Gadgets on the go

10 portable tools to boost productivity

You’re stuck in an airport in Pittsburgh, and your touchpad mouse dies. What are you going to do?

As if that weren’t bad enough, you finally get to your hotel in Omaha, Neb., and you need to add several pages of text to the presentation you’ll be giving in the morning. Do you really want to do all that typing after midnight?

The products in our latest roundup of portable tools share one virtue: They make it easier for traveling professionals on the go to be more productive.

Chat 50: Your own personal speakerphone
Here’s a handy little portable speakerphone you can use for all kinds of audio needs at work and at home.

You can use the ClearOne Chat 50 with computers, portable audio and video devices, such as MP3 players, and mobile phones.

With a laptop or desktop PC, the Chat 50 connects via a USB port to become a speaker for voice-over-IP calls, online chatting using instant messaging software, hands-free online gaming, voice recognition, podcast or other multimedia recording, and audio playback.

You probably won’t want to use the Chat 50 for music and other audio playback on your desktop PC because the PC’s speakers are probably better. But the Chat 50’s sound quality certainly beats most laptops’ tinny built-in speakers. 

We used the Skype service to test voice-over-IP sound quality, and we were impressed with the clear, full sound that emanates from such a small speakerphone.

To use the Chat 50 with a mobile phone or portable audio player, you connect a cable that comes with the Chat 50 to the device’s headphone jack. The sound quality with a mobile phone was very good but not as loud and clear as with voice over IP.

Here’s the hitch: Unless you’re running the Chat 50 through a USB port, you must connect it to a power outlet. So for phones and audio players, the Chat 50 is only as portable as your laptop.

We’d love to see a battery-operated model that would let you carry just your phone and the Chat 50 for conference calls in cabs, the airport and other places where power outlets aren’t easily available.

ClearOne
(800) 707-6994
www.clearone.com
Price: $180


GN 9350: Talk on the phone and the computer
We’ve included this snazzy wireless headset in our roundup even though it’s not designed for portability outside the office. However, the range of the GN Netcom GN 9350 certainly allows you to be mobile within the office, so we figure that counts.

The wow factor here is that the GN 9350 is the first wireless headset on the market to offer full compatibility with traditional and IP telephony.

This headset is also the first wireless model to offer Digital Signal Processing, which filters background noise and adjusts incoming audio levels to maintain a consistent volume throughout a call.

For IP telephony, the GN 9350 offers wideband audio with a bandwidth of 6.8 KHz — more than twice that of conventional telephony.

The headset also features a noise-canceling microphone, so folks on the other end of the line can hear you more clearly if you’re in a noisy environment.

If you’re an animated conversationalist, the GN 9350 is perfect for you because you can roam as far as 300 feet from the base. The long range is possible because of the Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) 6.0 standard. The company selected it instead of Bluetooth because the latter standard offers a range of only 30 feet.

Another benefit of DECT is that it operates at a frequency of 1.9 GHz, which is subject to less interference from Wi-Fi devices, many of which operate at 2.4 GHz.
The DECT standard also allows the GN 9350 to work with cordless telephones. Your conversations will remain secure thanks to 64-bit digital encryption.

Feel free to discuss every detail of your upcoming presentation because you’ll get nine hours of telephone talk time and six hours of PC talk time.

If you have more than one of these headsets, you can join them together for conference calling.

We admit that when we think of headsets, the phrase fashion statement is not the first that comes to mind. But the GN 9350 is one good-looking piece of equipment.
The silver and black base has a sleek European look, and the headset integrates seamlessly with it when charging. Because it has three different wearing styles, you can pick a different one throughout the week. Choose between a headband, earhook or neckband. The latter style looks like a headband, but you wear it around your neck.

We tested the GN 9350 with a landline telephone and found it easy to set up and use. The sound was clear. We wore the headset in the headband style, which was comfortable and extremely lightweight.

GN Netcom
(800) 826-4656
www.gnnetcom.com
Price: $349


Germ-Free Wireless Laser Mouse: Go ahead and sneeze
With flu season approaching, we can’t help but think about germs. And we’re apparently not the only ones.

IOGEAR recently introduced a wireless laser travel mouse that, according to the company, continually disinfects itself by disabling the survival of bacteria on its surface.

The mouse is covered in a nanocoating of titanium oxide and silver nanoparticles, which are supposed to prevent or deactivate 99 percent of the bacteria on the mouse’s surface.

For you scientists, here’s how it works. The titanium oxide attracts water and oxygen molecules that, when combined with the electrons of the titanium oxide and light, give off free oxygen ion bases. The ions clean and eliminate parasites while creating water, carbon and oxygen molecules that begin the cleansing process all over again.

The mouse’s coating inhibits a wide range of antibodies, viruses, fungi and algae. We’re not sure we’ll ever look at regular mice the same way again.

We would use this mouse even without the germ-repelling properties, though. First, it’s wireless and compact, making it a great accessory for travel or tight workspaces.

A radio frequency receiver connects to your computer’s USB port and provides six feet of wireless range. You might experience interference from nearby electronic devices, which happened to us.

First, you can try manually setting up a radio frequency channel between the mouse and receiver by pressing a button on each device. If that doesn’t work, you can use the included USB cable extender to place the receiver farther away.
 
We had to use the extender, but when we did, the mouse worked perfectly.
The mouse uses a vertical cavity surface emitting laser as the light source, providing 30 times more tracking capability than optical mice.

The mouse can work on virtually any surface, including glass, and the high resolution of 1,600 dots per inch means it doesn’t take much movement to control the cursor.

A nice touch worth mentioning is the on/off switch that lets you conserve battery power when the mouse is not in use.

IOGEAR
(866) 946-4327
www.iogear.com
Price: $39.95


DataTraveler Secure USB drive: Go ahead, take a dunk
If that happy hour pool party gets too rowdy, have no fear if your data is on the Kingston DataTraveler Secure USB 2.0 waterproof flash drive. If you get dunked with this drive in your pocket, the worst loss will be your dignity, not your data.

A titanium-coated stainless steel case houses the drive. The waterproof case conforms to the International Electrotechnical Commission 60529 IPX8 standard to protect against water damage when submerged as deep as four feet.

Kingston’s MyDataZone software lets you set a password for a private storage area on the drive, so your data isn’t vulnerable if you lose the drive or someone steals it. The data is secured using 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) hardware-based encryption.

You’ll also get fast performance with a 24 megabytes/sec read speed and a 10 megabytes/sec write speed.

We liked My Traveler, a handy, intuitive software application that helps you manage content and easily synchronize files with your computer or other host device.

The DataTraveler Secure is available in four capacities, ranging from 512M to 4G.

Government users will particularly like a new enterprise version of the drive, called the DataTraveler Secure — Privacy Edition, scheduled for release in January 2007. It will feature a password protocol that locks out users after 10 consecutive failed password attempts.

In addition, 256-bit AES encryption will protect all the data stored on the drive.

Kingston Technology
(800) 337-8410
www.kingston.com
Price for 4G version: $244


miValet: Serves data wherever you are
Yes, it’s a beta product, and we rarely review beta products. But miValet is such a nifty idea that we wanted to spread the word anyway.

The hardware part of miValet is a USB flash memory drive with a fingerprint reader. After you plug the drive into a computer connected to the Internet and swipe one of your fingers across the fingerprint scanner, you can access any of the data files you have previously uploaded to miValet’s hosted service. In short, access to your files can follow you to any Internet-connected computer.

Saflink plans to make it possible for agencies to offer direct file access instead of requiring users to go through the miValet hosted service.

With this beta version, we were able to register fingerprints and log on to the service with no trouble. We were unable to configure client computers to work with miValet. But we wanted to alert readers so that they can keep an eye out for the final product. We will provide a full review when miValet is fully functional. 

Saflink
(425) 278-1100
www.saflink.com
Price: Not available.


OtterBox: Ruggedize your business laptop
Ruggedized laptops are a great way to bring computing power to a harsh environment. But agencies might not have thousands of extra dollars to spend on the devices, which are far from cheap.

After you buy a ruggedized laptop, you’re committed to lugging that bulky machine everywhere, whether you need it or not.

Otter Products has come up with a clever and flexible solution for ruggedizing standard business laptops  — the OtterBox laptop case.

The case features a durable polypropylene shell and is waterproof to a depth of three feet. It is also drop-resistant onto concrete from a distance of three feet.

Large, sturdy latches that are easy to open keep the OtterBox securely closed, and you can also lock it with the included set of keys. You can carry the case using the thick rubber handle or a shoulder strap.

Our midsize review unit could accommodate laptops with screens as large as 15 inches, with maximum dimensions of 14.2 inches x 11.2 inches x 1.9 inches. You can also use it with a tablet PC.

We were impressed by the clever interior design that accommodates different laptop sizes. Four thick rubber corner bumpers attach to the OtterBox’s interior via strong Velcro. The Velcro design lets you move the bumpers and place them so they fit snugly around your laptop.

In theory, you can use your laptop while it’s still inside the OtterBox, but the bumpers might block access to ports, slots and the optical drive.

The company includes two L-shaped bumpers that you can use in place of corner bumpers if obstruction is an issue, but that still might not be enough to let you access what you need. Lifting a laptop out of the case is a cinch, so it might be easier to simply remove it when in use.

The trade-off for all this ruggedization is the extra 6.5 pounds you’ll carry when using the OtterBox. For this level of protection, you might find it’s well worth it.

Otter Products
(888) 695-8820
www.otterbox.com
Price: $169.95


QuickLink-Pen Elite: A scanner you can carry in your pocket
It’s a little bigger than a pen, but not much. The QuickLink-Pen Elite is a slick solution for people who need to scan documents on the fly. The battery-powered unit can hold as many as 1,000 pages of text before you need to download them to a computer. That makes it a great solution for grabbing text from newspapers and magazines — or government documents — while you’re on the road.

You use the QuickLink-Pen Elite like you would use a highlighter: Drag it smoothly across the text you want to scan. After each line, the pen takes a couple of seconds to digest the scan, which might irritate some, but it’s still more convenient than manually copying the text. You can review the scanned text using the LDC screen or the text-to-speech function. If you want the device to read the text aloud, you can use the built-in speaker or a headset.

We found the QuickLink-Pen Elite to be surprisingly accurate at reading text. The device can handle fonts from six to 22 points in size. It successfully scanned italicized and underlined text. We found only one main glitch. When we inadvertently varied our scan speed, the scanner sometimes ran words together.

The device downloads text to computers via a USB connection. You can also download via an infrared link to computers, smart phones and personal digital assistants. The QuickLink-Pen Elite only supports Microsoft Windows 98/ME/2000/XP and NT.

WizCom Technologies
www.wizcomtech.com
(888) 777-0552
Price: $169.95


MBT-D120 Bluetooth Dongle: Bringing Bluetooth to laptops that lack It
More laptops include Bluetooth as a standard feature these days, but if yours doesn’t have it, Mustek’s MBT-D120 Bluetooth Dongle gives you the same functionality. The dongle fits into any USB port. After you’ve installed the accompanying software, you can create a wireless network of as many as seven Bluetooth devices. For most traveling professionals, the most welcome connectivity will be to Bluetooth printers. But you can also use the dongle to connect to Bluetooth cell phones, keyboards, headsets and other devices.

We found the MBT-D120 easy to set up and use. It is also easy on the wallet, with a list price of only $24.95.

Mustek
(949) 790-3800
www.mustekdirect.com
Price: $24.95


Notebook Essentials: Connectivity tools for the traveler
How many times have you pulled out your laptop in a hotel room only to find that you forgot a phone or network cable?

Tuck Verbatim’s trim Notebook Essentials into a pocket of your suitcase, and you’ll never be without such critical items again.

About the size of an electric shaver kit, Notebook Essentials contains a lot more than the six-foot retractable phone and network cables. In addition, you’ll find a four-port USB hub, a USB to mini-USB adapter and a retractable USB cable.
Finally, the case contains an optical mouse that measures 3 inches x 1.5 inches. We would have preferred a wireless mouse, but more than once, this little rodent has come in handy when we’ve forgotten our usual kit.

The case has enough remaining room that you can throw in a few other cables, cards or other items you don’t want to forget.

Verbatim
(800) 538-8589
www.verbatim.com
Price: $39.95


Store-It Drive: More gigs per dollar, and one-click backups
There’s nothing exotic here. After all, USB hard drives have been around a long time — heck, at least a couple of years.

But the Store-It Drive from Pexagon Technology offers a slick, fast device with great compatibility, solid software and a low price.

A 40G drive costs $94.99, and more spacious devices add capacity at 20G
increments to a maximum of 120G, which costs $179.99. The drives have a 4,200 rpm rating and deliver a snappy performance.

If all you want to do is use the drive for external storage, plug it into a USB port, and you’re in business. We tried it on the new Microsoft Vista operating system and encountered no problems.

If you want to use the software that allows you to back up files with a single click of a button on the Store-It Drive, all you need to do is install it and select the files you want to back up. The software works with Windows and Apple Computer Macintosh operating systems. Be aware that although the software installed easily on Microsoft Vista, we weren’t able to configure it to successfully back up files.

Pexagon Technology
(203) 453-7300
www.pexagontech.com
Price: $94.99 to $179.99

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