Tech Smart: Gear Necessities

March 21, 2012
Noah Levine
Issue 2

If you were among the many dental laboratory professionals in Chicago late last month, it’s likely you were bouncing between meetings at different hotels across the river and across downtown from each other. When making those cross-meeting jaunts it helps to travel light, but it’s just as key to be in touch while on the road.

If you were among the many dental laboratory professionals in Chicago late last month, it’s likely you were bouncing between meetings at different hotels across the river and across downtown from each other. When making those cross-meeting jaunts it helps to travel light, but it’s just as key to be in touch while on the road.

This means packing both light and smart. There’s no need to lug around anything electronic you won’t be using, but it’s just as important to have the technologies you will or even might need at your disposal. After visiting as many as four meetings a day and jumping in and out of countless cabs during the weekend of Midwinter madness, I got a very clear sense of which devices, cords and accessories were crucial and which were little more than dead weight in my bag.

Starting off smart

The hero of any connected travels theses days is going to be a smartphone. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s Android, Apple or Windows, Samsung, HTC or Motorola, if it’s a smartphone that was considered state of the art in the last 18 months or so, it’s a multi-tasking wonder that can save plenty of space in your bag and possibly be used to make a phone call if needed.

Think of your smartphone like a Swiss Army knife that’s still allowed through airport security. It’s a phone, an e-mail hub, a web surfing device and an entertainment center. When outfitted with the right portfolio of apps it will handle the tasks of numerous gadgets an3d paper objects without putting an undue bulge in your pocket.

Your smartphone should make bringing along a point-and-shoot-camera, a GPS device, a camcorder, a voice recorder, a notebook, a guidebook, printed schedules, a calendar or a contact book redundant. Quite simply this should be the center of your electronic world while on the road, but it’s not quite a plug-and-play device.

Prior to leaving it’s a good idea to bookmark important web pages in your mobile browser, make sure contacts are up to date, save a note with important addresses, get your schedule into the calendar with reminders set and of course load in whatever music you might want to access on the road. With all that at the ready most of the information and access you need while on the road will never be farther away than your pocket.

Larger formats

As amazing and handy as a smartphone can be, it’s still not ready to take on all tasks. There are plenty of reasons to bring a laptop on the road, but if it’s possible to downsize to a tablet, that’s the way to go. Even with something as light and thin as a MacBook Air or an Ultrabook, anything in the laptop category is only necessary if you’ve got serious typing to be doing. If you’re working on an article or cranking away at a novel in your spare time, the laptop is nice to have, but unless it’s going to be critical for use at a meeting, if you must bring it, leave it back in the hotel.

Now a tablet on the other hand, this is a gadget that can be wonderful at a tradeshow. Light and thin, tablets are easy to fit into a bag, but the screen is large enough for sharing and once you get used to typing on a virtual keyboard, they can be great for taking notes during a lecture.

With a tablet, it’s easy to capture and share key points of a lecture, bookmark web pages mentioned by a speaker and while I’m not a fan of using a tablet as a camera, they can be great for snapping a pic of an interesting slide and then attaching it to your notes. Plus while a smartphone does a lot of things well, all but the biggest models make poor substitutes for an e-reader, but with a tablet you can leave the Kindle or nook on the bedside table at home.

The one other large gadget that might come in handy is a DSLR, but unless you plan to do some serious photography, a camera body and lenses is a lot of unnecessary bulk. If you’ve got some sightseeing on the agenda and taking pictures is a hobby, or you’ve got something you know you’ll want to shoot and print, it’s great to have a DSLR along. But if you’re only going to be grabbing casual shots of friends or even pics for online use, leave the bigger camera at home, your smartphone will be enough.

All the extras

The gadget load might be light, but if there’s one thing not to forget, it’s all the cords that connect your devices to life-giving power and to one another. Your chargers should be the first cables on your must have list because you won’t get far if you’re trying to ration the battery to survive a weekend on one charge.

If you have a charger that can plug into USB ports as well as power outlets, that’s even better. The more ways and places you can add juice, the easier it is to stay charged. I always travel with an external battery that has USB in and out. That way I’m ready to charge any device a colleague or I may have, and I can recharge the battery itself from any wall plug or USB power source. While I carry an iPhone, I usually have an Android charger cord with me just in case a friend needs help.

Cords don’t take up much room or add much weight, so I’m a firm believer in bringing as many connection options as possible. It’s always a good idea to have a USB cable on hand, and while Ethernet cables are less critical these days if you are going to be giving a presentation, it makes sense to have any adapters and connectors your computer, tablet or smartphone might need to plug into a projector.

There are few other extras that can come in handy from time to time. If you have a Wi-Fi only tablet, then a Wi-Fi hotspot is not a bad addition to your gear. If you like playing music on something louder than a smartphone speaker, a nice set of headphones and an auxiliary audio cord can set you up to plug in personally and to a larger sound system. But those tend to be more in the optional, and less critical categories.

When traveling today, it is far easier than ever to keep things light. If you plan ahead your entire electronic world can be condensed to little more than a smartphone, a tablet, a battery pack and some nicely coiled cords. That means there will be plenty of room for your clothes and other necessities in a carry-on size bag, and more importantly, when bouncing around town, you’ve got everything you need while still hauling around just the bare necessities.