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How to Become the Ultimate Road Warrior

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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

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The good thing about portable technology is that we’re no longer chained to our desks. The bad thing about portable technology is that we’re no longer chained to our desks. Go figure.

In days of yore (yore being a dozen or so years ago) you did your work at your desk, and when you were away from your desk, you were away from your work. Not so today, and you can thank all the major technology companies for this dubious advancement. Used to be that if you were driving, or out for a walk, or shopping for groceries, you were out of touch, communications-wise. Today, however, thanks to cell phones and wireless PDAs and other such gizmos, you’re never out of touch. You can conduct sensitive business negotiations (or be badgered by your spouse) while shopping for liverwurst or sipping on a latte, much to the annoyance of everyone around you. For better or for worse, you just can’t get away from it all anymore; no matter where you are, you’re still connected, probably wirelessly.

So if the ubiquitous connection is now the rule rather than the exception, you might as well go with the flow—and have a little fun with it. After all, this influx of portable technology is a great excuse to buy all sorts of portable gadgets. And gadgets are definitely fun!

Choosing the Right Gadgets to Fit Your Road Warrior Lifestyle

The big question is, exactly which portable gadgets you need? If you bought one of everything, you’d need Batman’s utility belt to carry them all around—which sort of negates the concept of portability. No, the savvy road warrior picks and chooses his gadgets, to maximize his portable computing and communicating efficiency. It’s possible, after all, to have a single gadget perform multiple functions.

So, which portable gadgets do you need? It all depends on your individual road warrior lifestyle. Here are some hints:

  • If you breathe oxygen, you need a cell phone—That’s another way of saying that everybody has one, whether they want it or not. A basic cell phone (or mobile, with the accent on the second syllable, as they say across the pond) is the minimum high-tech gadget for just about anyone today.

  • If you’re sixteen years old, you need a cell phone with text messaging service—Kids like text messaging. Adults not so much, possibly because our thumbs are bigger and less flexible. In any case, txt msg r kwl—unless you can’t decipher message-speak, that is.

  • If you have a blog, you need a camera phone—Mobile blogs (moblogs, for short) are the latest rage, where you use your mobile phone to take pictures of wherever you’re at, and then post them online for all to see. (You can see my personal moblog at http://www.leoville.com/blog/; just click the Pictures link at the top of the page.) Camera phones are also great for savvy businesspeople; imagine going to a trade show or a client’s presentation and camera-phoning product shots back to the office. And it goes without saying that if you have kids, you have to have a camera phone; kids do the cutest things, and you absolutely must capture every thing they do for posterity, even if you don’t have your big digital camera handy.

  • If you have to juggle a ton of contacts and appointments, you need a PDA... or maybe a smartphone—A personal digital assistant (PDA) is a handheld gizmo with the brains of a computer, minus the keyboard. (They use touch-screen input, instead.) PDAs are great for storing contacts and schedules, and for playing solitaire during boring meetings. Every self-respecting road warrior has one, unless you decide to go with a smartphone instead. A smartphone is a cell phone with PDA functions, or sometimes it’s a PDA that makes phone calls. In any case, one smartphone can take the place of a separate cell phone and PDA, even though it’s enough larger than a cell phone to be somewhat inconvenient for calling, and enough smaller than a PDA to be somewhat unusable for data entry, which makes it pretty much the worst of both worlds, or the best, depending.

  • If you make a lot of notes to yourself, you need a PDA—Ah, another good use for a PDA, to jot down notes during meetings and such. You could just use a yellow legal pad, of course, but then you wouldn’t have to deal with finicky handwriting recognition systems and storage capacity limits, and what’s the fun in that?

  • If you travel a lot, you need a laptop PC... or maybe a PDA... or perhaps a smartphone—When you’re away from the office, you not only need to get a little work done, you also have to check your emails—otherwise, the spam quickly builds up to insurmountable levels. So you need to carry something along with you that you can hook up to a phone line (or, ideally, to a wireless hotspot) and check your inbox. The notebook PC is a good workhouse for this task, as you can also use it to write memos and crunch numbers. If you don’t need to write memos and crunch numbers, however, you could always use a PDA (with built-in WiFi) to do the email thing. For that matter, a smartphone can also connect to a WiFi hotspot and send and receive email, if you don’t mind typing on those little Chiclet keys. It’s up to you how big a device you want to carry around, and whether or not you need to do industrial-strength computing while you’re on the road. Or you could be a real geek and carry both a laptop PC and PDA, although that’s kind of a belt-and- suspenders approach to road warrioring, IMHO.

  • If you take work home from the office, you need a USB memory device—Now here’s a gadget I really like—and one that actually works as promised. In the old days, you transferred data from one location to another via floppy disk, which held a whopping 1.44MB of data. Today, some email messages are larger than this, so you need a portable storage device with more capacity, which is what you get with a USB memory device (sometimes called flash storage, or keychain storage, or a USB drive, or "that little plug-in thingie"). With storage capacities up to 2GB, these little gizmos plug into any PC’s USB port and are instantly recognized as an extra storage drive. Best of all, it’s simple technology that almost always works. Hard to beat, especially when you need to take files back and forth from one location to another.

You get the idea. There’s lots of gadgets you can carry, although you don’t have to carry each and every one. Since many portable gadgets due double and triple duty, it’s a matter of determining what types of tasks you’ll need to do, and picking the right devices for those specific tasks. Do your planning, and you could end up with a single device in your briefcase. Don’t, and you’ll need an assistant to juggle all the different gadgets you carry along!

Shopping for a Laptop PC

For most businesspeople, a laptop PC is an essential portable gadget. With the right laptop, you can do practically any work you would normally do in your office from just about anywhere on the road.

Buying a laptop PC isn’t all that simple, however, because there are so many different types on the market today. At the very least, you’ll have to choose from these types of models:

  • Ultracompact—If you primarily use your notebook for email and running the occasional PowerPoint presentation (using an external projector), and not for heavy-duty typing or number-crunching, this might be the type of machine for you. An ultracompact has a smaller screen (10’’–12’’) and cozier keyboard than larger laptops, and consequently is smaller and weighs less—and also uses less power, which results in longer battery life. These puppies are easier to slide into a briefcase than larger models.

  • Business laptop—For most non-executive road warriors, you actually need to do some real work when you travel—which means that a bigger screen and full-size keyboard are important. What we’re talking about here is the traditional business laptop, with a 14’’–15’’ screen, full-sized keyboard, combo CD/DVD drive, and enough computing horsepower for typical Word and Excel use. Do your homework and you can find a model that’s relatively thin and not too heavy; you should also look for a unit that offers decent (3+ hours) battery life.

  • Desktop replacement—If power matters more to you than portability, you want a laptop that can function as a full-featured desktop PC. These so-called desktop replacement models use standard Pentium 4 processors (instead of the portable-oriented Pentium M) and provide extra-large 15.4’’ or larger screens (typically widescreen) and CD/DVD burning capabilities. You also get more memory, bigger hard drives, and just about everything else you’d expect in a larger PC. The tradeoff comes in terms of size (bigger), weight (heavier), and battery life (none to speak of). A desktop replacement really isn’t an option for a true road warrior, unless you’re always in reach of a power outlet. (BTW, if you’re looking for a laptop for game playing, as discussed in the previous chapter, this is the type of laptop you’re looking for.)

  • Tablet PC—This is a subspecies of the notebook PC, with a touch screen you can write on—with a stylus, that is, not a real pen. Tablets are great for specific tasks, such as meter reading or checking inventory in a warehouse. For most of us, they’re totally unnecessary for standard computing tasks.

Whichever type of laptop you decide on, you’ll want to make sure it meets some minimal performance specs. Assuming you don’t go the Apple route (which I prefer, but you probably don’t), you should look for a laptop that uses a Pentium M processor (runs cooler and uses less power than standard desktop Pentium 4 processors), has at least 512MB memory, offers built-in 802.11b/g WiFi wireless connectivity, and has a combo CD burner/DVD player drive.

By the way, machines billed as using Intel Centrino technology use Intel’s Pentium M/WiFi chips, which is a sure-fire way to go—but not the only way. Some manufacturers use non-Intel WiFi chips, and even though they use the Pentium M processor, can’t use the official Centrino logo. No big deal, as long as you get some sort of Pentium M/WiFi combination.

Looking forward, we’re just about due for notebooks that use Intel’s next-generation Centrino technology, dubbed Sonoma. These notebooks will have improved performance thanks to a 533Mhz bus, DDR2 RAM, PCI Express, and improved audio and video. Sonoma will also support something called stack execution disabling, which will improve security on next- generation notebooks. Look for it.

Choosing the Right PDA

Even though some experts say the traditional PDA is on the way out (to be replaced by smartphones and semi-smart cell phones), there’s still a market for these little gizmos. No self-respectable gadget geek is without a clunky PDA clipped to his belt, after all.

Now, you wouldn’t expect the PDA market to be any less confusing than other high-tech markets, which is why you have your choice of units that use the Palm operating system (Palm OS) or Microsoft’s Pocket PC operating system. Palm OS devices tend to be a little lower-priced than Pocket PCs, although some of the high-end Palm models are every bit as expensive. Features tend to be comparable between the two types of devices, although you should go the Pocket PC route if you need to work with Word or Excel files; Pocket PCs incorporate "pocket" versions of both programs.

The big player in the Palm OS market is palmOne, as the old Palm company now calls itself. (Well, actually, they’re going to go back to calling themselves just Palm again, but we’ll stick with the PalmOne name just to be stubborn.) PalmOne manufactures two different lines of devices (three, if you count the Treo smartphones), the Tungsten line for business users and the Zire line for general consumer use.

The Pocket PC is Microsoft’s answer to the Palm PDA. Pocket PCs tend to be a little more business-oriented and a little more powerful than Palm PDAs—and little more expensive, as well. The major Pocket PC manufacturers are HP and Dell.

Most users use their PDAs pretty much for managing contacts, scheduling appointments, and making to-do lists. (Oh, and playing games—never forget the games!) Palm OS PDAs synch with the Palm Desktop software for all these functions; Pocket PCs synch your Pocket PC contact and appointment lists with Microsoft Outlook. (Most Palm PDAs also come with utility programs that let you synch with Microsoft Outlook, if that’s your preference.) In addition, Pocket PCs are a little more oriented towards traditional office tasks; they come with Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, and Pocket Money, so you can use your Pocket PC to edit the same files you use on your desktop PC.

Which type of PDA should you buy—Palm OS or Pocket PC? My general advice is that if all you need is basic calendar and address book functions, go with the lower-priced Palm OS. If you need to integrate with various Windows applications—Outlook, especially—then spring for a Pocket PC.

Whichever type of PDA you choose, here are some of the things to look for when shopping:

  • Size and weight—You’ll actually pay more for less—that is, the smaller units come at a premium. That said, some of the most expensive units are the largest, as they incorporate mini-keyboards and built-in cameras, which add to a unit’s heft.

  • Speed and storage—Even the least expensive PDA is fast enough and has enough built-in storage for all your contacts and scheduling information. If you want to play games, however, you’ll want to consider a unit with a faster processor.

  • Screen—Color is more expensive than monochrome, of course—but a lot easier on the eye. Some models have a slightly larger display, which is always nice.

  • Keyboard—Most units feature stylus-based entry. If you prefer to type, consider a unit that features a mini-QWERTY keyboard.

  • Wireless connectivity—If you’re into connecting on the go, look for either Bluetooth or WiFi wireless connectivity.

  • Digital music players—Many PDAs also function as digital music players, with built-in media player software. Because the built-in speaker typically leaves a lot to be desired, you’ll probably want to do your listening via headphones.

  • Digital cameras—For the ultimate in coolness, check out the models with built-in digital cameras. Just make sure you have plenty of storage capacity for all the photos you take!

Of Cell Phones and Smart Phones

Choosing a cell phone is a major lifestyle decision. Do you prefer a flip phone or a candy bar phone? Do you use it strictly for conversations, or do you do text messaging? Do you want to play games on your phone, or watch videos? How about taking pictures? And do you prefer a silver case or a blue one?

More important—well, equally important—is the cell phone provider, and the network technology used. As you’ve no doubt discovered, phones that work with one provider don’t work with another provider. That’s because different providers use different cell phone technologies. In the pre-digital days, analog cell phones used a technology called FDMA (frequency division multiple access). Today’s digital networks (in the U.S., anyway) use different technologies. Sprint and Verizon use 800MHz or 1900MHz CDMA (code division multiple access) technology; Cingular and T-Mobile use 1900MHz GSM (global system for mobile communications) technology. Naturally, they’re all incompatible with each other.

And that’s just within the United States. Overseas (over any sea, actually), GSM technology is standard. However, since European and Asian providers use the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands, these systems are incompatible with the U.S. providers’ 1900MHz GSM systems.

Confused yet?

It gets better, especially when you discover that different cell phone manufacturers produce different models for different systems. You might see a particular cell phone you like, but then find out it isn’t available for your particular service provider. So you have to pick a model that works with your particular provider, and vice versa.

Then we have the topic of smartphones. A smartphone is a combination PDA and cell phone; that is, it’s device that makes cellular calls and stores contact and scheduling information. Most smartphones offer a larger display than a normal cell phone (more like a PDA display), as well as a mini-QWERTY keyboard (for data entry).

Why would you want a smartphone? Well, if you carry both a PDA and a mobile phone, a smartphone lets you cut your number of portable gadgets by half—that’s if you don’t mind the compromises inherent in such a combo device, of course. You see, the typical smartphone is somewhat larger than a typical cell phone, shaped and sized more like a PDA. This makes for a somewhat awkward phone, but if you think of it as a PDA plus, then you’re okay.

In any case, before you purchase any smartphone, you should give it a full try-out. Make sure it does everything you need it to do, in a way that’s intuitive and comfortable to you. And definitely be sure you like the size and heft; whichever model you choose, you’ll be using it a lot!

And, no matter which type of phone (smart or otherwise) you choose, check out all the various accessories available—especially headsets. If you use your cell phone for extended periods at a time, you know how uncomfortable it can get. That’s why many people use some sort of headset, so they don’t have to hold the handset to the side of their heads all the time.

All cell phone headsets include an earphone for listening and a microphone for talking. They’re very popular among people who work all day on the phone, such as call center professionals. They’re also great for using a cell phone in the car, which you really shouldn’t be doing anyway, although I know you do.

Until recently, all headsets attached to the phone via a long cord—easy to connect, if somewhat inconvenient. Today, many new headsets attach cordlessly, thanks to Bluetooth wireless technology. If your phone is already Bluetooth-enabled (and more and more are), just synch a Bluetooth headset with your phone and you’re ready to go. If you don’t have a Bluetooth phone, you’ll have to attach a Bluetooth adapter to it to use a wireless headset.

When you’re shopping for a headset, whether wired or wireless, the main thing to look for is comfort. Do you like the way it hangs on your ear? You should also check the performance; those mini-mics don’t always work that well, especially if you’re a quiet speaker. You might have to evaluate several models to find one you really like. And then there’s the style issue; some of these puppies are ultra-stylish, others look like giant plastic bugs growing out of your ear canal. Style is in the eye of the beholder (and the ear of the beholden), so choose accordingly.

Portable Storage for the Portable Lifestyle

Then there’s the gadget for every road warrior—and even for those warriors who don’t hit the road all that much. I’m talking about so-called USB memory devices, which are terrific gizmos for transferring data from one PC to another. These gadgets contain various amounts of flash memory and connect to any computer via a free USB port. When connected, your computer views the device just like another disk drive. You can then transfer files from your computer to the flash memory and back again.

What’s especially cool about these USB memory devices is that they pack so much storage into such a small form factor. Most of these gizmos are truly keychain-sized; you can slip them in your pocket and easily carry them from PC to PC, which makes for truly portable mass storage. And, because they’re pretty much plug-and-play, transferring your files from one computer to another is easy, which is great if you use multiple PCs or travel to various locations.

Some of the early USB memory devices didn’t have much memory onboard—8MB and 16MB devices were common back then. But as the price of flash memory has come down, manufacturers have packed more and more memory into these little doodads. Some models today have 2GB or more capacity, which is big enough to store all but the biggest files. (Heck, that’s big enough to hold a couple of CDs worth of music—uncompressed!)

Of course, the more storage offered, the higher the price. Today’s lowest-priced USB memory devices give you 256MB of storage for $50 or less. Double that price and you’ll get into the 1GB range; 2GB devices typically run over two bills. Choose the right size for your needs, as well as a form factor that you like, and you’ll be a happy warrior.

Notebook PCs

Apple PowerBook G4

If you’ve ever heard me on the radio or on TV, you know that I’m an Apple fan. So it’s no surprise that my favorite laptop is an Apple, in particular the PowerBook G4. I gotta tell ya, Apple knows how to do laptops right.

Let’s start with the form factor, which is Apple’s real forte. The PowerBook is sleek and slim, and looks as good with the case closed as it does in operation. The keyboard has a nice solid feel, and the screen (no matter which size you go with) is bright with a wide viewing angle. It’s just a nice-looking machine, no matter how you look at it.

Apple offers three sizes of PowerBooks, for different on-the-go needs. The 12’’ model packs a lot of power into a case that’s just 10.9’’ x 8.6’’ when closed; at just 4.6 pounds, it’s ideal for users who like to travel light. The 15’’ model is more of a full-featured business machine, but still thin and relatively light (5.6 pounds). The big 17’’ model is a multimedia powerhouse, ideal for watching and editing video movies; it’s not as portable as the others, but it’s a true desktop replacement machine.

All three of the PowerBooks are super-thin, only 1.18’’ from top to bottom with the case closed. They all come with 512MB memory and Apple’s DVD/CD SuperDrive; depending on the model, you get either a 1.5GHz or 1.67GHz PowerPC G4 processor. Hard disk capacities range from 60GB in the 12’’ model to 100GB in the 17’’ machine. (And here’s something super-neat; the 15’’ and 17’’ models come with full-size illuminated keyboards!)

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. Apples are notoriously easy to use, and not as incompatible with Windows PCs as you might think. I know lots of folks who use a Windows desktop PC in the office and an Apple PowerBook on the road; it's a workable—and stylish—combination.

Model: PowerBook G4 Manufacturer: Apple (http://www.apple.com) Models: 12-inch Combo Drive (12.1'' screen, 1024 x 768 resolution, 1.5GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 512MB memory, 60GB hard drive, 10.9'' x 8.6'' x 1.18''), 15-inch SuperDrive (15.2'' screen, 1280 x 854 resolution, 1.67GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 512 memory, 80GB hard drive, 13.7'' x 9.5'' x 1.1''), 17-inch SuperDrive (17'' screen, 1440 x 990 resolution, 1.67GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 512MB memory, 100GB hard drive, 15.4'' x 10.2'' x 1.0'') Price: $1,499 (12-inch Combo Drive), $2,299 (15-inch SuperDrive), $2,699 (17-inch SuperDrive)

HP Compaq nc8230

Okay, so most of you prefer a Windows machine to an Apple, and that's okay. When you want a business-oriented Windows laptop, you can't do much better than HP's Compaq nc8230 series. You get a nice big 15.4'' screen, 1.86GHz Intel Pentium M 750 processor, 1GB memory, 60GB hard drive, DVD/CD-R drive, and built-in 802.11g WiFi—all for less than two grand. The whole thing weighs just 5.8 pounds, and it's only 1.1'' deep—a decent compromise between size/weight and performance.

Model: Compaq nc8230 Manufacturer: HP (http://www.hp.com) Screen: 15.4'' Processor: 1.86GHz Intel Pentium M 750 Memory: 1GB Hard drive: 60GB Weight: 5.8 lbs. Price: $1,849

Averatec 6240

You might not have heard of Averatec, but I have, and I really like their products. What you get with the 6240 is a lot of performance in a decent-sized package (1.18'' thick)—and an extremely affordable price. Even better, Averatec's PCs don't use a lot of power, so you get lots of battery time—more than 7 hours, if you're listening to audio CDs. Spec-wise, you get a 15.4'' screen, 512MB RAM, 80GB hard drive, dual DVD burner, and built-in 802.11g WiFi. It might not be a name brand, but you get a lot for your money!

Model: 6240 Manufacturer: Averatec (http://www.averatec.com) Screen: 15.4'' Processor: Mobile AMD Athlon64 3000+ Memory: 512MB Hard drive: 80GB Weight: 6 lbs. Price: $1,199

Sony VAIO T250

Many road warriors prefer an ultracompact laptop, like the Sony VAIO T250. This puppy measures just 10.7'' (w) x 8.1'' (d) x 1'' (h) with the case closed, and weighs in at a paltry 3 pounds—just the right size and weight to carry in your briefcase. It features a 10.6'' screen and Intel Centrino technology, so you get extremely long battery life—even with the DVD/CD burner. The only drawback is that the T250 is a tad pricy, but you gotta pay extra to make something this good this small.

Model: VAIO T250 Manufacturer: Sony (http://www.sonystyle.com) Screen: 10.6'' Processor: 1.2GHz Intel Pentium M 753 Memory: 512MB Hard drive: 60GB Weight: 3 lbs. Price: $2,299

Toshiba Portege M200

And now for something completely different. Toshiba's Portege M200 is a combination tablet/notebook PC; just swivel the 12'' screen around to write on it with a stylus, or leave it in place for regular typing. For tablet use, the screen rotates into either portrait or landscape orientation. Feature-wise, you get Centrino technology with built-in 802.11g WiFi and a 60GB hard drive; one drawback is that the base machine doesn't come with an optical drive (Toshiba offers an external USB DVD/CD drive, if you like).

Model: Portege M200 Manufacturer: Toshiba (http://www.toshiba.com) Screen: 12'' Processor: 1.7GHz Intel Pentium M 735 Memory: 512MB Hard drive: 60GB Weight: 4.5 lbs. Price: $1,899

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