromecast has mostly been lauded as a Netflix-enabling gadget, it's also pretty handy for business people who want to share presentations. The gadget works by being attached to a screen's USB connection, from where it can stream video or presentations from an online source (such as Prezi or Sliderocket) that can be controlled from your laptop, tablet or phone. The only drawback is getting one: it's mainly available in the US, so you'll need to pick one (or three) up the next time you're there.
Kensington AbsolutePower charger
If you use your tech tools a lot on the road, power is always a concern. Having your own backup power is much better than furtively searching for wall-sockets. Kensington's AbsolutePower has the advantage of being able to charge three devices simultaneously through three separate connections. One is for a laptop (the charger comes with 10 connector heads that fit almost all laptops except Apple MacBooks) while there's a separate USB and MicroUSB port for phones and tablets. It's nice and small and gives a full charge to a single laptop, divisible by the number of devices you connect to it.
(€24 from Breffo.com)
When you're on the road and need two screens (to check a laptop during a conference call, for example) it's handy to have a proper stand. Breffo's Spiderpodium is an innovative, cheap way of doing this. It's a bendable wire frame covered by rubber. Eight 'legs' allow you to cradle your phone or tablet in any four, while using the other four to stand the whole thing up in a position of your choosing. It works equally well in the car if you want to mount your phone against the heating grill, perhaps to use your smartphone's maps.
(€70 from electronics outlets)
Fleet car warriors are the front line in the Gardai's current crackdown on drivers using mobile phones. For those who don't have fancy built-in Bluetooth on their Ford Mondeos or Skoda Octavias, Parrot's Minikit can do the job reasonably well. The basic principle is that you mount the device on the dashboard and connect it wirelessly to your phone: calls can be answered by voice so you never need to take your hands off the wheel. Don't look for amazing audio quality here, but it's very easy to set up and is widely available in tech outlets.