Seeing More USB Power On The Road

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Delta Gate Area Charging Stations

As a frequent traveler with gadgets I’m always looking for opportunities to charge up. Anytime that I have more than a 15-minute wait in one spot I check my surroundings to see what power options are nearby. If nothing is around then I don’t worry about it, but if there’s an opportunity to juice up I’ll usually take it. I fly Delta 99% of the time and Delta has been doing a good job in equipping their gate areas with not only standard AC power, but also USB power. This means that you can easily just plug in your phone or tablet without having to plug in a power adapter/brick. This leaves the regular outlets for those that need to charge up other devices such as laptops.

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Delta in-flight power in First Class

While regular power outlets and USB powered outlets are a welcome sight in the gate area, I do wish that airlines and the rest of the transportation industry would move faster towards having power available at every seat on planes, trains, etc. Delta was one of the first if not the first to equip most of their entire fleet with WiFi! Yay! Gogo WiFi is great. However, it’s only as good as having enough juice to actually use it. Since I’m a top tier flyer on Delta (Diamond Medallion), I get upgraded a lot and more often than not there is power at the seats in First/Business Class. This is great, but it shouldn’t be limited to just one part of the cabin. What happens if I don’t get upgraded and I have a lot of work to do? Also even when I do have the benefit of having power at my seat, it doesn’t always work. It’s really hit or miss if the outlet will actually function and power my MacBook Pro.

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Hampton Inn power at the nightstand

Some hotels are starting to get the point. One of the fanciest hotels I’ve ever stayed in from a technology standpoint was the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas. However, it was one of the worst in terms of power! The only available outlet during my stay was at the desk across the room. Want to charge your phone next to to bed? Sorry. Yet, recently I stayed in a Hampton Inn in the middle of nowhere and they not only had multiple outlets on the nightstand, but it also was equipped with USB ports to boot.

Continue reading “Seeing More USB Power On The Road”

PlugBug World Can Charge your MacBook Pro and Your Mobile Devices Too

 

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As a frequent traveler I’m always looking for ways to charge my multiple devices with fewer chargers or taking up less outlets in a hotel room. I saw an ad for PlugBug and decided to order one and see if I liked it or not. The idea behind PlugBug is that it replaces the standard plug of your MacBook Pro or MacBook Air Adapter with one that has a USB (2.1 Amp) port built-in. This way you can charge both your laptop AND any USB power device at the same time. The concept is simple and it takes all of 2 seconds to install. I opted for the PlugBug World, which comes with all the necessary adapters to plug into various outlets around the globe. It works as advertised and although it’s “short” on the 85w MacBook Pro adapter, it doesn’t hender its use.

plugbug_1

How could it be better?

The 1st thing that I wasn’t crazy about was that it replaces the “extended cord” on the MacBook Pro adapter. I know that you can simply plug the adapter into the wall with or without a PlugBug, but I prefer using the optional extended cord that comes with the MacBooks so that I don’t take up so much space on a power strip and I get a longer cord.

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That’s a personal thing with me, but the product works as advertised. Although I CAN use the extended cord, it’s clear by the way it sticks up over the PlugBug that they didn’t design it to be used this way. While we’re at it, I’d also like to see TWO USB ports instead of just one. It would make it much more useful to me if I could use one plug to charge my MacBook, iPhone and iPad at the same time. So make it a little taller to accomodate the extended cord AND a second USB port and I’d “love” it.

You can get a PlugBug here or PlugBug World here.

A Belt for Air Travel

I’m loving the fairly new TSA PreCheck program that lets frequent travelers go through security without having to take off their shoes, belts, and they can leave their gear in their bags. However, even with TSA PreCheck it’s random and every now and then I have to go through the regular security line. I’ve been traveling for a living for years and I can get through as fast as possible, but the one thing that I dislike the most is having to take off my belt. Well actually taking off my belt is no big deal, it’s the time it takes to put it back on that bugs me. We’re talking a few extra minutes here and while that might sound trivial, it seems like an eternity when you’re trying to get to your gate.

Do you really have to take off your belt?

TSA will absolutely make you take your belt off if they see it! Sometimes I’ve actually forgotten to take it off and my shirt was on the outside and long enough to go over it and as you would guess it was no problem. Even going through the body/back scatter scanner it was no issue. I thought, “cool I’ll just always wear my shirt on the outside and not take it off.” The only problem is that doesn’t work so well on walk through metal detectors that have the sensitivity turned up. My regular dress belts have metal buckles and they will set off metal detectors at various airports.

Get rid of the metal

Problem solved! I searched for a belt that contains no metal and I found a nice one! I used it going to and coming back from Photoshop World last week with no problem. The belt I found is nice because it looks like a regular dress belt and not some nylon sport belt. It’s also reversible with black on one side and brown on the other. However, I wouldn’t use it as my primary every day belt. I don’t think it would be strong enough for daily use. However, it’s definitely my new airport travel belt. I wear this one to the airport and just pack my regular belt in my carryon luggage.

This belt is also very useful for visiting other facilities where you have to pass through a metal detector. Our County building, which also houses the courts makes you go through a metal detector and so do most Federal buildings.

Check it out here.

I Added Two New Portfolios To My Site

When it comes to photography my primary focus is Beauty/Fashion, in other words people. However, because I travel for a living I also get to do a fair amount of landscape and travel photography too. While I did have a Landscapes Portfolio on my site, my travel shots were starting to blend in even if they weren’t technically landscapes. A couple of nights ago I decided to break them out and create a dedicated Travel Portfolio.

While I was at it I also was curious to see how many shots I had taken with my iPhone. I was toying with the idea of perhaps having an “iPhone Photography” Portfolio just for fun but I could only think about 3-4 worthy shots off the top of my head that I remember shooting with my iPhone.

I figured that I shouldn’t trust my memory and I decided to let Lightroom show me my iPhone shots by creating a Smart Collection. I was right to take that approach because there were many more shots than I remembered taking with my iPhone and as a result I was easily able to put together an iPhone Photography Portfolio just for kicks.

While I don’t see any smartphone camera replacing my DSLR any time soon, I pretty much do use the iPhone 4s 99% of the time as my point and shoot camera. I’m usually amazed by some of the shots I get considering the small sensor on that thing.

I updated my site using the Turning Gate Plug-ins and Adobe Lightroom 4.1. Also since I’m a Geotagging Freak! Most of the shots in the new galleries will show you the location where they were taken.

Skooba Design Outs a New Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3

The more I travel, the more I see people using iPads (and to a much smaller degree Android tablets) in lieu of laptops. This is especially true on planes.

On my recent flights I’m seeing iPads out number laptops by about 5 to 1

In some cases I myself have gone on short trips and used just my iPad instead of my laptop. With more and more useful iPad Apps coming to market each day, I find that I don’t require a laptop nearly as much as I used to for day to day communications and social media activities. The iPad may never replace my need for a “work” laptop, but it certainly goes a long way towards reducing that need for things like email, web, expense reports, blogging, etc. That being the case I can see times where carrying just my iPad in my laptop bag is overkill.

Skooba Design has the answer with their New Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3

This new bag is designed from the ground up to be a tablet bag, not a laptop bag. It has a special pocket inside for a 10″ tablet.

It has plenty of room for the tablet and accessories such as a charger, sync cables, headphones, keyboard, Jambox speaker, etc. I was also pleased to see that it was large enough to also accomodate a 13″ MacBook Air. This makes it a great bag for me because I can really go light with just the iPad or if I think I may need a computer, I can still bring my MacBook Air without totally weighing it down. Since most TSA checkpoints don’t require that you remove your tablet from your bag, you can just send the whole bag through the x-ray machine.

I would say the only disadvantage that this bag has over my Skooba TSA Friendly Backpack is that it’s not large enough to carry my DSLR, but that’s OK because it’s so small that I can still carry a small camera bag and fit both under the seat in front of me.

Can you get by with just an iPad on a trip?

This question comes up all the time and my buddy Calvin Carson had a great suggestion: Before going on your trip, try using just your iPad for a day or two while you’re still at home. Do the same things that you would do on your trip. Then you’ll have a pretty good idea of whether or not you can get by without your laptop.

You can get the Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3 here for about $40 below list price.

Also check out my FAVORITE iPad Keyboard!

Travel Tip: Use Wired Internet instead of WiFi

ethernet port

i'm currently traveling on the 2012 Adobe Nordic Design Tour. This means a different hotel each night or so. I spent the weekend in Sweden and my hotel (Radisson Blu) offered FREE WiFi throughout the hotel. All you need to do is confirm your room number, last name and accept the terms/conditions. Great! However, there was one major problem. The internet was almost unusable in the evenings because (and I'm guessing) that it was saturated with hotel guests. My connection dropped constantly and when I could get connected the speed reminded me of dial-up. Sadly, it wasn't until my last night at this particular hotel that I noticed an Ethernet port on the desk under the TV. Lately it has been my experience that when a hotel offers WiFi, that they pull the plug on the Ethernet ports in the guest rooms. However, i figured I had nothing to lose by plugging in and giving it a try. Not only was the port active, but it was about 10-20 times faster than the WiFi network!

 

Get the SpeedTest.net App I used above here from the iTunes

 

Yes, I still want wireless!

I carry an AirPort Express Base Station as part of my "always packed" travel gear. I plugged it in and in about 15 seconds I had my own private WiFi network that was way faster than the Radisson one and best of all I could put all my devices on it without having to do the terms and conditions setup, dropped connections, etc. on each one. 

You can get the AirPort Express Base Station Here. You might also want to carry a short ethernet cable as there wasn't one anywhere to be found in my room.

 

The Bottom Line

If you have the option of going wired vs. wireless, give it a shot. You'll probably get better performance not only because wired is faster, but because most people are going to connect to the public WiFi (overloading the routers) rather than the wired option. By having your own WiFi hotspot you still get the benefits of WiFi too! And yes, the wired connection in my room was also FREE.

The other benefit of a faster connection is faster VoIP calls, FaceTime, Skype, Netflix, Slingplayer, etc.  I was able to get so much more done with the faster connection, not the least of which was this blog post. 🙂

Yes, Another Portable Speaker Review – Pop-up Mini Speakers

 

I've reviewed various travel sized speakers here in the past and I really like the ones I've already reviewed. However, my buddy Bruce Mandel was raving about a pair of "pop-up" speakers that he had gotten and he was so sure that I'd like them he loaned them to me. He said, "you have to try these." So i did. The funny thing was that my first experience with them was a test of my AirPort Express and using AirPlay to send music from my office to my studio. These speakers were the most accessible at the time and I decided to plug them in the AirPort Express mainly to see if my AirPlay would work in that location (very far from the main AirPort Extreme up stairs). I Turned on the speakers after plugging them in and walked all the way to the other end of the building where my office is located. When I fired up iTunes and selected those speakers (AirPort Express) I actually didn't expect to hear them until I got back into that area of the studio. I was blown away to actually not only hear them from such a great distance, but to actually hear that they sounded pretty good. 

Pop them up for more bass

During my initial test I hadn't even popped them up yet. When you do you actually get more base response than you do when they're closed. They definitely sound great for speakers this size. The two speakers magnetically attach to each other for travel/storage. When you pull them apart you can then pull out the audio cable from one to plug into the other for stereo sound.  They come with a separate cable for charging and of course there is a cable to plug in to your audio source. The speakers charge via USB. 

What I dont like

You've already heard all the things that I like about them. Small, good sound, battery powered. As far as what I don't like it's really more about the design of the cables, ports, switches, etc. While you certainly need the cables that are supplied, it just seems that they could have done a better job in the way the cables attach. Also I find the audio cable to your computer/iPod, etc. to be a bit short. I'd like the cable be about 6 inches longer. When I tested these the cable was so short that I had to put the speakers on the floor in order to reach the AirPort Express that was plugged in the wall.

While I'm not sure that I'd give up my previous Bluetooth speaker recommendation, these definitely have a better sound to them and I really like the magnetic coupling. I also really like that the cords are retractable right into the unit.

You can get a pair of these here for $49.95 or you can just get one here for $29.95.

Now the question becomes do I give these back to Bruce or not? 🙂

Review: IPEVO Tubular Wireless Speakers

 

I've been watching the Bluetooth Wireless Speaker revolution from the sidelines now for several months. I've reviewed a few different sets of travel speakers in the past but they were all wired. While I have wanted to try out some of the new bluetooth wireless options such as the Jawbone Jambox, I couldn't get past the asking price of $199 retail ($179 street) for a speaker that would spend the bulk of its time in my suitcase. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the Jambox is fantastic, sounds great and is worth the money if you plan to use it regularly. I also certainly don't have a problem spending money on something of good quality. It's just that my need for a travel speaker is for those occasions when I'm traveling and want to hear my music, videos, etc. on something better than the speakers in my laptop or iPad. 

 

IPEVO Tubular Doesn't Break The Bank

This is actually my second IPEVO product. You might remember my review of the IPEVO P2V webcam for doing mobile device demos. Again, it's a product that solves a specific need that I have at a reasonable price. The IPEVO Tubular Speakers are exactly what I was looking for. They are small enough to stick in a suitcase or laptop bag, yet the sound good enough to compete with most "small shelf" speakers. They are designed for travel. The two speakers connect together in a "tube" fashion when not in use. When you're ready to use them you untwist the tube to separate them out. They connect to each other via a single built-in cable. That's the only "wire" you have to deal with during normal operation. You can play your music to them via Bluetooth. iOS 4.x supports stereo bluetooth music playback. So your iPod touch, iPhone or iPad can stream music to these speakers wirelessly. I also had no problem pairing them to my MacBook Pro. They showed up immediately after pairing as a an Sound Output Device. 

There is a power button and volume control right on the speaker itself. Not to mention a small LED status indicator to let you know that they are on or in pairing mode.

 

How are they powered?

This is both a plus and a minus. The speakers have their own built-in rechargeable battery. There's a USB connector on the bottom of the main speaker that you can plug into any USB power source. It takes 2 hours to charge for 6 to 8 hours of playback. While it's great having a built-in battery, it also means that if you forget to charge them you can't simply pop in a set of AA's. 

 

Room for improvement

The speakers work and sound great. I've had zero problems with connectivity or playback. My only issue is that the cable under the speaker for connecting to the second speaker simply wraps around a circular section in the base of the speaker. I would have preferred this to be a retractable cable as it sometimes takes 2-3 tries to get it wrapped around just right so that the end of the cable fits in the holder for storage. Otherwise I have no complaints.

 

The Bottom Line

These speakers are a great alternative to the more expensive options out there. While they perform well, the best part is the price. The IPEVO Tubular Wireless Speakers go for a mere $59.95 (list price $79.99). That's less than half the price of other speakers in the category and they sound as good if not better than any other travel speakers I've tried.

24 Hours Without Using My Laptop

When I got my iPad back in April I questioned whether I could get by sometimes with just using my iPad instead of my MacBook Pro. Since that time a lot more Apps have come out and a lot more functionality is there. I don't see the iPad replacing my laptop any time in the near future, but I could certainly see using it solo on short (non business) trips where running my full range of Creative Suite desktop apps is not needed. Last week I took a pleasure trip to New York for a day. Before I left I thought about what I would be doing on this trip and figured that there was technically nothing that I would "need" my laptop for. I knew I would be checking email, social networking, responding to blog comments, browsing the web, reading my RSS feeds, etc. I couldn't think of a single thing that I would "need" to do that I couldn't do on the iPad. So I decided to force myself to use just the iPad the entire, albeit short trip. Just in case: I did bring my MacBook Pro too. However, my goal was to never take it out of the bag. 

 

I did it

I got through the entire trip without touching the MacBook Pro. I have the WiFi-3G version and I was able to be connected anywhere I went. However, AT&T service in the Times Square hotel I stayed in was horrible. For this reason I pulled out my AirPort Express and connected it to the room's ethernet cable. This gave me much better wireless internet in the room. The only time I was tempted to pull out my MacBook Pro was when I need to type large amounts of text in responding to an email. While I can use the onscreen iPad keyboard just fine, I don't enjoy using it for more than a few words at a time. I was thinking that I should have brought along my keyboard dock.

 

The next thing I bought

Although this little experiment was a complete success, I saw the immediate need for a keyboard. While I already own the Apple Keyboard Dock, it's not really designed for travel. Then I remembered a Bluetooth Keyboard/Case that a buddy (Mike) showed me and I thought, this is the one I would want to use on my next trip.

I bought it in the airport Brookstone (yes I paid too much) on the way home! They even offered to sell me one that was charged up. I declined as I wasn't going to use it right then and there, but that is a great thing that you do for your customers. Kudos!

I didn't test it until I got home and charged it up. It connected/paired as advertised. However, I hit an immediate snag on the very first thing I typed. I went to repsond to a Twitter comment with "Thank You" and I noticed right then and there that there is no Shift Key on the right side of the keyboard. I thought, "you've got to be kidding me?" Sure enough there are arrow keys, a return key and all the other keys you would expect, but no right side Shift Key. I happened to be on the phone with Scott Kelby (a popular writer/author) and I thought for sure he would share in my shock and frustration and he said "I never use the right Shift key." That floored me! I wondered was I the only one using both Shift Keys on a standard keyboard? Anyway, I can certainly train myself to use just the one on the left, but I thought it was an odd sacrifice for space. Otherwise the keyboard is comfortable and easy to type on. It rocks an impressive 90 hour battery life on a single charge! 

While this case/keyboard is GREAT, it does add a little extra weight onto the already slightly heavy iPad. This will not be my day-to-day case. It will definitely become my travel case!

Brookstone charges $99 for their version of this keyboard/case, but you can get it here for only $69.

Get a MiFi without the monthly data plan charges: Pay as you go!

I love my MiFi! However, the minute I tell people about it they get turned off when they hear that it runs $60/month. Luckily for me this road warrior perk provided by my employer. Even though I couldn't think of going on a trip without it, I can certainly see how someone that doesn't travel as often as I do, wanting the convenience of a MiFi. It's easy for me to justify a MiFi for work: At $60/month I look at it as that's 6 nights worth of hotel internet at $9.99/night (and that's if you're lucky. Yes I know some hotels offer it free, but most don't). So if I use my MiFi at least 6 nights a month instead of hotel internet it's a wash. Let's say you don't travel much. However, when you do travel you want the freedom of having your own mobile hotspot without paying a monthly fee or the ridiculous tethering charges that AT&T and others charge to use your smartphone as a modem. 

 

Virgin Mobile Has the Right Idea

Pay as you go! Buy a MiFi from them for $150 (great price). Then only pay for it when you need to use it:

Even the 30 days/300MB at $20 option is probably more than most people would need for a two-four week trip. 

 

If I suddenly found myself having to pay for a MiFi out of my own pocket, I wouldn't think twice about going this route. I don't use it every day and this way I can buy the device once and use it/pay for it when I need it.

Check it out here.

Thanks goes out to Jim Nichols for the lead to this offering.